Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Lost Treasures of Britain

One of books I have been dipping into again over the summer is Sir Roy Strong's Lost Treasures of Britain: Five Centuries of Creation and Destruction which was published in 1990. The book originated as a series of articles in the Sunday Times. The title is perhaps slightly misleading in that all the instances are English rather than British, so there is nothing on the destructive impact of the reformation in Scotland, but that is a minor quibble.

Lost Treasures of Britain

Starting with the dissolution of the monasteries and the pillaging of parish churches he then moves into what is very much home territory for Sir Roy, the world of the Tudor and early Stuart court, looking at the creation of royal palaces and collections in the period and the dispersal and destruction which often rapidly ensued. Thus King Charles I sold in the early years of his reign jewels and plate collected by his predecessors. Judging from some of the pieces which survive in Moscow in the Kremlin and which was on display in London in 1993, when I saw them, there were spectacular arrays of gold and silver gilt to grace the Elizabethan and Jacobean court.

He then moves on to record the dispersal of the picture collection of King Charles and the destruction of the ancient regalia in 1649, and the loss of royal places such as Nonsuch in the Restoration period. Other casualties in the eighteenth century included the original Somerset House, and in the nineteenth century the loss of William Beckford's fantastic Fonthill Abbey, before concluding with the recording and near obliteration of the old royal palace at Westminster after the fire of 1834. He does not cover the appalling demolition of great houses as recorded in the exhibition and book The Destruction of the English Country House nor in Giles Worsley's more recent England's Lost Houses.

Sir Roy's book is handsomely illustrated and apart from being a record of what once existed and is, alas, no more, it is also a valuable companion to the history of the period as well as the places and institutions concerned, and has a useful bibliography on sometimes obscure references.

On the front cover of the book is a detail from a painting by Daniel Mytens showing the state crown as it existed before 1649. Here I think I would give an earlier date for the creation ofthe so-called Harry Crown than Sir Roy would give, but I will write about that on another occasion.

An intersting, if often depressing book when one considers what has been lost, and a salutory reminder that as a country we are not as careful of our inheritance as we sometimes like to think. I do not know if the book is still in print, but it can cetainly be found second-hand.

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