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1923: The Cuckfield 'Pepys' ship model cases

Fig. 1 Double-hood cabinet English, about 1700

In an earlier article we looked at the collection of ship models at Cuckfield Park now located in the United States Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland. Now we can throw light on the cabinets that had contained the models in the house and were auctioned separately in 1929.

These used to be referred to as the 'Pepy's bookcases'. We don't know where these are now located - but may still be part of the Henry Huddleston Rogers Collection at the museum.

This article was found in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin dated 1923:

The Cuckfield ship model cases

The 'Queen Anne' and 'William and Mary' exhibit cases which came with the models were made in English Royal dockyards at the order of Charles Sergison [of Cuckfield Park] who served subsequently to Samuel Pepys in the Office of the Clerk of the Acts from about 1689 to 1719.

Old Sir Charles Sergison in big wig and lace ruffles, his face ruddy with country air - or, more likely, good ripe port, for his official duties must have kept him rather close in London - we can imagine him, his brocaded vest powdered with snuff, bringing his neighbour and fellow-commissioner, Mr Lyddell of Wakehurst, to inspect the latest model sent down to Cuckfield from Deptford and set up in its special case made by the Dutch carpenters at the shipyard.

Sir Charles Sergison

Sir Charles was a self-made man, of Westmoreland stock, a hardy border race, probably lean and keen like most hill people. His career bears witness to his integrity and business acumen. He had the collector's instinct, too - fortunately for us - and with it a nice eye for quality. We can, perhaps, better appreciate the simple charm of the cases which he had made to house his ship models, now on loan at the Museum through the kindness of their owner, Colonel HH Rogers, if we bring him with us in imagination to look at them and their contents.

A striking fashionable case

Let us take the most striking of the cases first (Fig. 1), a rare piece of furniture in itself, after a pattern devised in the first place to keep the precious oriental curios which Dutch commerce had brought to Europe, for they were far safer behind glass than on the stepped stands used on cabinet and mantel.

The case follows the fashionable double-hood design with the boldly profiled mouldings typical of the period. The single plates of beveled glass in the side doors are of Vauxhall make and probably undisturbed since leaving the shop. Unlike the majority of their contemporaries these have been preserved by a continuous sojourn of over 200 years at Cuckfield.

The hardware, too, is untouched, the hinges being of the broad florid type inspired by oriental work and rather crudely finished, but unquestionably genuine. These hinges and the double half-round mouldings enframing the doors are now gilded. This may be part of the original finish - the powdered gold having been laid on the original shellac ground - as parcel-gilding was the fashion at this time.

The mouldings, especially the profiles of those on the stand, are particularly interesting, the cabinet gaining a great deal of its character from the curious beak mould used above the barrel frieze. With the exception of certain small restorations - some of the ball feet and the finials on the hood are new—the piece is in perfect condition. Its carcase as usual is of oak veneered with walnut, not of the very finest quality, but good in colour.

It is probable that an English cabinetmaker made this case, though an orthodox London worker would probably have shied at several of the details. The construction of the doors, too, is rather unusual, but was necessitated by the sides as well as the front being made to open. This condition is not true of the other cases, all of which have their doors hung in the Dutch manner, inside the stile.

Fig. 2. Show cabinet on stand English, about 1690

They were probably made by Dutchmen working at the Royal Dockyard, William III having brought many skilled workmen in his train. It may be noted also that the muntins* are unusually heavy, as would naturally be the case if made by men used to constructing for high sea storms.

The handsomest case

Figure 2 is the handsomest of these cases - walnut veneer on oak, like the first. There are two of this type, both of which have a removable second story, built probably a few years later to house additional models, but these are not shown, as they detract greatly from the beauty of the original.

Though exceedingly simple, the design of the case is very fine both in proportion and in detail. In the latter respect, the quality of the mouldings and the turning of the legs are particularly worthy of attention. In these pieces also the glazing is mainly original, most of the panes having the slight bevel characteristic of all plate quality and subtle harmony with the glass of this time.

The other cases are cruder in both workmanship and material, being of oak stained to a walnut colour. The stand of the largest one, exhibiting the full-rigged model, is a modern substitute, the old one probably having collapsed under the weight of the case. This lack of strength in the stand is one of the main defects of the type and style, especially when the middle leg at the back is omitted, as it is in two of the series.

Although for the purpose of seeing the models a modern plate-glass cabinet is more practical, the old cases more than balance this disadvantage by their own decorative quality and subtle harmony with the models themselves. In this environment, too, it is easy enough to imagine old Sergison at our elbow, discoursing of the glories of the British navy, when she actually 'beat the Dutch'.

* mutins: a bar or rigid supporting strip between adjacent panes of glass; a glazing bar.



The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin Vol. 18, No. 8 (August 1923), pp. 190-192

Published by: The Metropolitan Museum of Art,

Read the full article about the models at Export of Cuckfield Models results in National Maritime Museum

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.


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