- Place of origin:
England, Great Britain (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Given by the grandchildren of Lady Gomme
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, room 56d, case 3
Portable writing boxes were widely used before the introduction of large, fixed desks later in the 17th century. They were placed on a table or on the lap. Similarly profuse chip-carved ornament is found on other writing boxes of the same period.
These boxes were probably sold plain and then ornamented to suit the purchaser. The decoration could be executed by a professional carver or by an amateur. This example is the work of a professional.
Design & Designing
The carving has been carried out with a chisel and gouge. This type of carving is found on Northern European furniture from the 16th century onwards. Geometric borders were comparatively easy to carve and provided effective decoration.
Richard Cromwell was an unwilling successor to his father. He ruled for less than a year, a period of chaos and uncertainty, and abdicated in May 1659. After the Restoration he lived abroad as John Clarke, but returned to England in 1680.
The lid of the writing box is carved with the arms of the Commonwealth as borne by Richard Cromwell. Their presence suggests that he used the box himself.
Place of Origin
England, Great Britain (made)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
Carved with the arms of the Commonwealth as borne by Richard Cromwell
Height: 18 cm, Width: 41.2 cm, Depth: 30.5 cm
Object history note
Carved in England by an unidentified craftsman. This box was made for Richard Cromwell (1626-1712), son of Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). After his father's death in 1658 he was briefly Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. Boxes like this were usually sold plain and then decorated to suit the purchaser. The carving has been carried out with a chisel and a gouge.
Desk, gift of Mr & Mrs Tony Gomme, grandchildren of Lady Gomme
Notes from R.P. 31/1096, 31/11600, 95/1550
28/10/31 letter Lady Gomme to Mr Wace
asks his advice re "an old carved oak desk dated 1659…with Oliver Cromwell's arms. The desk is in fairly good condition - one inside drawer has gone and the old lock…" She wonders if a museum would be interested. She thinks it genuine but only knows what she was told by Edward Sully FRS 40 years ago. It has been in the Gomme family for years and years and was once shown at the Jeffrey Museum.
9/11/31 letter Lady Gomme to Mr Wace
includes thanks for referring her to Mr Brackett regarding "our old desk".
11/11/31 letter same to same
suggests Aylesbury might like her "O.Cromwell desk if it turns out to be genuine and a fairly good article".
12/11/31 Brackett letter to Lady Gomme
expresses interest in seeing the desk.
16/11/31 Minute paper by Ralph Edwards
reports on his inspection of the desk. He finds it similar in style to the box in the Museum dated 1648. The desk is dated 1659 with Cromwell's arms over the Royal Arms of England. It was exhibited at the Geffrye Museum (which wanted to retain it). It was left to Lady Gomme by her husband and she wishes to loan it to a museuml. Edwards saw nothing to make him doubt it belonged to the period; Lady Gommes has known it for 60 years.
17/11/31 Mr Van der Put
reports on the heraldry. The desk bears the arms of the Commonwealth as borne by Richard Cromwell (Oliver died in 1658).
accepts the loan of the desk. Lady Gommes replies 19/11/31 that she is pleased to offer it but must await the consent of her sons before it is sent to the museum.
12/2/31 Lady Gommes
writes to say she is ready to send the desk.
3/12/31 H. Smith and O. Brackett
support acceptance of the desk as a loan as it is a "very interesting piece of English Furniture"…"an interesting and unusual object". Both express the hope that it will ultimately be given.
23/12/31 Lady Gommes
writes to report her sons' consent to the desk being on loan to the V & A and she agrees that the desk must be associated with Richard, not Oliver, Cromwell. She has no information to the contrary.
Later correspondence dated 1995 relates to the conversion from loan to gift.
Labels and date
ENGLISH; dated 1659
Portable writing-boxes were widely used before the introduction of large fixed desks later in the century. They could be placed on a table or on the lap. Similarly profuse chip-carved ornament is found on other examples of the same period and it has been suggested that the boxes were sold plain and ornamented by the purchaser.
The arms are those of the Commonwealth, as borne by Richard Cromwell (1626-1712). Oliver Cromwell's eldest son, Richard, briefly succeeded his father as Lord Protector in January 1659, but he retired in May when the Army again seized power.
Lent by Lady Gomme [06/1989]
Household objects; Woodwork; British Galleries