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Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Henry Family Porcelain

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During our 2019 restoration and redevelopment of the Abbey and exhibition at Kylemore we searched high and low for interesting artefacts to display and to help tell the story of Kylemore’s history. Despite having many beautiful paintings, furnishings and ancient artefacts dating back 600 years or more relating to the Benedictine Community we found that we did not have as many items personal to the Henry family as we would have liked. However, as the months went on many small finds and some more significant finds turned up that helped us bring a real presence of the Henry family back to Kylemore Abbey or Kylemore Castle as it would have been when the Henry family lived her from 1871 up to 1902.

Amongst my personal favourite of our links to the Henry families are two pieces of Copeland porcelain that had been kept safely at the back of a cupboard by a member of the Benedictine community who knew the time had come for them to become part of our public exhibition. Both of the pieces are a little worse for wear with large cracks, chips and repairs but this does nothing but add to their sense of history. With a little research, we found some of their stories. The makers' stamps on the backs of the pieces reads Copeland, with its distinctive makers' pattern. Copeland was originally known as Spode pottery one of the greatest names of the Industrial Revolution and well known for perfecting immaculate bone China. Today the company is widely known as Portmerion and luckily for us, they keep a detailed product archive. So detailed that they were able to tell us that only one set of this pattern was sold to Ireland and that was in 1867, the very year that Kylemore’s foundation stone was laid. So you can imagine the Henry’s were already shopping for all the pieces that would fill their Castle home. Portmerion very kindly sent us an image from the catalogue of the original set.

Another interesting feature of the pieces is that each one of them bears the Henry family crest and motto, of a lion holding a coronet with the motto 'Vincet Veritas', 'truth will conquer' underneath. This crest was applied by another company whose stamp also appears on the back of each piece, Callinan & Sons of 25 Suffolk St Dublin. Callinan and Sons, who were China and Glass merchants would likely have held the Spode catalogue and placed the order on behalf of the Henrys and also handled details such as shipping and delivery on their behalf. A large home such as Kylemore castle would have had a huge inventory of porcelain and glassware and the commission for the supply of these items would have amounted to a significant total. Today you can view one of these pieces in our Dining Room exhibition along with many other fine and interesting pieces. Our table is now set with an antique Wedgewood set in a pattern as close to the original as we could source.

Although these pieces with their poor condition would have little monetary value they are to us invaluable for their link with the past from the people who made them to the people who cooked the food that was served on them and of course the people who dined from them and finally the person who had the good sense to hide them away for safekeeping for so many years.

Example of a receipt from Callinan and Sons, China and Glass Merchants
Callinan and Sons stamp