The Silver and Metals Gallery was redeveloped in 2009 to display a silver collection that had not been seen for over a decade. The collection is very varied, with many outstanding items.
It was decided that the purpose of the gallery would be to display the collection as attractively as possible to be enjoyed for its aesthetic appeal without the inclusion of details regarding hallmarks, production methods etc. The designers' brief was to make the display as innovative as possible, also to make use of the loftiness of the space and to bring a touch of drama into the gallery, to make the silver ‘sparkle’. This was achieved by cutting out natural light and providing a dark background as a backdrop for the collection. The sparkle effect was produced by the use of lighting and elements such as large mirrors to generate reflections.
The displays in each case have been designed to suit the theme of the contents. Some of the drama is achieved by the ‘cascade’ cases with the falling cutlery and coins and by the treatment of the two table settings, one with a ‘catherine wheel’ effect, the other with an exploding table. The silver collection took three months to clean and prepare for display - one conservator worked on it during this time with help from trained attendant staff, students and Friends volunteers.
Family and Regency Silver
Dining in the Regency period (early 19th century) was very formal. Symmetrical dining of this kind was called 'service à la françoise' after its origin in France in the 17th century and was the height of fashion. The 18th Earl of Ormonde built up a huge collection of silver in emulation of his Royal patron and friend, the Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent). The marks and date letters on the silver show he went to a variety of makers over a period of time, including the most famous silversmith of the day, Paul Storr.
The Watts Silver
Some of the items in the other family silver case are from the collection belonging to the Grace family of Old Durham. When the family moved to High Herworth near Newcastle in the mid 19th century, the collection was dispersed amongst various family members. These pieces were presented by their descendants Robert J Watts and his sister Miss Dorothy A G Watts in 1986.