INDIANA SUTHERLAND AND THE QUEST FOR THE SILVER KINDA CHALICEY BOWL TYPE THING

Time to take a look at an individual piece of antique silver with interesting (if rather long-winded) Scottish provenance – a sucrier (sugar bowl) dating from 1784. The beauty of silver, of course, is that pieces tend to be hallmarked, so it is possible to find with almost absolutely certainly the date of manufacture and the identity of the silversmith who created the item in question.

This piece was one of many made by the prolific Edinburgh craftsman James Hewitt, whose company was extant from the mid 1700’s to around 1824 (more latterly in partnership with his erstwhile apprentices, Robert Swan and Alexander Henderson; though, having been born in 1731 Hewitt himself took a less prominent role after the turn of the century). The firm made a variety of generally smaller, domestic items – many sets of cutlery, salvers, goblets, tumblers and ladles – a number of which were decorated with engraved family crests and heraldic emblems, as was often the order of the day – and which applies to our sucrier.

Whilst the bowl itself is a nice-enough example of late-middle Georgian silverware, it’s the detail of the decoration which sets it apart. Structurally, it would be termed an urnular cup or chalice over a tapered and domed pedestal foot; there’s a beaded border under the rim, over a chased, scalloped chain running the full circumference; below this there are ribbon-tied, floral and leaved swags and pendant cartouches, like double-ended pointed ovals, known as navettes (as they look like rather abbreviated weaver’s shuttles or a little boat, which is the meaning of the French name; these are also known as marquises in jewel-cutting circles).

One of these cartouches or frames is empty – but the other contains a heraldic device (and you may remember with some foreboding how we do love our heraldic devices !) It shows a small bush or shrub, over a (largely irrelevant) braided wreath or torse, bearing sharply-pointed leaves – and six distinct berries. To those of a heraldic bent this is a ”holly-bush proper, fully leaved and fructed”, which is specifically different to other horticultural specimens which is are described as being “withered, with leaves sprouting”; this alternative version does not have a full complement of leaves, and bears no berries, and this distinction will shortly prove to be of assistance when identifying the derivation of the crest.

There’s also another Scottish Antiques preferred, hoary old chestnut to consider when it comes to heraldic devices with which long-term readers will again be familiar – the latin motto ! This one is short and to the point: “sic viresco”, which is said to translate literally as “in this way I turn green” or more colloquially as “thus I flourish” or “I rise again”, referring to the holly bush, resplendent with leaves and berries, sending out new growth having previously been despoiled. Clearly, the theme of fecundity and strong, fruitful growth is one that any self-respecting family might look to encapsulate in its personalised marque; the use of withered, non-fertile plants would seem to be rather odd !

It’s a relatively simple cross-referencing matter to tie up the motto and the general form of the device to reveal a family name to which both can be assigned, and in this instance we can readily divine the name Christie as being the one that fits the bill. Clan Christie is a branch, or sept, of the Clan Farquarson, originally of Invercauld in central Aberdeenshire, and said to have been settled a little further south in Fifeshire by the 1400’s. However, not all bearers of the name are denoted by an identical coat of arms, and there are specific variations which determine in which direction we should be looking in an attempt to find the exact family member who approached Hewitt’s establishment in early Georgian Edinburgh to commission the family silver…

Any number of genealogical tomes will provide a list of Clan Christie descendant families, delineated by the location of their family seat, and further defined by the specifics of their crest. For this particular clan, there are two especially pertinent points – the exact nature of the holly bush, and the motto. Here we must dive headlong in to the arcane language of heraldry – a vast lexicon of latin, old English and middle French names which give the whole thing an intriguing air of ancient mystery. So – to our holly bush; as it is covered in leaves with ne’er a bare branch to be seen, we can say with certainty that a heraldic scribe would describe it as neither “withered” or “slipped”. A withered bush of any kind would naturally feature leafless, lifeless branches, devoid of greenery or fruit. Similarly denuded sprigs or twigs may also be said to be slipped, which means that they have been roughly stripped bare; here a distinction is drawn from branches which are described as being “couped” which will have been more neatly trimmed, leaving bluntly cropped limbs, again without leaves. This detail means that we can begin to discount certain ancestral Christie households. Neither those hailing from Cowden and Glenfarg, in Perth or from Milnwood (who are both withered), nor the Christie’s of Craigtoun, and of Langcliffe in Yorkshire, who are similarly afflicted need hold our interest any further. We can also summarily dismiss the Christie’s of Edale, Derbyshire, who are also slipped. Neither should we bother looking at two more widely-travelled branches of the family who settled in north west Kent (Apuldrefield, now Aperfield near Westerham) and Emsworth in the far south west of Sussex – both of whose holly trees are said to be no more than sprouting stumps intertwined with ferns.

Maybe it’s to Balbuchlie (otherwise Balbeuchly, near Earlshall Castle, Leuchars in Fife – the later ancestral homeland, surely a promising sign) that we should look, where a branch of the Christies were resident from the 1670’s. Resplendent in their family pile, this particular instance of the family, from the heraldic point of view, had it all – an abundantly verdant holly bush, laden with leaves and berries, neither trimmed nor otherwise molested; if only their particular heraldic device did not come complete with entirely the wrong latin motto ! We would have found a perfectly drawn holly bush on the frontispiece of their family bibles, but unfortunately one appended with the words “sit vita nomina congrua” which it approximates as something along the lines of “it is an appropriate name”, It may well be an appropriate name, with an appropriate bush – but it’s a decidedly inappropriate classical sobriquet, and we’ve stumbled down another blind alley.

So, to the end of the genealogical listings, and the one remaining outpost of the Christie fiefdom. We’re left with a family branch who have ventured not quite as far from the ancestral homelands as some, only as far as Chryston in Lanarkshire, barely ten miles to the north west of Glasgow. Here – ensconced in Bedlay Castle on a curve of the Bothlin Burn we find the family of Thomas Craig Christie. The castle itself was not particularly ancient, dating back to the latter part of the 16th century, and it only passed in to Thomas’ ownership on the death of his wife, Catherine, heiress and daughter of the former owner, James Cameron, in 1854. It was also one of those peculiarly Scottish castles, more of a substantial country house than something boasting crenelated towers with classic battlements and keeps, but an impressive building nonetheless. More pertinently, however, on the occasion of her marriage Catherine had taken the surname of a husband whose family had for its crest a holly bush, fully laden with leaves, neither assailed by precise topiarists or less discerning pruning sorts, underscored with the motto Sic Viresco and – one has to say with some relief – which was also noted to be “fructed”. This, to delve once again in to the heraldic dictionary, means fruit-bearing – and what do we have on our engraved holly bush – six fat berries – at last, a full house of constituent parts !

Clearly though, it cannot have been Thomas himself who commissioned the creation of the sugar bowl some seventy years prior to his acquisition of Bedlay, but it seems entirely reasonable to assume that we are now on the right tracks – time to disregard the heraldry books (sighs of relief all round), and dust off some genealogical tomes !

Thomas’s father was one James Ramsay Christie of Paisley who married May Craig in June 1814. The couple then contrived to bring Thomas in to the world on 6th September 1816. However, as we have an exact date for the production of our sucrier – 1784 – it is highly unlikely that it was James who placed the order for its production, as he would have been just nine years of age at that time !. And so we are required to take one further step back through the generations, arriving at long last and with a not inconsiderable fanfare on the steps of an elegant residence in the (then) new town of Paisley, home of “an enterprising merchant”, successful banker, and mercantile trader – Mr John Christie Jr.

John was born in Eden Mill, Banff (Aberdeenshire) in 1730. Moving to Paisley, he cut his teeth in business by establishing a soap-manufacturing company and went on to become a partner in the mercantile trading concern of Christie, Corse and Co, who dealt extensively with contacts in Russia, Holland and along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, with his business conducted primarily using ships which sailed eastward from Edinburgh. By the latter part of his life, John had accumulated a significant portfolio of properties, and was considered to be one of the foremost “movers and shakers” in business across the central belt of Scotland. He is, it is easy to imagine, exactly the sort of gentleman who would have been favourably inclined toward the acquisition of a set of personalised silver tableware, and I do think that it’s well within the bounds of credibility to finally assign him as the one-time owner of our engraved sugar bowl ! It’s difficult to imagine that John placed an order for a single bowl in isolation, but unfortunately, there are as yet no other recorded items which might have been part of a matching set of which we are aware. Intriguingly, though, a brief search does throw up one item – a pair of sugar tongs, produced by a certain James Hewitt and dated (non-specifically) from 1784 to 1789. They are not noted as bearing the Christie mark, but it’s perhaps not too fanciful to suppose that, in later life, they may have been used by a certain Paisley gentleman, taking his ease and reflecting on the finely chased fruits of his life’s labours, whilst settling down for afternoon tea.

Link to the sucrier’s dedicated product page:

https://scotant.uk/2GERvnD