RIDGWAY SILVER GALLERY, GROSVENOR MUSEUM, CHESTER

The Ridgway Silver Gallery was opened by HRH The Prince of Wales in 1992. The gallery is named after Canon Maurice Ridgway (1918-2002) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the study of Chester silver. It displays the Grosvenor Museum’s collection, which has been described by Country Life as “one of the country’s finest collections of provincially made silver”. Mostly acquired since 1975, the collection’s greatest strength is Chester hallmarked silver, dating between the 16th and 20th centuries. Among other locally-related pieces are Chester race trophies, Cheshire church plate and secular silver, and part of the Marquess of Ormonde’s collection.

At the entrance to the gallery are information panels providing the essential details of how silver objects are made and decorated, assayed and hallmarked. The first half of the gallery then tells the story of Chester hallmarked silver. The first case, Early Chester Silver, begins with communion cups from the 1570s, but is largely devoted to work of the 1680s and ’90s, including handsome tankards, a rare jug, and a remarkably elegant two-handled cup.

The Richardson Family dominated the production of silver in Chester throughout the 18th century, and their work is celebrated in three cases. The greatest Chester silversmith was Richard Richardson II, and his table basket of 1765 typifies the delicacy, lightness and elegance of the Rococo style. The official Chester Assay Office had been established in 1701, and Silver in Georgian Chester was produced by a number of makers in addition to the Richardsons. A wide variety of domestic silver is displayed here, including a finely engraved two-handled cup, a very pretty cream boat and a handsome pair of Gothick table candlesticks.

The Lowe Family dominated the story of Chester silver throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Their finest piece of work is a hot water jug of 1830 by George Lowe I, which is an exceptionally pure example of Neo-Classicism. This case ends with the last piece of silver hallmarked at the Chester Assay Office before its closure in 1962, and a new bowl commissioned by the owner of Lowe & Sons to celebrate the opening of the gallery. A selection of Chester Hallmarked Silver Made Elsewhere includes magnificent Neo-Classical candlesticks of 1769 by Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, 18th- and 19th-century work from Liverpool and Manchester, Art Nouveau silver from Sheffield, and Arts and Crafts work by the Keswick School of Industrial Arts.

The second half of the gallery presents thematic groups of locally-related silver. The Delamere Horn is a medieval horn with a silver-gilt mouthpiece of c.1561-6, and the Arderne Tankard is a splendid piece of 1669 with lions forming the feet and thumb-piece and a dolphin handle. The Monmouth Box is a delightful shell-shaped silver container, given by Charles II’s son the Duke of Monmouth as a christening gift to his goddaughter when he stayed with her father, the Mayor of Chester, in 1682. From the County Palatine of Chester come the exceptionally rare matrices of the 1706 Exchequer Seal of Queen Anne by John Roos, and the 1739 seal salver of Chief Justice Sir John Willes by Thomas Parr II.

An impressive array of Chester Race Trophies illustrates the patronage of the City Council and the Grosvenor family. In addition to two large silver punch bowls and a solid gold tumbler cup, the display includes a pair of silver-gilt cups, presented by the 2nd Earl Grosvenor in 1814 and 1815, which are fine examples of Regency Neo-Classicism.

The following three cases are devoted to local ecclesiastical silver. The Nonconformist Matthew Henry’s Chapel, Chester has lent its 18th-century silver. The Cheshire Church Plate includes a particularly handsome silver-gilt communion cup and paten cover of 1711. Chester Church Plate from four redundant churches is displayed in the context of a rich crimson and gold altar. It includes a pair of flagons, with superb armorial engravings, purchased by St. Michael’s church in 1702.

The gallery concludes with a glittering array of The Ormonde Silver, in which a dinner service and silver-gilt presentation pieces are displayed on a tiered buffet. The silver was allocated to the Grosvenor Museum after acceptance in lieu of taxation, and includes a beautiful pair of Rococo table candlesticks and pieces by the greatest Regency silversmith, Paul Storr.

Further information:
Peter Boughton, Catalogue of Silver in the Grosvenor Museum, Chester, (Chichester) 2000.