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A Victorian Officers' Mess Letter Box, 1884
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A Victorian Officers' Mess Letter Box, 1884

Measurements: 55.5cm (21.75in) x 23cm (9in) x 23cm (9in)

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Oak sentry box with slatted sides and angled roof, the pediment applied with badge of the Northumberland Artillery Militia; the hinged door with brass letter flap over an glazed arched recess containing a watercolour of a Gunner, signed and dated ‘Harry Payne ’84’; the box further applied with a presentation plaque inscribed ‘From / Captn. F.D. Blake / July 1884’. Made to the 1880 patent design of Reynolds & Co. of 32, St. James’s Street, London, and bearing the retailer’s name plaque of Royal Warrant holder Walter Thornhill, of 144 New Bond Street, London. Applied with lozenge registration mark of the Patent Office for 15 May 1882.

Captain F.D. Blake, or Sir Francis Douglas Blake, 1st Baronet, C.B., D.L., (1856-1940) as he became, presented this letter box to the Northumberland Artillery Militia mess for the use of his brother officers at their Berwick-upon-Tweed headquarters. It was a fashionable and bespoke gift. Blake was a wealthy Northumberland landowner, and significant figure in county affairs who for many years presided over the Quarter Sessions (local courts). As befitted his social position, he was a long standing officer in the local militia. He was educated at Oxford and was admitted to the Inner Temple as a Barrister-at-Law. He inherited substantial estates at a young age and in 1882 demolished the old family seat and replaced it with a Victorian mansion using large quantities of masonry from another of his properties, the ruins of Twizell Castle. He rose to become the commanding officer of Northumberland Royal Garrison Artillery Militia being gazetted Lieutenant-Colonel in 1901, and later Honorary Colonel of the Tynemouth Heavy Brigade, Royal Artillery. He was created a Baronet in 1907, and was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Berwick from 1916-1922. He married on 14 December 1886, Selina Colquhoun, daughter of James Cleland Burns of Glenlee, South Lanarkshire, and was succeeded in the Baronetcy by their son Francis.

Harry Payne (1858-1927) was a Victorian leading military artist and illustrator. Born at Southwark, London, he was the son of a solicitor's clerk. With his artist brother, Arthur C. Payne, he produced many series of highly popular postcards. He was a contemporary and commercial of rival Richard Simkin (1850-1926) who also produced bespoke sentry watercolours for  Reynold’s patent letter boxes. In 1898, Payne and his brother Arthur created a series of chromolithographic and lithographic illustrations for an edition of Robert Browning’s The Pied Piper of Hamelin. His 1901 painting of the Royal Horse Guards crossing Horse Guards Parade was sold at auction in 2007 for over £50,000.

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