A 300 year old silver tankard has been brought home to Bruton after the
town’s museum bought it at auction last week. The tankard can now be seen in
the museum in a secure case bought with the help of Lottery Funds. The final
display will be more informative and the museum intends to display local
church silver beside the Felling tankard.
The sale was less than two weeks away when by chance the museum learnt a
rare piece of silver made in Bruton by Gabriel Felling was to be sold.
The volunteer-run museum had long wanted to have a piece of Felling silver,
but was well aware that all his work commanded high prices. Felling silver
rarely comes on the market so if it was to acquire the tankard the museum
would have to move quickly. The acquisition of the tankard would help
illustrate the wealth around Bruton in the 16th to 18th century period.
Museum Curator Jackie Brooks and chairman Douglas Learmond decided to
approach Art Fund and the Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund. Both
organisations help museums to expand their collections. The sale was at
Lawrences in Crewkerne, 25 miles away.
Felling trained in London at one of King Charles II’s royal goldsmiths and
was first recorded in Bruton in 1678. He may have come to Bruton because of
the wealthy Berkeley family who had acquired Bruton Abbey after the
dissolution of the monasteries. Felling died in Bruton in 1714 and his work
is now highly valued by silver collectors. The Museum of Somerset and the
Victoria and Albert Museum both have some of his best pieces and not
surprisingly the collection of silver at Longleat contains Felling silver.
Bruton Museum was able to buy the tankard for £2,800 thanks to grants from
Art Fund and the V&APurchase Grant Fund. As the museum has accredited
status, Art Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund were able to move quickly
and on the day before the sale the museum knew it would be able to make a
serious effort to buy the tankard thanks to promises of support from a few
local individuals who appreciated its importance to Bruton’s history. The
rest is now part of the museum’s history.
Bruton Museum bought the tankard for £2,800 compared to an auction estimate
of £2000-£2,500 and higher professional evaluations. The museum was aware
of the importance of Felling as it has already had plans to display church
silver and had previously obtained grants to buy a secure case suitable to
Bruton Museum is open Mon-Fri 11.00-13.00 Sat 11.00-15.00 and by
appointment: 079805 94249.
Pic: l-r Douglas Learmond, chairman Bruton Museum; Helen Carless, chairman
and managing director Lawrence’s Crewkerne; Andrew Leach, Bruton Museum