The Bridgwater Castle Bed and the Chubbs

Acknowledgement: The photographs were taken in 2011 by Bruce Parker, staff photographer of the Agecroft Hall Museum, Richmond, Virginia, USA, and are reproduced here with their kind permission. The text below has been edited from the notes of Dr Peter Cattermole, and supplemented with material on the Chubbs by Tony Woolrich and the castle by Miles Kerr-Peterson.

In 1972, Chrsties sold a Jacobean (ie, from the reign of King James VI and I) tester bed (a bed with a canopy) for 2,600 guineas to the Agecroft Hall Museum in Richmond, Virginia, USA. It was sold by a member of the Chubb family, a descendant of John Chubb (1745-1818), the Bridgwater artist. It came to him by way of John Chubb’s daughter Lucy, born in 1794, who brought the bed with her when she moved to London in 1830 to live with her nephew, Morley Chubb. After her death it passed down through members of the family.

In the Blake Museum collection, BWRAB 1973/3, is a black and white print of the bed before it was sold, perhaps from the sale catalogue. On the rear, in pencil, is written “Photograph of Jacobean bed in which the Duke of Monmouth was supposed to have slept at Bridgwater Castle on the eve of the Battle of Sedgemoor”. The sale documentation noted “At the time of Monmouth’s Rebellion of 1685, part of the ancient castle of Bridgwater in Somerset was still standing although it had suffered great damage at the hands of Cromwell forty years earlier. This bed stood in the guestroom of the remaining fragment, and it was used by James, Duke of Monmouth, illegitimate son of Charles II, when he stayed there between July 2nd and 5th of that year, during his ill-fated attempt to seize the throne of England from his uncle James II.”

The remains of the castle as recorded by the George III artist in 1761, Locke in 1777 and Chubb was almost certainly demolished by 1813. This was when the east side of King Square was started. Presumably as we have drawings for the proposed ‘Castle Place’ of 1790 about this time the castle remains (Harvey’s house) would have been about to be demolished. However, as the south side of King Square was not started until 1806 it might have stood a bit longer.

A later print based on the 1761 illustration of the castle. Today this would be looking from the west side of King Square towards the river. The houses on the right are in Queen Street. The building on the right was located roughly where the road now runs on the west side of the square.
John Chubb’s first illustration of the castle remains. Castle Street can be seen on the right.
John Chubb’s second illustration of the castle remains, after the turret had collapsed. The gothic doorway shows that the core of this building to be much older than the later windows and chimneys.
A reconstruction of how this building may have looked from the other side, when completed in about 1630.

Chubb’s two pictures seem to show the structure in the process of collapse/demolition. Presumably the standing turret shown in the 1761 watercolour and Chubb’s first illustration was still inhabited. After the civil wars of the 1640s little seems to have happened to the castle until 1721 when the Harveys sold the castle and other properties to James Brydges, Duke of Chandos. At this time Castle house itself was still occupied. A Major Crosbie lodged in eight rooms in one floor in 1721, in 1726 it was occupied by a schoolmistress who held two or three rooms, later a Mr Moss had two (see Lawrence’s History of Bridgwater).

The headboard is dated 1629 and has several interesting features:

To the right and left are two identical marquetry panels in the centre of each is a tower and spire whose the shape, extent and relationship to each other is consistent with that of St Mary’s church Bridgwater.

The central panel contains carved scenes representing the verse from Matthew, chapter 25; “I was hungry and you gave me meat, naked and you clothed me. I was in prison and you came unto me.” “Love” and “Charity” are carved at the feet of the two female figures who reach across the prison tower in the centre.

The coursed stone, very regular, is typical of lias limestone (a local building stone); see the Georgian watercolour. The hinge on the door seems identical to that on the door in the same watercolour.

The door posts lack capitals, but the overall shape of the doorway is very much like that of the Watergate The windows are distinct from the coursed stone, and would be consistent with carved hamstone (again a local building stone), though the regularity of the panes and their number does not correspond with those illustrated in the drawings and watercolour. The faces are interesting, but the absence of a full set in the lower window is intriguing.

Note the date 1626 in the upper middle. The top tier features two angels (or cherubs or putti) flanked by two fawns. The lower tier features a mix of lions and green men.

The carved heads. We see that the head carving is separately applied on the post, and not carved in the upright. It is strikingly similar to the applied heads of the Corporation Pew in St Mary’s.

The Corporation Pew is earlier than your bed I suspect. It was probably carved soon after 1538, when the Corporation acquired the chancel of the church after dissolution of St John’s Hospital. But it could overlap, or be close to, the date of your bed. Joinery and working in wood was a local craft, which supports local provenance. There is some stunning wood-carving from the middle of the 15th C. onwards in Bridgwater.

The ownership of the bed and the Chubb collection

After John Chubb’s death, in 1818, the family remained in Bridgwater for about another fifteen years. His sons, Morley and Charles James Chubb continued running the business, and took as a partner John Bowen. The partnership was dissolved in 1830 in favour of Bowen, and Morley moved his family to London soon after, leaving the younger John behind as he was training as an attorney with the Bridgwater lawyers firm of Boys and Anstice. The younger John was also an amateur artist, and was most probably responsible for the production of the series of ten lithographs of Bridgwater street scenes. A letter he wrote to his father in 1835 mentions him having drawings reproduced as prints by Charles Hullmandel, the foremost lithographic printer of the time.

The family presumably purchased the tester bed at about the time that the grand house built in the remains of Bridgwater Castle was being demolished. This bed remained in the family until 1972 when it was sold to an American museum, as detailed above.

The younger John settled in Cirencester, married, and died there in 1858. Lucy had a school in Castle Street in 1830, but moved to London with the rest of the family. Charles James moved to the midlands and spent the rest of his working life as an executive of Boulton and Watt’s Soho works at Smethwick. He retired to London.

Lucy lived with her brother Morley and his family, and following his death in 1855 she ended her days in 1867 with her nephew Hammond.

Lucy archived the collection of John Chubb’s artistic work, and assembled various family letters. Nearly 400 sketches and finished drawings survived. There are portraits of John Chubb’s immediate family, portraits of Bridgwater worthies, unidentified portraits and topographical paintings. A number of the latter are by John Chubb’s descendants. The manuscripts are mainly family letters, some from the 17th century, letters to John Chubb and a few relating to his descendants in the nineteenth century. There are letters from Charles James Fox, the politician and Samuel Taylor Coleridge the poet. There are also papers concerning the family business. The manuscripts have been deposited at the Somerset Heritage Centre Archive, Taunton, which also holds a collection of papers of the Chubb business before the partnership was dissolved.

On Lucy’s death in 1867 the duty passed to Hammond, who repaired some of the documents, and also investigated the history. On his death in 1905 the collection passed to his nephew, John Burland Chubb, (1861-1955). He was an architect, working in London. He soon made contact with the Bridgwater historian Revd. Dr. H. D. Powell and was mentioned in Powell’s first book The Ancient Borough of Bridgwater (1907), pp 297-8. It is clear that Powell must have inspected the collection then. Following the establishment of the Blake Museum in 1926 a number of the topographical paintings of Bridgwater were donated by John Burland Chubb. The circumstances of this are not clear, for the Museum’s records for that time are incomplete, but it is assumed to have been during the 1930s. These are catalogued as the BWRAB : B series. (This designated the room where they were originally displayed.)

Also in the 1930s the Bridgwater local historian T. Bruce Dilks published a study of the correspondence between John Chubb and Charles James Fox: Charles James Fox and the Borough of Bridgwater (Bridgwater: East Gate Press, 1937). This contains transcripts of 20 of Fox’s letters to John Chubb, and reproductions of some of the drawings. Dilks acknowledged the help he had received from John Burland Chubb, and it is clear he had full access to the archive.

Mary Chubb (1903-2003) the daughter of John Burland Chubb became involved, and in 1964 she published in ‘A Forebear and his Hobby’ in The Countryman, Vol. 61 Winter 1963/64, p 276. and Chubb, Mary, ‘A Forebear and his Hobby -2’ in The Countryman, Vol. 62 Spring 1964, p 89. These two articles introduced John Chubb and his work to a far wider audience.

After the death of John Burland Chubb in 1955, the collection appears to have descended to his great-nephew Revd Nicholas Chubb (1933-2012), for in 1977 he loaned to the Museum some 60 of the portraits of Bridgwater worthies. These are catalogued as the BWRB : 1977/53 series.

Mark Girouard published ‘Country-Town Portfolio’ in Country Life, Dec. 7 1989, pp 154-159, and in this all the pictures were in colour.

Following a fire in the Town Mill, adjoining the museum in 1995 a number of the paintings suffered minor smoke damage, but these were all restored successfully.

At the end of 2002, the family decided to sell the entire collection and offered it in the first instance to Blake Museum. Thanks to local support and help from a number of national grant-giving bodies, in 2004 Blake Museum reached its appeal target of £123,000 to save unique historic original watercolour paintings and documents with an important link to Bridgwater’s history.

The Heritage Lottery Fund contributed £88,000 in the light of local contributions from Sedgemoor District Council, the Friends of Blake Museum and other local organisations and individuals, which amounted to about £9,700. Other national organisations that contributed were the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund (£15,000), and the National Art Collections Fund (£10,000). These are designated the BWRAB : 2004/1 series.

The scheme for the purchase included the microfilming of all the Chubb letters and the purchase of a Microfilm reader so they might be worked on in the Museum. This plan did not proceed and instead between 2007 and 2008 three museum volunteers transcribed the letters, and their un-edited work was stored electronically at the museum. Jonathan Chubb’s memorandum book was also transcribed, but awaits editing for publication. John Chubb’s two common-place books were not transcribed. A research project was undertaken then to investigate the people whose portraits he drew. The electronic files of this are lost, but what survives in the Museum’s library is a binder of print-outs. In addition, the library holds a box-file of offprints of articles and binders of paper-copies of the transcripts.

Whether publication was intended then is not now known, but all was stopped in 2007 on the District Council announcing it was to close the Museum and disperse the collection. After protracted negotiations the Museum was handed to the Bridgwater Town Council in 2010 and managed by the museum volunteers. Since then a selection of the Chubb pictures have been displayed in the Museum’s gallery. These have been rotated annually, but there is no space to display more than a handful at one time. In the autumn of 2015 the entire collection was digitised as high quality TIFFS and prints placed in a album put in the Gallery for visitors to examine

Peter Cattermole, Tony Woolrich and Miles Kerr-Peterson 2011 & 2019.