Welcome back to an A to Z of discovery at Kiplin Hall and Gardens. With 400 years of history and 26 letters of the alphabet there is plenty to explore! Today we feature the letter N, N is for Nelson’s Chair.
As in many stately homes, some family possessions come with their own mythology. One such item at Kiplin Hall is known as Nelson’s Chair. A silver plaque on the chair is inscribed ‘Lord Nelson’s chair on board the Victory’. The chair is a regency style made of mahogany. It is a metamorphic library chair, meaning that it can transform its shape. The chair back folds over and transforms into a set of steps, allowing the user to climb the steps to reach books from high shelves.
In 1950 an American newspaper reported highlights of a visit to Kiplin Hall made by a Mr and Mrs Lawrence R. Carton, from Baltimore USA. (Kiplin has strong links to America as the Calvert family, who built Kiplin Hall, also founded the state of Maryland in 1632.) The article in the Baltimore Evening Sun on 11 October 1950 describes a conversation between the visitors and Bridget Talbot, the last family owner of Kiplin Hall before it went into Trust “They showed us around inside, and we marvelled at portraits of their Calvert ancestors… and an easy chair from Nelson’s quarters aboard ship at Trafalgar, with built in steps by which he climbed to his berth.”
Nelson was just 5ft 4inches tall, so some may have thought he’d need a boost to reach his berth. The battle of Trafalgar took place in 1805 and it is not known when the plaque was placed on the chair. But clearly by the 1950’s family members believed it to be linked to Nelson.
But how did it end up at Kiplin? And how accurate is this claim?
The chair is said to have been given to Lord and Lady Tyrconnel (who owned the hall from 1818-1868) by the Reverend Dr Scott of Catterick. Scott was Nelson’s chaplain on board HMS Victory and was with him on the ship when he died. Accounts of the battle and Nelson’s death suggest Scott was haunted and traumatised by what he saw. Scott went on the marry and have three children. His wife and young son sadly died. Scott then moved to Catterick with his two daughters. During this time, he became friends with John Delaval Carpenter and Sarah Crowe, Lord and Lady Tyrconnel.
In the book “The Life of Alexander Scott” by his son-in-law and daughter Margaret Gatty (1842) their close friendship is mentioned. “To the regret of the many friends who would have rejoiced in his society, Dr Scott went but little from home and, latterly, found his chief relaxation in the unlimited hospitality of his friends and parishioners, the Earl and Countess of Tyrconnel, at whose house at Kiplin he enjoyed for many years with his daughters every comfort which the utmost kindness of sincere attachment could suggest. There was at Kiplin a valuable English library, which was a constant source of gratification to him and, with the privilege of old age, he was so entirely at liberty to do what he liked that he had all the enjoyment and independence of home, without the extreme seclusion to which he gave himself up at his own vicarage.”
It seems likely that the chair was gifted to Lord and Lady Tyrconnel by Scott. Research suggests that there were two leather arm chairs on HMS Victory, one is still on display on the ship in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Furniture experts have questioned the style and form of the chair at Kiplin, which is not typical of the period. The earliest known drawing of this type of chair is from 1811, 6 years after the Battle of Trafalgar. Although it seems unlikely that the chair was ever on HMS Victory, it is plausible that it belonged to Scott, a close friend of Nelson. This link to Nelson and Victory maybe where the tall tale has come from.
What is for sure is the hospitality and tranquillity that Scott found at Kiplin. An experience which visitors still enjoy today. ‘Nelson’s Chair’ as it is affectionally known, is on display in the Library at Kiplin Hall. Visitors can enjoy conversing with the volunteer room stewards about this and other intriguing objects. A number of books in the library are inscribed ‘A J Scott’ and Bridget Talbot purchased a large Bible in 1925 signed by Nelson for the collection.
Naval links at Kiplin continue with Admiral Carpenter who owned the hall from 1868 to 1904. A room on the first floor is displayed as his study, featuring sea fairing equipment and seascape paintings from the collection.
Kiplin Hall and Gardens is open 6 days a week (closed on a Thursday). Visitors are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings indoors, in line with government advice on controlling the spread of Covid-19.