17th Century Embroidered Casket

From working steam engines to fragile ancient artefacts, we care for more than 2.5 million objects that tell the stories of the people of Hampshire from thousands of years ago right up to the present day. Find out more about the collections we care for.

This 17th century casket is a superb, dated example of a specific type of female dressing table and travelling box, a number of which survive in museums and country houses across England. It was used to store personal possessions and treasures for a girl who lived a life of some luxury in Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth.

It is made of a light wood, probably boxwood. The four carved feet on which it stands are intact and its original wooden outer carrying case also survives.

Inside, there are two lids which lift to reveal different compartments, one of which includes glass jars for ointments and cosmetics. There is also a series of drawers, some for holding needlework tools such as a pin cushion, tape measure and samplers, while two are secret - one apparently for rings. The interior lining is in large part of pink silk, variously figured with a floral design and stamped with shells. One interior section has a contemporary, coloured engraving, the view of which is enhanced with mirrors.

On the outside, there is a series of embroidered panels stitched in silks and metal thread. The panel on the lid shows a lady and gentleman in fashionable dress with a large house in the background, with all the main features outlined in couched thread.

On the front is a canvas-work panel, with fine, tent stitch embroidery. This is the where the date appears, embroidered at the top centre: 1655. On both panels, the naturalistic detail of birds, insects and animals is clearly taken from contemporary woodcuts and engravings. On the sides and back, the embroidery is of laid floss silk threads, in stylised floral designs.

The embroidered panels are edged with silver needle-lace. The casket would have been put together professionally after the embroidered sections had been completed.

At the time, a child of 11 would typically be able to work this kind of embroidery. The needlework skills she acquired would be put to good use when she came to manage a household of her own.

The casket has faded over the 350 years since it was made, but it has clearly been well used and loved and reveals a considerable amount about the lifestyle, skills, imagery and materials available to a 17th century child.

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Hampshire Cultural Trust

From museums to galleries to arts centres, we manage and support attractions across the county, welcoming over 740,000 people each year. Our charitable purpose is changing lives through culture.
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