Elizabethan Silver Spoon saved for Devon
19 September 2013
With the help of the Art Fund and V&A Purchase Grant Fund, RAMM has saved one of the most important examples of Elizabethan silver for Exeter: The Gilbert Spoon. Judged by uniqueness of design, quality of craftsmanship and historical significance, this spoon is undoubtedly one of the finest early English spoons.
On 26 October the Gilbert Spoon will feature in RAMM’s landmark exhibition celebrating the spirit of adventure and enterprise of South West people in the Tudor age: West Country to World’s End. It is currently on display at RAMM in the Making History Gallery.
The Gilbert Spoon was probably made as one of a set for Sir John Gilbert and on his death in 1596 passed to Adrian Gilbert, his youngest and only surviving brother. The inscribed date and initials probably therefore commemorate Adrian’s inheritance. The finial in the form of a squirrel is a design unknown in any other early English spoon. In the late 1500s, the Gilbert family owned silver mines at Combe Martin, North Devon and the spoon may well be made from Devon silver. The Gilbert brothers, Sir John, Sir Humphrey and Adrian played a major role in Elizabethan maritime history. Sir John Gilbert (1533-1596), knighted in 1571, became Sheriff of Devon and as Vice-Admiral of Devon was given responsibilities for the defence against the Spanish Armada. He is entombed with his wife in Exeter Cathedral.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert (c.1539-1583) commanded the 1583 expedition which established a colony on Newfoundland but was drowned on his frigate, Squirrel on the voyage home. Adrian Gilbert (c.1541-1628) was an agent to his half-brother, Walter Raleigh, and continued the search for the North West Passage after Sir Humphrey’s death. He was instrumental along with Grenville, Drake and Raleigh in establishing the first British colony in the New World at Roanoke Island, Virginia. Though committed to commerce and exploration, he served as MP for Bridport and was also an alchemist, farmer and landscape gardener. His garden commissions included Wilton, for the Earl of Pembroke and Sherborne for Raleigh. In 1602 he was also employed by Robert Cecil to construct a water course at Theobalds.
The Gilberts owned two principal properties in Devon – Greenway Manor on the Dart estuary and ComptonCastle near Paignton which is still inhabited by their descendants. Both are now administered by the National Trust.
The Gilbert Spoon, engraved on the reverse of the bowl with the arms of the Gilberts and inscribed on the inside of the bowl IV and on the stem DEVON. AG. 1596. Made by John Edes, Exeter in 1580-90.