|Putting History in Order: Sir Samuel Meyrick’s ‘Period Rooms’ at Goodrich Court, 1828-1831|
|The early nineteenth-century was a period where the desire for the past was expressed in myriad new activities. It was also a period in which interest in collecting and furnishing with historical objects, which had previously been the domain of the limited class of eighteenth-century antiquarians, was beginning to become for the first time the prerogative of a mass public. As the historian Susan Crane has indicated, the interest in collecting historical objects in the period shifted from the personal, idiosyncratic and elite networks of eighteenth-century antiquarian collecting to more expansive and representative collecting activities underscored by broader political and national agendas. Such a shift is registered in the change from collections held in private cabinets to the emergence of the public historical museum by second quarter of the 19th century.
At the centre of the shift from private collections to public museums were individually assembled collections, such as those of Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick (1783-1848). Meyrick was an acknowledged expert on ancient armour and the first person to treat the history of arms and armour both systematically and chronologically. His collecting activities were set against the evolving notion of 19th century historicism, one of the principal tenets of which was the insistence on the importance of historical context and the stress laid on the notion of historical accuracy. Meyrick’s ‘museum’ at Goodrich Court in Wales, created 1828-1831, contained a number of ‘period rooms’ arranged in chronological sequence, such as ‘Charles II Room’, ‘William III Room’ and ‘Queen Anne Room’, all furnished with historical objects which dated from (or were believed to have dated from) the corresponding periods. As perhaps the earliest example of a museological practice that was to become much more prevalent in the late 19th century, Meyrick’s ‘Period Rooms’ are highly significant. But Meyrick’s ‘period rooms’ were also a site of intersection, one that highlights the relationships between the collecting of historical material culture, the structures of the market for ‘antiques and curiosities’, and the emerging order and displays in the historical museum. Meyrick assembled his collections during a period of significant expansion in the antique and curiosity markets, using a number of well-know curiosity dealers, as well as purchasing at auction. Meyrick’s activities illustrate the important role the market has played the structures of value creation.
Using contemporary accounts and archive material this paper investigates the innovative techniques Meyrick adopted in the recreated ‘period rooms’ at Goodrich Court, the methods and modes of acquisition of the historical material, and the relationship between the emergence of the art and antiques market in the period and the emergence of a ‘public’ history in the historical museum.
KEY WORDS: Collecting, Museum, Market, Value, Material Culture, Historicism.