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What to See

Cabinet of Curiosities of William Constable (1721-91)

Cabinets of Curiosities emerged in Europe during the 16th century and were generally known by the term Wunderkammer, meaning ‘cabinet of wonder’. In this instance the word ‘cabinet’ refers to a room rather than a piece of furniture, containing collections of natural history, geology, archaeology, ethnography, numismatics, works of art and antiquities. Exhibits often included specimens relating to mythical beasts that were believed to exist, such as mermaids, dragons and unicorns and experiments involving magic and alchemy.

Originally the preserve of monarchs and princes, by the 18th century these precursors of modern museums had also become popular amongst gentlemen and merchants, many of whom were Fellows of the Royal Society. New advances in scientific knowledge and new discoveries meant that there was a more rational approach to collecting and the latest scientific instruments were often acquired alongside rare and unusual objects from around the globe.

Despite advances in scientific thinking, even in 1769 William Constable still believed that it was possible to cross breed rabbits and chickens, as is revealed in his correspondence with the notable biologist and Catholic priest John Turbeville Needham (1713-81). Although William Constable’s collection at Burton Constable was by no means unique in the 18th century, it is now the most significant collection surviving in its original country-house setting.

The Collections

From Chippendale chairs & Tudor portraits to inkwells & candlesticks, the rooms at Burton Constable are filled with spectacular collections that survive from when the house was a much-loved family home. 


You can explore our painting collection via the Art Uk website


The archive collection for Burton Constable is housed at the East Riding Archives in Beverley. Click here for details.

Our Chippendale Collections

During the eighteenth century William Constable Esq. elected to spend a fortune re-fashioning his house with the tastes of the day.

The well-known furniture maker Thomas Chippendale first appears in the records in 1768 when he supplied a walnut 'gouty chair' with matching stool for a cost of £13-5s-6d. A few years later William's sister, Miss Winifred Constable, purchased a rosewood writing desk, which was delivered to Burton Constable on the 23rd December 1772; possibly a Christmas present for her brother.

From 1774, William Constable rented a fashionable London townhouse on Mansfield Place, which he furnished with an array of Chippendale items including a suite of Cabriole chairs japaned blue and white, a pair of gilt-pine oval mirrors and a gentleman's shaving table. When ill health forced William to abandon his London house and retreat to his country estate in the 1780's, the furniture was brought to Burton Constable Hall.

In 1776 William elected to create a new Great Drawing Room at Burton Constable and he employed the architect James Wyatt to supply him with a design. Wyatt's design was accepted, but evidently William was not impressed with his slow progress and in 1788 he employed the firm of Chippendale to execute Wyatt's scheme. This involved making three impressive mirror frames for the French glass already supplied by Wyatt, along with a pair of pier tables to support marble slabs acquired on William's Grand Tour to Italy, a pair of window pelmets and a large suite of Chippendale seat furniture. Working alongside the prestigious London firm, the Hull carver Jeremiah Hargrave was employed to carve the decoration for the three door cases along with a huge pair of lime wood and gilded girandoles that embellished the wall either side of the fireplace.

During the 19th century many of the Chippendale collections were altered by the family, which included gilding and reupholstering the suite of seat furniture and modifying the writing desk to accommodate three drawers.

The Restoration Project (September 2015 to March 2017)

The Carved Room derives its name from the elaborately carved panelling that was installed in the early eighteenth century. With support from The Pilgrim Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund, the Burton Constable Foundation undertook a project to conserve the historic panelling and reinstate the room as it would have appeared in the eighteenth century, when it functioned as a Gentleman's Cabinet. This included repairing the surviving panelling (some of which was recovered from outbuildings) and re-carving the lost elements. A new plaster ceiling has been created - based on the design of a ceiling of the same period that survives elsewhere in the house. The Edwardian cast iron fire range was removed and replaced by an appropriate white marble fireplace. Finally, the room was decorated in its original blue and gilt scheme and presented as William Constable's Cabinet.

Dismantling the remaining panelling, together with forensic paint analysis, brought to light new evidence concerning the room's history. It appears that the creation of the Carved Room suffered interruptions and changes in design and was only completed after a number of years. Contrary to what has previously been believed, the Evidence Room with the iron door referred to in an indenture dated 1610 must have been the room above the Carved Room - it was recorded as such in 1757. The Carved Room itself  appears to have been an ante-room situated at the north end of the Parlour, which had a narrow window on the north wall and provided access to the spiral staircase leading up the north tower (now the Sacristy Lobby, hence its circular shape).

Thanks to the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Pilgrim Trust, the derelict Carved Room has been fully restored to its former glory as a splendid eighteenth-century Gentleman's Cabinet Room.