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Unlockingthe pastIn keeping with Patricia Fay's vision to help conserve thegreat country homes of Britain, NADFAS-accredited lecturerDr Helen Cliffordis calling on members to assist in a newresearch project, 'The East India Company at Home 1757-1857', to uncover the history behind their Asian antiquitiesWhen Patricia Fay foundedNADFAS in the late 1960s, shehad from the start a clear ideaof the potential its membersrepresented. "In 50 years' time," sheannounced in 1967, "we shall be judgednot by our number of members andlecturers, but by what we have achievedin the houses and museums." Two yearslater, in 1969, the NADFAS founderemphasised that "it is important to seethat members are given moreopportunity to 'do' rather than 'look'".The importance of this active ratherthan passive aspect of NADFAS hasnowhere been proved more than withinthe country homes of Britain. In the early1970s when these houses were underthreat, Patricia Fay made theirconservation another of her great andvisionary crusades. Today, thousands ofHeritage Volunteers clean, conserve,research and conduct tours in ourcountry houses, helping preserve thesetreasure stores of objects and archives.Yet like the collective and individualknowledge accumulated by the growingnumber of family historians, that of theHeritage Volunteers has, to a largeextent, not been recognised or utilisedby academics. Circulating largely outsidescholarly circles, this body of knowledgehas the potential to enrich understandingof British country houses as sites ofsocial, cultural, economic and politicalcohesion and conflict. A new Leverhulme Trust-funded research project, 'The East India Company www.nadfas.org.ukNADFAS REVIEW / WINTER 201129Left:Detail froma Chinesepainting showingseveral stages oftea productionand packing in CantonEAST INDIA COMPANYPhoto: Martyn Gregory Gallery, London

30NADFAS REVIEW / WINTER 2011www.nadfas.org.ukat Home 1757-1857', based in theGlobal History and Culture Centre at theUniversity of Warwick, recognises thevalue of such knowledge. Its aim is toexamine how Asian goods, such asChinese export porcelain and Indianchintzs, were acquired and deployed inthe country houses of the English,Scottish and Welsh governing classes.The project team lead by ProfessorMargot Finn and assisted by Dr HelenClifford, Post Doctoral student KateSmith and PhD student Ellen Filor, arecalling on NADFAS members to helpthem in the quest for case studies ofcountry houses that contain Asiangoods, where these exotic commoditiescan be linked to archival evidence oftheir acquisition, care and use.THE EAST INDIA COMPANY ANDTHE COUNTRY HOUSE INTERIORThe activities of the East India Company,and those who traded alongside it, werethe chief means by which these Asiangoods entered British homes. Since itscreation in 1600 by Royal Chartergranted by Queen Elizabeth I, the EastIndia Company changed the world'stastes creating new trading places andcommercial routes. The Warwick projectwill focus on the hundred years betweenClive's victory at Plassey in 1757 to theoutbreak of the Mutiny of 1857, whenBritain's empire on the subcontinent wasadministered by the East IndiaCompany. By the late 1750s, its'servants' enjoyed unprecedentedaccess to Asian goods, through bribes,ceremonial gifting, private commerceand the spoils of war. Together with theCompany's official cargoes of Indian andChinese commodities, these goodshelped to transform British homes.Company families were themselvesessential channels for the disseminationof eastern luxury objects into westerndomestic interiors. They played a crucialpart in the shaping of British countryhouse interiors as the purchasers ofstately homes, as patrons of artists andcraftsmen in India and Britain, asarbiters of Oriental fashion, as givers ofAsian gifts, and as the source (throughbequests, marriage portions andinvestment) of new commercial wealththat sustained flagging landed fortunes. The Warwick project will examinevarious houses in an attempt to revealthe detail of how goods were selected,where they came from and how, whatmeanings they had, and how theseAsian porcelains, furniture, lacquer, wallpaper and metalwork combined with thecurrent regional and national tastes ofthe time. For example, one task couldfind out how General George Harris(1746-1829), who had defeated theSultan of Mysore at Seringapatam in1798, displayed his Indian treasures atBelmont House in Kent, his home from1801. Another might examine how SirAbove:Porcelainbowls whichbelonged toCaptain JamesCook (1728-1779) and hiswife Elizabethc1770EAST INDIA COMPANYPhoto: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London; by kind permission of The Trustees of the Harris (Belmont) Charity; Martyn Gregory Gallery, London