Skip to main content Skip to navigation

The Making of an English Country House

PaletteHenry Russell moved his family to Reading and then to Brighton while extensive renovations were undertaken at Swallowfield between 1824 and 1826. The long-suffering Charles, unsurprisingly, stepped in to supervise in Henry’s absence, as he had done at the Hyderabad Residency. Although Sir Henry Russell received rents from Swallowfield and was an occasional guest there, it was Henry and Clotilde Russell – together with their six surviving children – who made this house their home. Charles, who served as a Tory MP for Reading for many years, was a constant visitor, and continued to work in harness with Henry to made Swallowfield a venerable English family seat.  

Henry and Charles approached a range of British suppliers when procuring items for Swallowfield Park. At each stage of this process they demonstrate the thought and effort that they invested in each purchase. For instance, in October 1826, the renovation of Swallowfield had begun in earnest. That month Charles wrote to Henry to describe designs for Swallowfield’s mantelpieces and statuary prepared for Charles and Sir Henry by the London tradesman Atkinson, and debated the relative merits of Sienna and black and gold marble for the dining room. [1]



 Sienna marble v3









(Above left) Mantelpiece at Polesden Lacey, Surrey - NT Inventory 1246970. Copyright at National Trust/Andrew Fetherston. (Above right) Example of Sienna marble. Imagine what this mantlepiece (above left) might have looked like in this material...What did it mean for Charles and Henry to value both this and black and gold marble? Please add your suggestions in the comment box below.

Chintz v3


Soft furnishings for Swallowfield preoccupied Charles a month later. Cotton fabrics that a century before had been exotic luxury handicrafts imported from India to England were now available for Swallowfield’s refurbishment at short notice from domestic British manufactories. Charles wrote that their supplier, Deacon, had sent Henry ‘a parcel of patterns of chintz for bed furniture. If you like them, but would prefer them in other colours, they can be printed in any colour you please, in the course of three weeks’, he marvelled. [2]


Chintz cape Coromandel coast, ca. 1775-80, Cotton, printed and dyed, IS.104-1950. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Chintz is a type of glazed calico cloth usually printed with flowers and other patterns in different colours. The chintz cape shown above demonstrates the intricacy of the fabrics imported from India in the eighteenth century (an intricacy that substantially challenged British producers to change their techniques). There are no digitally available examples of chintzs produced by British manufacturers in the early nineteenth century, but Charles's description suggests at the variety they were able to offer.

The Hunt for a Carpet

Lyon silk v3Although new British manufactures were often appealing, his cosmopolitan knowledge of the luxury market often caused Charles concern. As the family increasingly familiarised itself with the respective virtues of British and continental goods—a development assisted by visits to Clotilde’s Parisian relations—a preference for continental material culture increasingly challenged the brothers’ British and colonial tastes. Upon returning from a French excursion in 1827, Charles reported to Henry on progress at Swallowfield, but fretted about the quality of the new wallpaper. ‘Where the pattern of the paper is pretty & full, the rooms look handsome, but in two or three of them the paper looks rather common; perhaps more so from my having just seen such rich papers in France’, he commented. [3] Their London supplier had shown Charles patterns for Swallowfield’s silk furnishings, but again Charles was concerned that silks from Lyons that he and Henry had seen in France were superior. [4]

March 1828 saw Charles recommend Belgian carpets—available in London at a shop at 145 Leadenhall Street or directly from the Belgian warehouses—to Henry both for Swallowfield and to send to his Mottet in-laws in Hyderabad. In May, the brothers travelled to Tournai to visit the factory itself, and selected a carpet with a pink ground for Swallowfield’s dining room. [5]

By November 1828, the brothers had spent a small fortune of their father’s money on Swallowfield’s embellishment. ‘My Father last night got Atkinsons [sic] account of outstanding bills amounting in London & Swallowfield to £5276’, Charles wrote on 26 November. ‘He takes it astonishingly well.’ [6]

Furnishing fabric Lyon, France, c.1797-8, Pernon and Dugourc, Woven silk and silver, T.69-1951. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Charles comments about the 'rich papers in France' become fully imaginable when looking at this example of Lyon silk furnishing fabric. The colours of course have faded from the vivid brightness they would have displayed in the late eighteenth century.

Who cared and cleaned the objects that filled Swallowfield Park? Who laboured away to ensure that these furnishings remained bright and vivid? If you have any information about the servants who worked in Swallowfield Park in the eighteenth, nineteenth or twentieth century, please get in touch using the comments box at the bottom of the page.

Portraying their past and claiming their future


Governor v2Family portraiture became increasingly popular during the eighteenth century. It served to both present families as loving and affectionate units and demonstrated the structures which organised it. At the same time groups of portraits could offer signs of lineage, as the Russells understood. Family portraits, specifically commissioned by Henry for the Residency, had served both to enhance its European emphasis and to remind visitors that the Russells were a powerful and well-connected imperial clan. In 1812 Henry commissioned George Chinnery (1774-1852), the premier society artist of colonial Calcutta in this period, to paint a portrait of Sir Henry for the Residency. To this paternal line of images, Henry at Hyderbad added portraits of his female relations that sought to weave together his natal and birth families. Memorial images of Jane Casamijor were supplemented by portraits of her surviving female kinfolk, commissioned together with portraits of Henry’s mother and sisters. His mother’s portrait was undertaken by Thomas Phillips (1770-1845), that of Elizabeth Casamaijor by John James Masquerier (1778-1855), and the portrait of his sisters by Eldridge. [7]

Family portraits, which had featured prominently in Henry’s refashioning of the Hyderabad Residency, were likewise central to the brothers’ plans for Swallowfield. Retired from the Company service, Henry now enjoyed the wealth, leisure and connections to raise his collection to new heights. Both Charles and Henry entered eagerly into genealogical research from the later 1820s onward, intent to familiarise themselves with the biographies as well as the portraits of a family they had left behind as adolescents to seek their fortunes in India. [8]

Commissioning new family portraits, and retouching existing ones, occupied the brothers throughout the 1830s, connecting them with the flourishing English art trade. In 1831, Henry Russell commissioned David Wilkie (1785-1841) to complete a portrait of his uncle, Earl Whitworth, a picture begun by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830). [9] His mother’s family was far more socially exalted than his father’s, but Henry was also careful to ensure that his paternal line was well-represented on Swallowfield’s walls.

Sir Henry Russell, 1st Baronet (1751-1836) George Chinnery, engraved by Samuel William Reynolds, Mezzotint, GAC 4477. Crown copyright: UK Government Art Collection. Sir Henry Russell's appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Bengal had been marked in 1807 with a commission by 'the native inhabitants of Bengal' for a vast portrait of the newly elevated judge. Brought from Madras to Calcutta to execute this commission, George Chinnery (1774-1852) was Russell's private guest during the three months it took to complete the painting, which was freighted with allegorical emblems of the virtues of British justice for Bengal's indigenous and colonial populations. A more modest replica of this portrait was sent to London, where an engraving by Samuel William Reynolds underpinned circulation of Russell's image - and his new status - in the metropolis. Intent to build upon this precedent and to delineate his paternal geneaology (and thus his natural place in the imperial governing elite) on the walls of his Indian home, Henry in 1812 commissioned Chinnery - now the premier society artists of colonial Calcutta - to paint a portrait of Sir Henry for the Hyderabad Residency.

Henry was also eager to continue to use portraits to maintain links with his in-laws. The artist George Richmond (1809-1896) was a frequent visitor at Swallowfield in the 1830s, welcome as a houseguest, an artist and an art-consultant. Portraits of Henry and Clotilde, completed by Richmond in 1834, were sent to Clotilde’s sister and brother-in-law, now resettled from Hyderabad to Exeter; another sister, still in India, received a drawing of Clotilde by Richmond in 1836. [10]

Both English and Indian subjects featured in Henry’s art collection at Swallowfield. When he wrote to Charles with instructions for Wilkie about the painting and framing of family portraits in 1836, Henry thus also mentioned two pictures of ‘Indian subjects’ in Wilkie’s care. [11] Over time, however, first English and then, increasingly, continental European subjects supplanted Indian items in his collection.

In 1840, newly returned from the continent, Henry debated with Charles the best way to display his growing collection. By October he had decided that the breakfast room would contain his portraits of Mrs Casamaijor (Jane’s mother), their paternal uncle, Henshaw Russell, various Italian prints, pictures on classical themes and a Madonna. The paintings in the hall, he had decided, would include pictures of St Anne and the child Jesus as well as Chinnery’s portrait of Sir Henry. Perhaps concerned by the increasingly continental emphasis of his collection, Henry in December purchased or reframed a series of paintings that depicted key figures in England’s royal history: Charles II, the Duke of Marlborough, Lord Portland and Queen Anne. [12]

The death of Sir Henry in 1836 elevated Henry to the baronetage, and appears to have given him new licence to develop his European tastes. The family spent much of the next few years travelling on the continent, where Henry discovered a passion for Renaissance Italian art that was to contribute significantly to Swallowfield’s interiors.

He wrote to Charles from Venice in 1837 to report his enjoyment of paintings by Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto, as well as ‘a host of first rate masters whose names even I never heard of before’. He purchased copies of a painting by Titian of the Assumption, and one by Veronese of supper at the house of Levi. The two boxes of purchases he was sending back to Swallowfield, he reported, were filled with a cornucopia of artefacts: books, rolls of prints, old bronze knockers, an ebony writing box, a bust, a sleeping cupid, a marble basin, carved wooden heads, female figures and his Renaissance reproductions. [13] Writing from Naples in 1838, before the family moved on to Rome, Henry told Charles to expect a further eight cases of continental goods—maps, prints, a marble table-top, bronze and Etruscan ware. From Rome, he sent a further 10 cases of goods home to Swallowfield. [14]

It was by refreshing the first baronet’s Wimpole Street furnishings with continental materials that the second baronet now prepared to integrate these inherited goods from London into his home at Swallowfield. From Paris, shortly before the family’s return to their home, Henry wrote to Charles in August 1838 asking for the dimensions of their father’s ebony couches. ‘Clotilde has the dimensions of the seats of the small & circular chairs, and she thinks some of the yellow flowered silk she bought at Genoa, will do to cover them, but we shall want something rich to cover the couch with’, he commented. ‘If it be not too expensive, Beauvais tapestry would agree admirably with the carpet and curtains, and would be much stronger and more durable than silk.’ [15]


Swallowfield drawing room

Yellow drawing room












'The Drawing Room' (shown above left) and 'The Yellow Drawing Room, Swallowfield) (shown above right) in Lady Russell, Swallowfield and its Owners (London, New York and Bombay: Longmans, Green and Co., 1901).

Perhaps some of these furnishings (mentioned above) came to reside in the Drawing Room at Swallowfield Hall (shown left). Although this photograph of the room is much later it gives a sense of the proportions that Henry and Clotilde were dealing with. An ebony couch would certainly not have looked out of place here. Perhaps the 'small & circular chairs' with their 'yellow flowered silk covers' were intended for the Yellow Drawing Room.

When recounting her early life at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus noted that 'a distinct "yellow drawing room" party' did not emerge at a local entertainment she attended. In doing so she suggests that the yellow drawing room was a hierarchical space that attracted more refined guests. Is this a correct reading of the what the yellow drawing room signified? Please include your suggestions in the comment box below.

To bind these new European acquisitions more securely with English traditions, Henry upon his return to Swallowfield immersed himself again in genealogy. ‘Now for genealogy’, he wrote to Charles in 1839. ‘I am making out such an account as I can of our family for the Baronetage, and am, at the same time, preparing notes to be affixed to the backs of the old Dover pictures.’ [16] His place in the gentry now secured by the family’s inclusion in Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage, by Swallowfield’s establishment as the Russell family seat and by his ability to identify the paternal lineage from which he had sprung, Henry Russell—nabob and nouveau riche though he had been—had now arrived at home.


[1] Charles Russell to Henry Russell, 4 October 1826, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, fols 79-79 verso.

[2] Charles Russell to Henry Russell, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, fols 85 verso-86.

[3] Charles Russell to Henry Russell, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, vols 139 verso-140.

[4] Charles Russell to Henry Russell, 20 November 1827, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, fols 158-158 verso.

[5] Charles Russell to Henry Russell, 22 March 1828, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 159, fols 183-183 verso; Henry Russell to Clotilde Russell, 25 May 1828, MS. Eng. lett. d. 150, fols 17-17 verso. Tournai had long been a production centre for high-quality draperies and tapestries and was now also known for its carpets.

[6] Charles Russell to Henry Russell, 26 November 1828, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, fols 44-44 verso.

[7] For Henry’s commission to Chinnery and his request for portraits of the Russell and Casamijor women in England, see Henry Russell to J.H. Casamaijor, 13 February 1813, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. d. 163, fols 89 verso-90, Henry to Casamaijor, find date, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. d. 164, fols 164-165, and Henry to Sir Henry, November 1813, MS. Eng. lett. d. 164, fols 90-91.

[8] See for example Charles Russell to Henry Russell, 11 February 1830, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 160, fols 127-128.

[9] Henry Russell to Charles Russell, 10-11 August 1831, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. d. 153, fols 127-128, 130.

[10] Henry Russell to Charles Russell, 26 October 1834, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. d. 155, fol. 146; Henry Russell to Charles Russell,22 May 1836, MS. Eng. let, c. 161, fol. 260 verso.

[11] Henry Russell to Charles Russell, 7 July 1836, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 162, fols 48-49 verso.

[12] Henry Russell to Charles Russell, 12 July, 6 October, 19 October and 15 December 1840, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. d. 156, fols 9, 111-111 verso, 119-120, 163.

[13] Henry Russell to Charles Russell, 14 March 1837, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 163, fols 128-129.

[14] Henry Russell to Charles Russell, 13 February and 6 May 1838, Bodleain, MS. Eng. lett. c. 163, fols 8, 21-21 verso.

[15] Henry Russell to Charles Russell, 15 August 1838, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 163, fols 60 verso-61.

[16] Henry Russell to Charles Russell, 3 March 1839, Bodleian, MS. Eng. lett. c. 163, fols 184-184 verso.