South Norfolk Auction Salutes Nelson

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South Norfolk Auction Salutes Nelson

By Elizabeth Talbot

A little stash of Nelson-related items has been found, hidden in an unassuming cupboard in a characterful rural retreat in coastal Norfolk. Wrapped in home-knitted woollen socks and cheek-by-jowl with vintage thermos flasks, outmoded drinking glasses and extremely faded Christmas decorations of several ages ago, without careful consideration and patient inspection, the treasures could so easily have been discarded as rubbish; the executors had skips outside at the ready and were eager to empty the property as quickly as possible. Instead, the clearance of the house was being overseen by an experienced valuer with an instinctive appreciation for surroundings and context, a curious nature, and a painstaking methodology.

The modest hoard comprises just a few items, but is accompanied by some hand-written notations, recorded by previous generations, which helps substantiate provenance. Of most note is a late 18th/ early 19th Century knife and fork, each of hand-forged steel with a horn handle. The method of manufacture of the knife blade is akin to late 18th Century sword and sabre-making skills. To the knowledge of Militaria Specialist at TW Gaze, Ed Taxil-Webber, there is no known precedent for these implements. They are accompanied by an early hand-written note: “This is to certify that this knife and fork came off The Victory and was given by a named Captain who served under Lord Nelson and was on board at the time of his death. Frances Napp”. From the same source came a very small pre-1805 red wax seal. This shows a side profile of Nelson framed by lettering “ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY” and is kept upon a turned ebony mount. These words were used as a signal sent by Nelson in his command as Vice-Admiral of the Royal Navy from his flagship HMS Victory as the Battle of Trafalgar was about to commence at around 11.45am on 21 October 1805, nearly 218 years ago. He ordered his Lieutenant John Pasco to signal the British fleet using a numeric flag code known as the ”Telegraphic Signals of Marine Vocabulary” and the significance of Nelson’s death during the battle against the backdrop of the subsequent victory has led the phrase to become both famous and a synonymous representation of the English spirit of courage and virtue in the face of conflict.

Meanwhile, the dining theme continues with a white damask tablecloth, produced as a tribute using a design incorporating HMS Victory surmounted by a heart containing the words “Sacred Nelson” amidst foliage. It was given as a gift to a descendent of Nelson, Miss Beryl Nelson of Warham, Wells-Next-the-Sea, having been passed on through generations from Captain John Rendell R.N. (1797 – 1882). Nelson was born at Burnham Thorpe, just a short distance from where Miss Nelson subsequently lived.

Mr Taxil-Webber said “The small collection is complemented by a 19th Century oval portrait  print of Admiral Lord Nelson, in a gilt gesso beaded frame with some details noted on the back, plus a Holkham Pottery figure of Norfolk’s famous son, numbered 61. None of the items are pretentious or even particularly valuable in monetary terms. However, collectors or academics who study Nelson will find these pieces interesting and I am so pleased they were not discarded by accident.”

Significant pieces of Nelson history have sold successfully through Diss Auction Rooms over the years. “Most notably we have marketed two separate consignments of silver dinner plates from the dining quarters of HMS Victory, each plate being worth four figures ”, commented Mr Taxil-Webber. “We have also sold a letter signed by Nelson and other unique ephemera and commentaries. The pieces consigned this time will be offered as a single lot and carry the estimate of £800 – 1,200. They will be perfect for a museum or serious collector, and they may even remain in Norfolk, which would be fitting.”


Nelson interest can be found elsewhere in the same specialist Militaria auction at TW Gaze, to be held on Thursday 13 October. There is an Edwardian Admiral Lord Nelson Centenary 1905 tyg by Copeland, a subscriber’s copy distributed by T. Goode & Co. It is decorated with a hand-coloured design of an Edwardian battleship alongside HMS Victory in sail, Britannia upon the waves, together with an oval framed portrait of Admiral Lord Nelson, with text borders enriched in gilt, £300 - 400.

The highly reputed auction will comprise a wide scope of privately-sourced pieces and catalogues will be available to view online at nearer the time. Please contact for sale information or for advice and assistance with valuations and marketing for future auctions.

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