A small display currently in European Armouries II and III celebrates two arms and armour experts and collectors whose archives the Wallace Collection holds – Samuel Rush Meyrick and Claude Blair. In the first of two blog posts archivist Carys Lewis explores the life of the first of these experts, Samuel Rush Meyrick, the founding father of arms and armour research.
Samuel Rush Meyrick (1783 – 1848) was the son of John and Hannah Meyrick. John Meyrick was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and had a passion for collecting antiques, including arms and armour, which he passed to his son. However, when Meyrick married against his parents’ wishes he was cut out of his father’s will and reduced to living on a small allowance. John Meyrick died in 1805 before reconciliation could occur so Samuel’s baby son Llewelyn (c. 1804 – 1837) inherited his estate including the antique collection.
Following the death of Samuel Meyrick’s wife, he began to build his arms and armour collection in earnest. The collection was arranged in Meyrick’s home 20 Upper Cadogan Place, London. A visitor’s book in the archive belonging to Llewelyn Meyrick reveals that between 1820 and 1830 several important figures came to view the armour collection including George IV, and artists Eugene Delacroix and Richard Parkes Bonington.
Throughout the 1820s, Meyrick authored several important texts on arms and armour, including catalogues of his and Llewelyn’s collections. He was the first to study the chronological development of arms and armour, his greatest work ‘A Critical Enquiry into Ancient Armour…’ was published in 1824. In the archive we are lucky to have a draft copy of the unpublished third volume of ‘Engraved Illustrations of Ancient Arms and Armour: from the collection of Llewellyn Meyrick’. The 1820s also saw Meyrick help re-arrange the armour displays at the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, for this he was knighted in 1832.
Under the opinion that such a great collection deserved a suitably grand establishment to house it, Meyrick was unfortunately unable to find one to suit his tastes. So instead, he built Goodrich Court, close to the ruined Goodrich Castle on the Welsh border in Herefordshire. Designed by Gothic Revival architect Edward Blore to Meyrick’s instructions Goodrich Court was noted for its large armoury which had natural light coming from great overhead skylights and a round window on the east wall. Sadly Goodrich Court was demolished in 1949.
In 1837 Llewelyn Meyrick died aged 32 without a will and his father automatically inherited his son’s estate. The later years of his life saw Meyrick become more interested in Wales and Welsh genealogy, his last important work being ‘Heraldic Visitations of Wales and Part of the Marches.’
On Meyrick’s death his cousin Augustus inherited Goodrich Court and the armour collection. In 1869 the collection was displayed at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A), and, after the British government refused to buy it, the best pieces were sold and the less important pieces were given to the British Museum. Frederic Spritzer, a French dealer, bought many of the pieces and they were later purchased by Sir Richard Wallace and are now part of the Wallace Collection. So it is fitting that part of Meyrick’s archive is today being displayed close to armour that he collected.
The Samuel Rush Meyrick archive is now fully catalogued, the catalogue is available on Wallace Live and the archive is available for consultation in the Wallace Collection Reading Room by appointment. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.