Family Heirlooms – 1. The Silver Spoons

Every family has stories about links to famous people, or the nobility, or some great family which just happens to bear the same name …. and mine is no exception.

My earliest verified HUNT ancestor is my great great grandfather Thomas HUNT (1791-1849), a cordwainer (shoemaker) born in a little Worcestershire village called Redmarley d’Abitot. His mother was also born there; his father’s birthplace is uncertain but  likely to have been a neighbouring village.

Yet it is a common belief among several branches of the family that we are descended from Thomas Hunt the Mayor of Exeter, who owned Hams Barton at Chudleigh in Devon. His lineage can be traced for a few generations but then appeared to die out with the death of Bennet Hunt, who had a single child, Elizabeth. Even with all the resources of the internet I have been unable to find a single definitive link between the Hunts of Hams Barton and the Hunts of Redmarley, or indeed any Hunts in Worcestershire and surrounding Counties.

Another family legend is that Thomas HUNT was a relative of the Earl of Somers and that when the Earl died GGF Thomas forbid his son to apply as heir, because he had married a lady’s maid or governess (he most likely did). This has been explored further in another article (“Our Hunt Family Coat of Arms”).

Below is a note written by Edwin Herbert Hunt 1866-1921, grandson of Thomas. 

%22Earl of Somers%22?_2

With the above sorties in mind, i decided to investigate some family heirlooms. Carefully packed away among the belongings of my Aunt Betty, the great granddaughter of Thomas Hunt, were 8 silver spoons. Four with a strange heraldic crest …….

fish spoon.3

fish spoon.1

… 3 with an ornate H …..

Hunt spoon.2

…. and one caddy spoon with an equally ornate W or M. I decided to investigate these further.

Caddy spoon

Caddy spoon hallmark

Obviously, the H stood for Hunt. My grandmother Edith Lilian (Lily) Hunt arrived in Australia in 1879 on the fast steamship “Aconcagua” with her family – her parents Edwin Hunt 1837-1895 (youngest son of Thomas) and his Welsh wife Margaret Morgan 1837-1925, and Lily’s seven older siblings. The M on the sugar spoon most likely stood for Morgan.

108_0860 Margaret Morgan Hunt ca 1910

That left the four with the heraldic crest – a fish or eel with a trident. The spoons were obviously very old. Two were very worn on one side indicating constant use by a right-handed person, most likely a child.

Putting aside for the moment the question of age, which could be settled by an examination of the hallmarks, I focussed on the heraldic engraving.

A search of Bernard Burke’s two-volume authoritative work on Crests (The General Armoury…) and several similar books was not very helpful.  All confirmed that the talbot – a species of hound – was the main item in the family crest of several different Hunt families, including the one from Chudleigh.

The Duke of Somerset’s crest features a phoenix rising from a ducal coronet; another branch of the Somersets in Gloucester has a portcullis.  The Somers mostly have a stag, a lion’s head, or a laurel tree, and the Sommers a harvest fly, a lion rampant, a stag or coat of mail. The various De Veres have a boar; and the Morgans do not seem to have anything relevant either. Burke says that a crest is much less individual than a coat of arms, and that up to the 1780s some heraldic authorities opined the crest could be varied at will.  

Definitely none of the families whose names are involved in our family history have a dolphin and/or trident. Burke lists at least 60 families whose crest involves a stylised  dolphin or fish, but none include a trident. The trident is strongly significant of a maritime link – but none of the Hunts or associated families had any association with the sea or shipping companies or trade.

Perhaps the hallmarks would yield some information?  With the help of several books on hallmarks, widely available in libraries, I discovered to my astonishment that the 4 spoons with the strange heraldic crest were made by William Ward, a Dublin goldsmith, in 1802. Over 200 years old!  The 3 spoons with the initial H were made by the Exeter goldsmiths J. Whipple & Co. in 1879-1880.  And the caddy spoon was made in Sheffield in about 1900.  Aunt Betty also had a sugar bowl and milk jug with the same ‘bat’s wing flutes’ typical of the 1790s but since then widely reproduced, and most likely part of the same set. Other family silver which has survived is similarly dated post 1879 and most likely purchased in Australia although of English manufacture.

Edwin Hunt and his family left Reading, Berkshire in 1879. It is likely they purchased, or were given, the Exeter silver just before they left – perhaps it was a parting gift? But the Irish  spoons are more difficult to explain. And why the nautical theme?

Cousins have been canvassed – none have any spoons or other silver with similar engravings. None have any idea of maritime links with the family. The only logical conclusion is that the old Irish spoons somehow found their way into the family. Perhaps they were purchased second-hand as gifts for the four Hunt girls in Australia. At the time of the family’s arrival  in Australia they were aged 16, 15, 10 and 3 which corresponds well with the degree of wear of the spoons (!) and their size – the fourth and most worn is smaller than the others.

Fish spoon.2

I do have Irish ancestors – but their links to the Hunt family are all relatively recent, and do not involve my Aunt Betty.

So, although I am no closer to verifying any of the family legends, and the silver has posed more questions than it has answered, I am considerably richer, and not only in knowledge about old silver.

© Nancy Vada Gibb 2012