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Digging up the past with a prized piece of Coventry's history

A recent acquisition by the Herbert is this ceremonial silver trowel which was presented to JS Wright when he laid the memorial stone for the Gosford Street Baptist chapel in 1868. It was made by Francis Skidmore of Coventry. The trowel is currently on display in the Recent Acquisitions case which is located on the ground floor of the Herbert, near the shop. 

an ornate trowel with engraved writing of the maker, and details of the ceremony

The trowel is an example of the work of a Coventry manufacturer who became one of the leading art metalworkers of the later 19th century. Francis Skidmore set up his business in Coventry in the 1840s, making church plate and other smaller pieces of metalwork.
As his business expanded from the 1860s Skidmore was commissioned to produce decorative metalwork for a number of cathedrals, churches and public buildings, as well as continuing to make church plate and household items. He was often chosen by Gilbert Scott to work on the restoration and refurbishment of ecclesiastical buildings and on other major works. His larger commissions included ornate screens at Hereford, Salisbury and Lichfield cathedrals; the ironwork for Oxford University Museum roof and the Midland Hotel at St Pancras Station; and the decorative metalwork for the Albert Memorial. 

Gosford Street Baptist Chapel was opened in 1869 to replace a previous chapel in Whitefriars Lane. It was designed by D Webster of Sheffield and was built of red brick with stone dressings. It seated about 700 people. 

The laying of the memorial stone took place on 8th September 1868 and was well documented in the Coventry Herald at the time. A crowd of several hundred watched John Skirrow Wright of Birmingham fix the memorial stone. Wright was a prominent social improver in Birmingham. The Herald noted that a ceremonial trowel with an ebony handle inlaid with ivory and gold mountings, made by Messrs Skidmore of Coventry, was presented to Mr Wright to carry out the ceremony. 

This item was acquired with the assistance of the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund. 
The Herbert also thanks the Peartree Collection for supporting this acquisition. 

Explore more of the collection online at Coventry Collections: the online catalogue of Coventry Archives & Research Centre, Coventry Transport Museum and the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.