Virtual Exhibit No 2: Russian Cutlery Set at the Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate (UK)
Russian Cutlery Set at the Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate (UK)
[wooden box with Champlevé enamel cutlery pieces]
Between mid-May and mid-June 1894, Princess Alix of Hesse – granddaughter of Queen Victoria and soon to be Russian Tsarina – stayed in Harrogate to cure her sciatica. She took lodgings at Catarth Guest House on Project Place, run by Mr. and Mrs. Allen. When the Princess learned that Mrs. Allen had just given birth to twins, she asked to become their godmother and that the children be named after her and her betrothed, the Russian Tsarevich Nicholas.
Armstrong’s Harrogate Almanack of 1895 described the event of the christening as follows:
“To Mr. and Mrs. Allen’s surprise and delight, Her Grand Ducal Highness signified her desire to stand as Godmother for the twins, and therefore, arrangements were made for the ceremony of Baptism to be performed at St Peter’s Church, on Wednesday, June 17th. The greatest possible secrecy was observed, but her Highness and the baptismal party had barely entered, when a crowd gathered sufficient to fill the church. The gates were closed, however, and the people were shut out. But they waited patiently opposite the main entrance, with the vain hope to seeing Her Highness when she came out. In the meantime the ceremony was proceeding inside. […] It was a strange never-to-be-forgotten scene. – The future Empress of the mighty Empire of Russia, standing as surety before God for a Plumber’s baby, along with the Mayor of Harrogate, and a local butcher. Surely never knelt such a diverse party before in that church, or any other church. Surely no lady ever lived so high and stooped so low. In a word, it was a crowning act of condescension on the part of Her Grand Ducal Highness, Princess Alix of Hesse.”
The cutlery set shown here is one of the many gifts and letters the Tsarina sent to her godchildren (this one to the girl Alix) before being executed by the Bolsheviks in the wake of the Russian Revolution in 1918. The story of her stay at Cathcart House, her desire to stand as godmother and the gifts she sent to her godchildren, is now told in Harrogate's Royal Pump Room Museum and is illustrated by this set alongside objects donated by the son of Nicholas Allen, the twin boy.
Curator: Karen Southworth, May Catt