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Long Melford: Stately home puts name to face of one of its former owners

PUBLISHED: 12:06 26 March 2014

After years of searching, the National Trust has finally tracked down a portrait of Melford Hall’s long-lost 17th century owner Sir Thomas Savage. Barbara Messling and Trudi Jeffs (NT volunteers).

After years of searching, the National Trust has finally tracked down a portrait of Melford Hall’s long-lost 17th century owner Sir Thomas Savage. Barbara Messling and Trudi Jeffs (NT volunteers).

A stately home in Suffolk has finally been able to put a face to one of its former owners – thanks to a mysterious little red bag.

Sir Thomas Savage, who inherited Melford Hall in 1602 and is an ancestor of royal Princes William and Harry, has long been conspicuous by his absence from the walls of the National Trust property.

This is because the only accepted likeness of the former Viscount existed in a private collection in Yorkshire.

However after a year-long effort by researchers, experts have discovered that a painting previously thought to be of the 17th century Archbishop of York, is in fact Savage.

For months, volunteers at Melford Hall have been searching for an image of Savage to include in a book about the home’s former owners. They visited the Yorkshire painting but were unable to get any closer to acquiring an image until the hall’s National Trust general manager Luke Potter came up trumps with a Google search listing a painting up for auction.

According to National Trust curator, Wendy Monkhouse, Savage held the important post of Chancellor to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, from the mid-1620s until his death in 1635. Whoever held this post was painted with a richly embroidered red purse of office, bearing the cipher ‘HMR’, and this is what finally identified the painting’s subject.

Ms Monkshouse said: “When a painting came up in the web search as being up for auction at Christies, it was listed as 17th century Archbishop of York John Williams.

“But it piqued our interest because it showed him sitting with a little red purse of office. Williams never held the post and further research by Christies unearthed that it was actually Savage in the picture.

“Comparison with the painting in Yorkshire strongly suggested this was the same man.”

So using a legacy from three local women, the National Trust was able to buy the painting at auction for £6,000.

While undergoing conservation work at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge, the hidden signature of London painter Cornelius Johnson was discovered beneath a heavily darkened varnish alongside the date 1632. This confirmed that the painting dated to when Savage held the office of Chancellor.

The painting will be on public display when Melford Hall reopens on April 2.

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