About the Project

This blog and interactive website (link below) is the outcome of a research project exploring the history and significance of the Thomas Weeks Cabinet held in the collection of Raby Castle in Darlington, United Kingdom,  made possible through the support of Raby Castle and the British and Irish Furniture Makers Online (BIFMO).

Read on to find out more, or visit the full interactive website below!

Visit the Interactive Website

Introducing Kelsey and Maura

Two graduate students collaborated with the team at Raby Castle on the project’s research, content, and website design over the course of a summer internship program. Kelsey Weeks is a Masters student at the University of Buckingham in London studying historic interiors and the decorative arts. Maura Tangum is a Masters student at Bard Graduate Center in New York City, whose research interests range from archaeology to fashion history. They hope you’ll come away as inspired by the Weeks Cabinet and its story as they have been.

Listen to the barrel organ

Behind the lower doors of this cabinet lives a barrel organ with two barrels, capable of playing up to 24 tunes. A rare and unique piece of furniture, little was known about the network of its makers, its use throughout the centuries, and how it fit within the context of musical and social history at the time of its commission. Source material used for this project includes documents from the Raby Castle archives, BIFMO catalogue of makers, as well as advice and direction from experts at The Music Box Society of Great Britain.

Click on the image to have a listen

Weeks Cabinet 4

Furniture as Entertainment

At the turn of the 19th-century, British fascination with all things mechanical grew, inspiring the incorporation of entertainment within pieces of furniture. Made of satinwood and mahogany, the Weeks cabinet was likely designed by Thomas Weeks and made by the cabinetmaker George Simson. Weeks established his London Museum of Mechanical Curiosities in 1797 and Simson was a prolific craftsman who worked in London from the 1790’s to 1839. It is likely the 3rd Countess of Darlington saw a similar cabinet with a barrel organ in Weeks’ Museum and was inspired to commission one for Raby. The third craftsman associated with the Weeks cabinet is the organ maker, Joseph Beloudy. Known as one of the finest organ specialists of his day, Beloudy did not often sign his collaborative work and thus it is only upon the superior quality of the Raby barrel organ that historians conclude Beloudy is likely the maker.

Raby’s Cabinet

Commissioned by Lady Catherine Margaret Powlett, 3rd Countess of Darlington in 1800, the cabinet was originally situated in her private sitting room. Little is written about Lady Catherine aside from a few contemporary anecdotes describing her as “agreeable, and on the whole, kind,” but to others she was “very sarcastic and intolerant; and on the slightest deviation from what she considered the laws of good society, she never scrupled to give her opinion, and that in a very unpleasant manner.” From this enlightening description, it is no wonder she decided to have a barrel organ commissioned for her own private sitting room. With its lively, twenty-four tunes, it would have kept her and her guests delightfully entertained.

Lady Catherine Margaret Powlett
LEFT - Portrait of Lady Katherine Powlett, Countess of Darlington, and Lady Amelia Powlett from the Raby Estates Collection RIGHT - Portrait of Lady Catherine Margaret Powlett by Thomas Stewardson (thepeerage.com)

Where can I see the Cabinet today?

When the present Lord Barnard was a child, he remembers it standing in the State Rooms where he and his siblings used to wind it up to play. The cabinet went on long term loan and stood in the Music Room at the Bowes Museum until 2003 when it was returned and installed in the Small Drawing Room. As the inhabitants of the castle changed and the placement of the cabinet moved, its audience widened considerably. Throughout the centuries, this cabinet maintained the beauty of its craftsmanship and the enchantment of its musical offering. The barrel organ is currently silent while essential conservation work is being undertaken to enable the 24 tunes to be enjoyed long into the future.

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