The Chamberlain Highbury Trust has been presented with a suite of bedroom furniture that was formerly at Highbury. It is the gift of Miss Patricia Swinley and has passed by descent from Mary Endicott Chamberlain, later Mrs Carnegie, to her step-daughter Jocosa Carnegie, later Mrs Swinley, the mother of the donor.
The suite was made in the United States, probably in Boston, and was the gift of Mr and Mrs William Crowinshield Endicott to their daughter Mary when she married Joseph Chamberlain in November 1888.
The furniture is of bird’s eye maple, a popular wood in the United States for high quality furniture. It comprises a double bed, bedside table, dressing table, chest of drawers, writing table, wash table and two side chairs. The maple has an inlay of a darker wood, possibly cherry. There were no wardrobes with the suite of furniture. These were made in England in order that they would fit into the pre-existing spaces in the principal bedroom at Highbury, together with a matching mirror. Mary wrote to her mother on January 18 1889.
Today I have been ordering three wardrobes for my room and instead of having them in the natural wood, they are to be white and gold which is less trying than the darker colour. At best they are not very ornamental but I trust if the men carry out my ideas that they will turn out well. The cornice of the bed is to be introduced which will make it harmonise.
The American furniture arrived in Liverpool in February and Mary first saw it at Highbury in April when she wrote that ‘the bedroom furniture is very successful and the fireplace and wardrobes in my room really lovely so I am delighted with them.
In 1899 in a magazine article the decor of Mary’s bedroom was described as in ‘the Louis Seize style – white and gold with garlands of flowers. The hangings and curtains are of old rose silk’ but the article did not describe the furniture. The only surviving photograph of the bedroom shows two of the white and gold wardrobes on either side of the fireplace and the mirror but none of the Endicott furniture.
After Joseph Chamberlain’s death in July 1914 Mary had the task of dismantling the furniture at Highbury some of which she and her step children kept and the majority of which was sold at auction on April 28-29 1915. Three bedroom suites featured in the sale but the Endicott furniture and the wardrobes were taken to London to the Chamberlains’ town house at 40 Prince’s Gardens. Mary married Canon William Carnegie, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, in August 1916 and moved to Dean’s Yard his official residence. After his death in October 1936 Mary purchased a house in Lennox Gardens, Chelsea . Following her death in May 1957 the furniture passed into the Swinley family.