Hope from the roots up to the rafters

Exploring the Hispanic-Anglosphere…

The carved frieze inscription in the Library at Tyntesfield, North Somerset

©National Trust Images/ John Hammond [Image 778255]

Author: Graciela Iglesias-Rogers

Big, bold and high up in the rafters of the Library of the country residency he had established, Tyntesfield, reads the personal motto of William Gibbs (1790-1875): ‘En Dios mi amparo y esperanza’.  The phrase and the style of architectural decoration – repeated throughout the house – constitute an excellent example of a product of the Hispanic-Anglosphere during the nineteenth century.

Although in Spanish, at first the motto makes little sense in that language if read literally. It suffers from a grammatical error: either it should say ‘En Dios me amparo y [tengo] esperanza’ (In God I shelter and I draw hope from) or more likely ‘En Dios [encuentro] mi amparo y esperanza’ (In God [I find] my shelter and hope). In the latter case, for a native Spanish speaker – particularly one with a nineteenth-century religious predisposition – a comma placed between ‘Dios’ and ‘mi’ would have been enough to act as a mnemonic clue capable of alerting that a word was missing and that this word was likely to be ‘encuentro’ (I find). Having been born and bred in Madrid, this was not a detail to be easily ignored by William Gibbs. And, indeed, a close inspection of the carving provides a satisfactory solution to the conundrum: a comma is there, not with its usual typographical appearance, but in the shape of a curved and elongated pine cone placed over a leaf:

The carved frieze inscription in the Library at Tyntesfield, North Somerset

In the 1850s, Tyntesfield was redecorated in the neo-Gothic style by the firm of John Gregory Crace (1809-1889) who had formed a working relationship with the pioneering advocate of the Gothic revival, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852), famously responsible for refurbishing the Palace of Westminster. The carved frieze in the Library was the outcome of a two-year project started in 1863 with a view to spread and accentuate the Gothic naturalistic style even further throughout the house, a task undertaken by the architect John Norton (1823-1904) and the builder George Plucknett of William Cubbit & Co. The identity of the craftsman who carved the ornamental woodwork remains uncertain, but it has been attributed to James Plucknett (c. 1836-1905), possibly a kinsman of the builder, who later in the decade established with Frederick John Collier a firm in Leamington specialized in rich carved furniture advertised as being in the style ‘particular to the Gothic, Tudor and Elizabethan ages.’

Although fashionable at the time, the Gibbs’ peculiar attachment to the neo-Gothic had other reasons. Originally, the Gibbs had been Presbyterians, but at some stage during the late eighteenth century they begun to conform to the Anglican Church. It remains unclear whether this happened immediately before or after Antony Gibbs (1756–1815) moved his family to Madrid in 1789, but William´s formative years in Spain had certainly nurtured in him a particular love for the smells and bells of the old faith and the beauty of holiness. During a visit to Seville, in 1853, he attended a service in the cathedral. It was perhaps inevitable that such a person would become a supporter of the Tractarian (also known as Oxford) Movement that sought reconciliation with the Catholic Church. The aspirations of the Tractarians chimed with those of Pugin and his followers who desired to re-establish the Gothic architectural style, prevalent prior to the Reformation, as the national style of Britain. The Gibbs supported both these religious and aesthetic movements with numerous donations and commissions for many years.

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Sources and Suggested Reading: Graciela Iglesias-Rogers, ‘Love, prejudice, pandemics, and global entrepreneurship: William ‘Guillermo’ Gibbs’s long route to Tyntesfield’, in Iglesias-Rogers, Graciela, ed. The Hispanic-Anglosphere From the Eighteenth to the Twentieth Century: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2021; James Miller, Fertile fortune: The Story of Tyntesfield (London: The National Trust Books, 2003); Waterhouse Paul and John, Elliott, ‘Norton, John (1823-1904), architect’, (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Setp. 2004; online edn, acccessed 18 Jan 2018 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-35259]; Matthew Kilburn, ‘Gibbs, William (1790–1875)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2009; online edn, May 2011 [http://ezproxy-prd.bodleian.ox.ac.uk:2167/view/article/89656, accessed 21 Feb 2016]; Hall, M. (1996). “James Plucknett of Warwick and Leamington Spa ” Furniture History 32: 159-178; Brittain-Catlin, Timothy, Maeyer, Jan de, and Bressani, Martin (eds.), Gothic revival worldwide: A.W.N. Pugin’s global influence (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2016).

How to cite: To cite from this page, please use any style (Chicago, Harvard, etc). Our preferred citation form is: Graciela Iglesias-Rogers, ‘Hope from the roots up to the rafters’, Exploring the Hispanic-Anglosphere, an online exhibition – The Hispanic-Anglosphere: transnational networks, global communities (late 18th to early 20th centuries), project funded by the AHRC and the University of Winchester in partnership with the National Trust, [https://hispanic-anglosphere.com/online-exhibitions/hope-from-the-roots-up-to-the-rafters, accessed – please add the date of your visit].

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