The American Museum in Britain – From Florida to Bath

Hernando de Soto (c1496-1542) Spanish explorer and his men torturing natives of Florida in his determination to find gold. Hand-coloured engraving. John Judkyn Memorial Collection, Freshford Manor, Bath

The print above depicts Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his band of conquistadors torturing Florida natives in order to extract information on where one might find gold on the peninsula.  The print is one of many in a collection of prints that belonged to John Judkyn, a Briton who was a noted antiques dealer, collector, and conservator.   I discovered this print on the website for The American Museum in Bath, a British museum that Judkyn helped found and where his life-long collection is housed.

I must admit unfamiliarity with this scene as most American history books, particularly those written to “educate” American school children, tend to avoid such revelations of historical barbarity and cruelty.  In fact, most books and articles written about Hernando de Soto fail to discuss such incidents at all.  I’m sure this is quite agreeable with the State of Florida as de Soto’s tale is woven into the local lore in a manner designed to promote tourism.

De Soto’s “route” of exploration has been exploited by several states to include Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas as a means of attracting tourists. The U.S. government also paid tribute to De Soto with the issue of a $500 Federal Reserve Banknote in 1918.  The notes image is based on William H. Powell’s painting, The Discovery of the Mississippi.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing engraved vignette of William H. Powell’s painting Discovery of the Mississippi. Engraving by Frederick Girsch. Scanned from an original impression, part of a Treasury Department presentation album of portraits and vignettes (c. 1902), possibly presented to Lyman Gage.

US $500 FRN-1918 Fr-1132d (reverse) – Courtesy of the National Numismatic Collection – National Museum of American History

The Discovery of the Mississippi by William H. Powell – Commissioned by the US Congress and placed in the Rotunda of the Capital in 1855.

John Judkyn, along with American, Dallas Pratt, was one of the founders of the American Museum in Britain, located in Claverton Manor, Bath, Somerset BA2 7BD – England, UK.

About Claverton Manor:

House & Family History
Perched on a sublime hilltop site, Claverton Manor is a Regency style stone house of the 1820s designed by Jeffry Wyatville. The site was originally occupied by a manor purchased in 1758 by Ralph Allen, the promoter of Bath stone and a prime developer of the city. It was was at Claverton Manor on July 26, 1897, for the Primrose League, that Winston Churchill delivered his first political speech. Today Claverton is home to the American Museum in Britain. The Museum was founded by two antique collectors, an American, Dallas Pratt (1914-94), and a Briton, John Judkyn (1913-63), and opened to the public for the first time on July 1, 1961. Presented as a series of period rooms, the exhibits cover every period of American history, and are particularly strong in rooms and furnishings from New England. Because John Judkyn was a peace-loving Quaker, the Museum contains no militaria. 
As is often the case, the words of the persons involved in History are oft the most reliable source of information and in this case an obituary written by Dallas Pratt of his friend John Judkyn should serve sufficiently to give the reader an idea of what the American Museum in Britain is all about.

The following  is from an obituary written by Dallas Pratt: 

But first, let us establish that Dallas Pratt was a close friend of John Judkyn.  Pratt was a psychiatrist in his professional life, an animal rights activist, and a founder of the American Museum in Britain.  

Dallas Pratt

The photos of John Judkyn come from an historical photo site of British history,,  to whom I give credit for the following photo.  I have a link to the source site below.

note* – Some sources use the spelling Judkin, rather than Judkyn.    

John Judkyn in the American Museum

Background of John Judkyn

No one in John’s immediate family was or is particularly interested in collecting antiques or objects of art, although the family was affluent for generations through ownership of land in Northamptonshire and of a rich granite quarry, developed under the corporate name of Judkins Limited, in Nuneaton. His mother, nee Florence Cunynghame, was the daughter of a Scottish baronet, and his great-uncle by marriage was the benefactor of Dublin’s National Gallery, Hugh Lane (drowned in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915).

John attended Repton School from 1927~31, but left early because of illness. Recovering he went to live for about a year with Cunynghame relatives in Paris. There his interest in decorative arts first manifested itself. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, and worked for a time with the distinguished interior designer, Monsieur Boudin. Returning to London, he worked for several years with Acton, Surgey, of Conduit Street, a firm which specialised in furniture and artefacts of the Gothic and Elizabethan periods, bringing John into contact with such clients as William Randolph Hearst and Sir William Burrell.

Another formative influence in the 1930s was his friend Sir Philip Sassoon. Sassoon was accustomed to stage annual exhibitions, drawn from his collections, at his London Park Lane residence, and John helped with the cataloguing and arranging of several of these. In 1937, John and I met through a mutual American friend, Hugh Chisholm, Jr., in Cambridge, where Hugh was doing post-graduate work. John had not yet visited the U.S. but wanted to, and after we became friends we agreed to share an apartment in New York.

He already had some close friends among Anglo-American families in England: Eshers, Camoys, Lebuses, Gainsboroughs and others. Having secured a job with Stair and Andrew, London dealers specialising in antique 18th century English furniture, he arrived in New York in the fall of 1937 and went to work in their gallery on East 57th St. Before long he had made a contact with the Cooper Hewitt Museum, still in the original premises on Lafayette Ave. and 8th. Street. Among the miscellaneous collections formed by the Misses Hewitt was one of English antique furniture. On the invitation of the Curator, Calvin Hathaway, John, as a volunteer, undertook to “vet’ this collection and prepare an informal catalogue.

While still in England, John had started to form his own first collection of antiques. There were soon enough largely to furnish the residence known as “The Bishop’s House,” at Henley-on-Thames, which he and his mother acquired in the mid 1930s. He also started to deal in a small way, at one time sharing a small shop with Jane (Mrs. Charles) Toller, in St. Christopher’s in London. He began to import antiques to the U.S. in 1938-39, and, leaving Stair and Andrew, arranged for his stock to be shown in space shared with an antique dealer on East 58th ST. After the war, his shipments, now drawn from France, Holland as well as Great Britain, became a flourishing wholesale business under the name “222 Imports”.

He opened a shop on Madison Avenue known as “The Quaker Shop”, succeeded by premises on Second Avenue; he also exhibited at antique shows. Two aspects of 222 Imports had a significant effect on the American Museum-to-be. Since John sold only “To the Trade,” his relationships with American dealers were important and carefully cultivated both by the seller and the buyers. John’s stock was of high quality and scrupulously authentic. More than that, his choice of objects was characterised by “flair” a somewhat mysterious, highly idiosyncratic, aesthetic, even, witty quality much appreciated by dealers who were themselves cultured, sophisticated, and who often, in their advertising, preferred to identify themselves as “antiquarians” rather than “antique dealers.” As a result, when we decided to start acquiring Americana for the museum, an area of collecting in, which neither of us had any previous experience, John sensibly insisted that we should work only with this somewhat rarefied group, whom he had found in his own dealings to be very knowledgeable, and whose insistence on quality and authenticity matched his own. We found that these dealers responded with enthusiasm to our project, and when they acquired objects which they knew we wanted for one of our period rooms, often called us by phone to alert us to their find, giving us a chance to dash off to wherever it was before they offered the item to others.

Another aspect of John’s business had influence on our locating the museum in Bath rather than elsewhere in England. His practice during the first post-war decade was to go to Europe in early spring and to start forming the collection, which would be shipped to the States in September. Pending shipment, it had to be stored in a London Warehouse except for those pieces needing restoration. These were entrusted to an expert London antiques, restorer, C A. (“Nick”) Bell Knight, By the mid-1950s, John decided that it would be both economical and convenient to acquire a house in the West Country which had turned out to be the best source in England for 222 Imports. There the shipments could be assembled and a workshop and living quarters provided for the Bell Knights—Nick having been anxious for some time to move his family out of London.

In 1956,Gordon Chesterman, who lived next door to Freshford Manor, happened to tell two of John’s cousins, Anna and Gertrude Cunynghame, of the dire fate, which had overtaken the Manor. It had been sold, and was to be subjected to a ‘development’ ruinous to the fine old house and to the surrounding village. John heard of it, got in touch with Chesterman, and somehow persuaded the developer to let our company, H.H. Estates buy for £3500 the Manor and a number of surrounding village houses. Our being established there made its vicinity the first choice for the location of the museum-to-be.  Two years later, we found a home for it at Claverton only four miles from Freshford.


The ‘flair’ which John had in forming collections of antiques for sale also manifested itself in the series of houses whose interiors he designed for ourselves, 1942-61. These were, successively, Brandywine Farm, Downingtown, Pennsylvania (1942); 222 East 49th. New York (1946)’; 118 Cheyne Walk, London, (1951).’ 19 Cliveden Place, London (1955); Castello San Peyre, Opio (1955); Freshford Manor (1956); 18 Groom Place, London (1961);. 228 E. 49, N.Y.(1962).

Some hallmarks of John’s style were the following: invariably, antique furniture, but often mixing British, French, Italian or Chinese examples; the wood, fruitwood by- preference, often sun-faded, or painted; the wall colours either white, or bold peach or scarlet- never cream or pastels, sometimes hung with Regency or Directoire wall paper, or covered by Coromandel screens. Then drapes in predominately 17th or 18th century rooms, red or yellow silk damask; in early 19th century rooms , grey or grey- blue silk, or flowered chintz. The architectural woodwork, usually painted olive-green or greyish blue. The paintings, often naive portraits or landscapes.

All, these elements, to which were added a miscellany of antique glass, lamps, china, boxes and leather-bound books, arranged with John’s sure eye for proportion and harmonious color combinations, resulted in interiors which were works of art as well as extremely liveable. Although all the furniture in the series of historical rooms at the Museum was selected jointly by John and myself, its arrangement in those rooms was by John.

Also, when European accessories were required for these rooms such as might have been there originally- e.g. Delftware in the Lee Room, the porcelain garnitures in the Deming and Deer Park Rooms, the carpets in the Greek Revival and Deer Park Rooms- these were chosen and donated by John. Although the wood colors in most of these rooms were either original or when absent copied from contemporary panelling , such as the cedar-graining in the Perley Parlour reproduced from a room in Old Deerfield, two rooms for which the original decoration was unknown reflect the ‘Judkyn style’ : the brilliant red wall-paper in the New Orleans Bedroom and the blue-gray color harmonies of the Deer Park Parlor,. In fact, the latter room, is so characteristic of John`s taste that I endowed it in his memory.


John used to say, semi-jokingly, that he had been converted to Quakerism by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop was Geoffrey Fisher, Headmaster of Repton School while John was there. John died in an automobile accident in July, 1963, and the following year, writing to a friend who was preparing some biographical notes about John, the Archbishop (by that time retired , with the peerage of Fisher of Lambeth) had this to say: I knew him well but, if I may say so, on the narrow front of casual conversations, while he was at school, and once or twice after he had left. My impression of him is absolutely clear; He won my great affection and my deep respect. I cannot recall much about his parents but he had an elder brother who was a typical public school boy, something of an athlete and with all the somewhat commonplace interests of the ordinary public school boy. John was-quite different where his elder brother was obvious John was original and one could not talk to him without realising at once that the main spring of his life and interest was hidden, as St. Paul says ‘in Christ’, and more obviously hidden too in subtle spiritual and aesthetic enthusiasms.

The latter directed him into his life work of collecting antiques and ultimately founding his wonderful museum, It is less easy to talk about that part of his life, which was hidden in Christ. I have a recollection that he talked to me at one time about ordination: and I think I remember that I told him that his religious experience was too diffuse to befitted into the channel of ordination and clerical ministry. I think any thought of a channel was really uncongenial to him, and the fact that he became a Quaker was really the right thing for him. For the Quakers live in the spirit in a freedom which id unfettered, wherein lies both their strength and their weakness. This is I think the best I can do to indicate how I thought of John Judkyn.

The conversation about ordination took place in the mid 1930s, when Fisher was Bishop of Chester; he became Archbishop in 1945 (and visited us in New York in 1961). As a result of his suggestion, John attended several Quaker meetings in England, then joined the New York Society of Friends in 1939. The Society, having a British origin, has been characterised by close Anglo-American liaison throughout its history, both by intervisitation between Meetings, and through family connections.

There are, for instance, both British and American Cadburys; some of the latter were close friends of ours and neighbours. John enthusiastically entered into strengthening liaison between the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia and Friends House in London.

A conscientious objector, the Service Committee appointed him their representative to the British Friends Relief Council. On Jan. 1 1944, he arrived in England, and later engaged in Quaker Relief work in France after the liberation, working with British, American and French Friends until the summer of 1946 when he returned to New York.

Interestingly, his first venture in helping to organise a museum occurred. in this context when, in response to a request, he found time during the war years to purchase 17th century furniture for the Society of Friends Cumbria, the home of George Fox (1624-91), founder of the Quakers.

In the late 1940s and the 1950s, John carried on his antique business and served on a variety of Quaker committees. He was responsible for securing a house in Turtle Bay Gardens, 247 East 48th.Street, for the American Friends Service Committee, which was and still is, used for conciliation efforts in the United Nations. He headed the committee, which saved the early 19th. Century building of Brooklyn Friends School from destruction. In another effort to promote international understanding, he and I worked with the Committee for Foreign Student Hospitality of Friends Centre in New York, and, once a month, over a period of ten years, gave a Sunday evening dinner-musicale at our house, for 40 to 50 guests, to bring often isolated international students in contact with Americans.

John engaged in another activity to promote international understanding, one more specifically concerned with Anglo-American contacts. he served as a director, for 16 years, on the New York Board of the English Speaking Union. By the late 1950s, John was so much in demand as a committee member that I had the impression, despite his ability for, highly organised, concentrated work that he was feeling the strain. It occurred to me that my idea for an American museum in Britain might be a welcome substitute for all this committee work, making it possible to combine his aesthetic and organisational abilities with his efforts to promote Anglo-American understanding. His immediate and enthusiastic acceptance of the new challenge confirmed my supposition. In the years 1958 to 1961; we were actively engaged in forming the collection for the museum, and, assisted by John’s British secretary, John Wilson, made frequent weekend buying trips in the eastern U.S., and one long trip by train to the west and south. Even before the collection started to take form, there was a brief appearance of Americana a few miles from the as yet unpurchased Claverton Manor. This was in a loan exhibition, Antique Quilts. And Quilting organised by John at Freshford Manor, inI May, 1958, which contained a group of early American quilts. John had persuaded Electra Havemeyer Webb to lend them from the collection she had formed at Shelburne Museum in Vermont.


As soon as the Museum opened in the summer of 1961, plans were underway to recruit “Friends.” John asked Mrs and Mrs John Barry Ryan, two of his co-Directors on the English Speaking Union Board to be his Chairmen. Through Quaker connections in Philadelphia, a Benefit Committee was formed there, Operations commenced in April, 1962, with Helene Walker as Executive Secretary and with an office later in the year at our recently purchased house, 228 East 49th Street. As the attached letter to Mrs. Walker shows, John in the last year of his life was sending out appeal letters and speaking in Boston, New York and elsewhere to recruit Friends. Through this, helped by Ian McCallum`s Spring tour , some 300 Friends had been persuaded to join by the end of 1962.


John Judkyn died on July 27, 1963, as the result of an automobile accident in the south of France. His major bequest to the Museum consisted of shares in his family business, Judkins Ltd., a granite quarrying industry. The Museum retained the shares for several years, during which two profitable mergers raised their value to nearly £400,000. He left his American estate to me, and from this I created the John Judkyn Trust, the Income from which must be paid to Halcyon Foundation. The Foundation has donated annually to the American Museum. The value of the Trust (1991) is $140,000 As described in America in Britain, v. 2, No. 1, 1964, p 3, two memorials were established in John`s memory: the John Judkyn Memorial, with staff, offices and workshop at Freshford Manor; endowment (1991) £128,000; and the John Judkyn Music Memorial; endowment (1991) £21,000.

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