“And good chips, from that old block.”

Edward Prince, Carpenter, Aged 73 by John Walters

Edward Prince, Carpenter, Aged 73 by John Walters painted in 1792.

I follow one of Britain’s National Trust blogs that specializes in chinoiserie. Through the blog I was familiar with Erddig, a very popular National Trust site, outside of Wrexham in Wales. What I didn’t know was how the painting above was related to Erdigg and the extraordinary relationship between the Yorke family, Edward Prince and his successors.

The painting of Edward Prince has been in my file for a while but until I could decipher the writing on the scroll, Edward had to wait. Last night I found the poem and much more about the carpenters of Erddig.

Erdigg was built in the 1680s and passed into the Yorke family in 1733.   Phillip Yorke I (1743-1804) commissioned portraits of six estate servants and composed poems to be included in the paintings. The paintings were completed between 1791-1796 and in addition to the carpenter, included an elderly housemaid, the blacksmith, the gamekeeper, the kitchen porter and the butcher and publican in Wrexham. Except for the butcher, all the servants were middle aged or elderly and had been in service from a young age. The series of paintings and the poems started a Yorke family tradition of acknowledging and honoring the servants of Erdigg. This remarkable and unique tradition continued for almost 200 years with the paintings, and later photos, displayed in the Servants Hall.

Phillip Yorke I by Gainsborough and the west fro view of Erddig

Phillip Yorke I by Gainsborough, late 1770s; the West front view of Erddig.

John Prince, father of Charles and grandfather to Edward, was the first recorded carpenter at Erddig. Charles Prince, known as “The Black Prince” because of his dark complexion, succeeded John. Edward became his father’s apprentice. As head carpenter Charles was paid 1 shilling 6 pence per day for a 6 day week; Edward the apprentice was paid 1 shilling per day for a 6 day week. In 1779 Edward succeeded his father as Head Carpenter and we learn a bit more about him from the poem in the painting:


Phillip York called these little compositions of his “Crude-Ditties” and actually published  a volume of them.  It isn’t a poem meant for a collection of classics, but a message of warm regard for the Prince family as a mainstay of Erddig and an affectionate thank you to Edward for his long service. And four wives! With each new wife I can just imagine what kind of greeting Phillip gave Edward, can’t you?

In 1830 Thomas Rodgers was the carpenter at Erddig and at age 48 he was painted at his workbench. Simon Yorke II wrote the inscription at the bottom.

Thomas Rodgers, Carpenter, 1830 by William Jones of Chester.

Thomas Rodgers, Carpenter, 1830 by William Jones of Chester.

Rodgers started working at Erddig in 1798 first as a pig-boy and later as a thatcher’s assistant and a slater. After working at Erddig for over 65 years he was made a pensioner at age 90 and died in 1875 at age 94. Twenty-two years after the painting we find Thomas in a photograph taken in 1852. He is holding his saw with his son and successor James Rodgers next to him.

Erddig servants on the front steps. Thomas Rodgers is front row, second from right; his son James is next to him.

Erddig servants on the front steps in 1852. Thomas Rodgers is front row, second from right holding his saw; his son James is next to him.

The Yorke family documentaion of their domestic staff gives us a rare look at a 19th-century craftsman in a painting and a photograph. It is a reminder of how much life was changing mid-century. Although the pace of change was slower on a country estate, the traditional ways of life and of making things by hand was being challenged and changed by new technologies and machines.

John Jones, a descendant of Erddig servants, was the head carpenter at age 56 in 1911 when his photo was taken. He entered service in 1872.

John Jones, Carpenter, 1911.

John Jones, Erddig Carpenter, 1911.

Thanks to the Yorke family’s respect for their staff we have a glimpse into the lives of multiple generations of carpenters at one country estate. Hands down, this beats Gosford Park (except for Clive Owen) and Downton Abbey any day.

In 1973 Erddig became a National Trust property. Not long after that a local mine collapsed threatening the stability of the main house and out buildings and a major job of shoring up was undertaken. Although I couldn’t find any photographs of the carpenter’s shop taken in the 19th century I did find a few photos taken prior to and during the 1970s renovations, and a few current photos. Except for the current photos of the workshop all images in this post are from the National Trust.

If you would like to learn more about Erddig go here.

Rona Walker from New Zealand wrote “A Brief Story of the Prince Family” for a family reunion. I wonder if there are any Prince woodworkers in New Zealand?

Suzanne Ellison

P.S. If you would like to see the original six paintings by John Walters, including the blacksmith, go here.

This entry was posted in Historical Images, Personal Favorites, Workbenches. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to “And good chips, from that old block.”

  1. Doug Mckay says:

    Thank You Suzanne, Great stuff!!

  2. Eric R says:

    You are an amazing writer.
    You put us right into the story.
    Really enjoy your stuff.

  3. Ryan McNabb says:

    I heartily approve of this content.

  4. ptross says:

    what? no postings of the blacksmith painting? you are being a tease. Please post them if possible or perhaps provide a link. thanks!
    -a salivating smith-

    • saucyindexer says:

      I added a link to BBC-Your Paintings and you can see the six original paintings. I have found only two lines from the poem for the blacksmith:
      “Our Erddig Smith, who fifty year,/Was Surgeon-general to the gear.”

  5. Suzanne,
    You saucey girl, this was “most excellent”, and very informative. Your research is incrediblely intense and well received. Thank you.

  6. Lisa Godfrey says:

    Thanks for this article. I’m a Prince descendant and my brother is a Carpenter here in Australia. My mother is a Prince, from Auckland New Zealand. Last year I dug up a copy of our family tree that my Uncle had sent us and noticed a reference to Erdigg Hall and ‘The Black Prince’. I discovered our connection to Erdigg via a simple google search and ordered a copy of the painting of Edward. It’s so great to have a connection to the past through this painting, which is now framed and in my brother’s house. I’d love to visit one day and see the estate, especially the workshop!

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