The secrets of Thomas Weeks cabinet
Two American postgraduate students were awarded an internship over the summer of 2022 to research the Thomas Weeks cabinet at Raby Castle in County Durham: Kelsey Weeks is a student at the University of Buckingham in London studying historic interiors and decorative arts and Maura Tangum is a student at the 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.
The Week's cabinet in the Small Drawing Room, Raby Castle
Commissioned by Lady Catherine Margaret Powlett, 3rd Duchess of Cleveland in 1800, the cabinet was originally situated in her private sitting room. Little is known about the Duchess aside from a few contemporary anecdotes describing her as 'agreeable, and on the whole, kind, but 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'. Based on this 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.
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.
The enjoyment it provides transcends categories of public or personal. As the residents of the castle changed and the placement of the cabinet moved, its audience widened considerably. Throughout the centuries this cabinet has displayed the beauty of its craftsmanship and the enchantment of its musical offering. The twenty-four tunes are now enjoyed by hundreds of visitors to the castle every year and the Weeks cabinet remains an inspiring mechanical wonder.
A barrel organ fit into the bottom of the cabinet, probably made by Joseph Beloudy.
At the turn of the nineteenth-century British fascination with all things mechanical grew, inspiring the incorporation of entertainment within pieces of furniture. This is a perfect example; behind the lower doors of this cabinet lives a two-barrel organ! A rare and unique piece of furniture, little was known about the network of its makers, its use throughout the centuries, or how it fit within the context of musical and social history at the time of its commission until now.
Made of satinwood and mahogany, the Weeks cabinet was probably designed by Thomas Weeks and produced by the cabinet maker, George Simson.
The trade label of George Simpson at No 19 South side of St Pauls Church Yard, London, c. 1800
Weeks established his London Museum of Mechanical Curiosities in 1797 and Simson was a prolific craftsman who worked in London from the 1790s to 1839. It is likely the 3rd Duchess of Cleveland saw a similar cabinet with a barrel organ in Weeks’s Museum and was inspired to commission one for Raby.
Pamphlet, or booklet for Weeks's Museum, on Titchborne Street, near Piccadilly, providing background information on the museum, details for subscriptions, and a description of the two temples exhibited, 1797 [C,2.694-697]. © The Trustees of the British Museum
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 .
Source material used for this project includes documents from the Raby Castle archives, BIFMO, and advice and direction from experts at The Music Box Society of Great Britain.
Click here to view Kelsey's and Maura's interactive blog.