It is a truth universally recognised that a man in possession of a powerful and shiny new car is in want of a fulfilling journey on open roads. And so it was, dear reader, that your Master embarked upon a 2,000 mile return trip by road from London to Stockholm for his summer holiday. Experiencing the sheer delight of his red Jaguar sweeping effortlessly through the un-crowded landscape of the Mistress’s native Sweden was a dream fulfilled, with much to interest followers of our craft as well.
As no Master Turner worth the name could travel anywhere without seeking traces of turning, I wished to share my discoveries with members of the Company on my return. Sweden has less than one sixth of the UK’s population in a country well over twice its size and a motoring holiday there offers a glimpse into the world as it was and still can be. When that is combined with breathtaking views, welcoming hosts, and excellent food, the only constraint is the very strict prohibition against drink driving which is, in any event, reinforced by the relatively high cost of alcoholic drinks. This excuse for a period of modest consumption of spirituous liquors does, however, afford the opportunity for a fashionable detox.
It is an irony that one of the least belligerent countries in the world today has a history of military success and territorial aggrandisement, which during its age of greatness made it the ruler of much of northern Europe. The 17th and 18th centuries were, as the Swedes call it, The Great Power Time, when, during the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), their king, who we call Gustavus Adolphus, was the undisputed leader of the Protestant cause until his death in battle. In consequence, the landscape has several impressive castles stuffed with war trophies, and even the libraries are crammed with precious manuscripts pillaged from Catholic monasteries in Germany. Understandably, the Swedes are rather quiet in the debate over the Elgin marbles
When the Generals came back to Sweden – many of them, incidentally, ennobled Scottish mercenaries with names like Campbell and Hamilton – they put their plunder into real estate. One of the most spectacular castles is Skokloster, sited on a bluff overlooking a branch of Mälaren, the lake to the west of Stockholm. This was the home of General Wrangel and it is now a time capsule from that period. From the 14th to the 18th century turning (Sw. svarvning) was a highly regarded hobby amongst the European nobility. Wrangel was an enthusiastic turner and his workshop has been recreated on the top floor complete with wood and metal lathes and all his tools neatly arrayed.
But the items in the collection of interest to turners are not limited to those in his workshop. He was presented with many stunning decorative pieces by the burghers of towns in northern Germany in gratitude for freeing them from Catholic domination. Amongst those are turned plates and an exquisite drinking vessel, each of serpentine, which would excite the Upper Warden, a geology graduate and aficionado of turned stone.
Turning was even a royal pastime in Sweden. In the western suburbs of Stockholm lies the royal palace of Drottningholm, the Swedish Versailles, which is still occupied by the king today. The delightful landscaped garden contains a Chinese pavilion given in July 1753 by King Adolf Frederick to his queen Lovisa Ulrika on her birthday. Their son, the seven year old future Gustav III (fated to be assassinated at a masked ball), presented the gilt keys to his mother on a red velvet cushion with gold tassels, while dressed as a Chinese prince. For turners the significance of the pavilion is that it included a turning workshop, and we know from court records that both the king and queen used to turn, walnut and ebony being ordered for her use. An ornamental lathe remains on display here together with many turning tools.
And so an excellent and relaxing touring holiday was given added purpose by these insights into the significant place which turning held in the lives of many prominent families in Europe.