Charles Dickens and William Macready Screen



Donated to the Trust by Sir Nevil Macready the four leaf folding screen was created at Sherborne House by great friends Dickens and William Macready.

Dickens was a regular at the House and very popular with the Macready children, superior story teller that he was!  In fact the House was the setting for one of his first readings of ‘A Christmas Carol’.

William Macready was generally acknowledged to be the greatest Shakespearian actor of the Victorian Age, enjoying success both here and in America. He lived at the House for a decade and had a real cultural impact upon the town.

Made by a local craftsman the Screen itself is unusually tall at 6 feet 2 inches, made of deal and created specifically for the two friends to decorate, each leaf is 2 feet 5 inches wide. You may imagine then that it took the two men sometime to source the 400 images it took to cover its entirety. Fairly well preserved they are all original works of art, engravings, etchings and lithographs, many contemporary to the 1850s when they were placed on the surface. Great care was taken in this placing; symmetry and subject matter considered to great effect.

The material spanning the screen was hessian and the images were stuck to this with glue and varnish. Sadly, after over a decade and a half the hessian is in very poor condition and needs to be removed and replaced. This and remounting the thankfully mainly unaffected images requires the keen eye and hand of an expert.

Which is why we set up the Screen Appeal to:

- repair and conserve the Screen

- research into the images to establish their interest for the two men

- provide for its public display including a catalogue and website containing all research findings.

An artefact of both local and national importance, the ‘rainy day’ project of two of the most important cultural figures of their time, no-one in the worlds of either conservation or furniture making has ever seen anything quite like it. Which is why the Trust has undertaken to ensure its future and, eventually, have it available to be seen at the House it was created to furnish.

As Nevil Macready recalls:

“My great grandfather, William Charles Macready and Charles Dickens were close friends and they amused themselves in their leisure hours by sticking pictures of contemporary interest until nearly all the surface was covered.

I recall the screen having pride of place in the drawing room of my family’s London house when I was a child in the 1930s”.

The sum needed to preserve the screen and prevent further deterioration, alongside expenses for its display, is £20,000. Any donation that you may be able to make could really make a tangible difference so please do get in touch with us at:

The Friends of Sherborne House, St Andrew’s, Westbury, Sherborne DT93RA

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