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Made for Walpole, England’s first prime minister, by George Wickes of London in 1738, the tureen and cover had been in a private US collection since 1964.

Wickes was appointed silversmith to Frederick Prince of Wales in 1735 and his clients included many of the leading figures of the day. including Sir Robert Walpole of Houghton Hall, Norfolk.

“The importance of this tureen lies in the fact that it is one of a very small group of 18th century silver objects for which the complete documentation survives regarding its commissioning,” explained Mr Hartop.

“Its design can be attributed to William Kent who was working for Walpole at Houghton at the time.”

The tureen’s subsequent provenance is also well documented: it was inherited by Horace Walpole and was sold in the celebrated Strawberry Hill sale in th 1840s.

Norfolk Museums Service managed to acquire the piece with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Art Collections Fund, the Victoria and Albert Museum/Resource Grant Fund and the Friends of Norwich Museums.