A lot coming up at Christchurch, Dorset, auction house Bulstrodes on March 2 reveals this intriguing link: a champlevé enamelled boxed set of Fabergé cutlery estimated at £8000-10,000, along with an archive of associated items.
In November 1894 Princess Alix of Hesse, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was to marry Grand Duke Nicholas, heir to the Russian throne. Earlier that year she had travelled to the sleepy but socially significant town of Harrogate in North Yorkshire to take ‘the cure’ in the famous baths as a treatment for her sciatica, travelling under the name of Baroness Startenburg with a lady in waiting.
She stayed at Cathcart House, a boarding house owned by a Mrs Allen. It was established shortly after 1860 as one of the town’s leading boarding houses - in 1911 a tea-party here was attended by Empress Marie of Russia; Queen Alexandra, former Empress of India; King Manuel of Spain; Prince Christopher of Greece; Princess Victoria and the Grand Duchess George of Russia.
While the princess was staying at Cathcart House, Mrs Allen gave birth to twins, a girl and a boy.
The princess took this as a good omen for her forthcoming marriage to Nicholas and asked to be godmother to the twins and that they be named Alix and Nicholas. She attended the baptism in St Peter’s Church. The future Empress of Russia maintained a close relationship with her godchildren and regularly sent them gifts for years afterwards.
In 1910, on the occasion of his confirmation, Nicholas was given gold cufflinks inlaid with diamonds and sapphires, followed by a gold cross and chain for his 21st birthday in 1915.
In 1994 Nicholas’s son, Michael, gave many of the gifts from the Tsarina to the Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate, including those cufflinks.
According to a Yorkshire Post newspaper report in 2006: “Nicholas Allen became an official with the Yorkshire Penny Bank and kept his gifts from the Tsarina in a security deposit box, but a week after he died, his son received a letter asking him to claim them. For a time Mr Allen kept them in his loft but eventually decided they were too much of a security risk. It is not known what has happened to the Tsarina’s gifts to her goddaughter.”
However, the cutlery which has emerged at Bulstrodes was sent to Alix Allen as her first birthday gift in 1895, says the auction house. Two identical boxed sets were sent for the boy and girl as indicated in the black and white photograph included in the lot (and pictured above). Also consigned is a scrapbook containing many letters and news clippings of the time documenting the Russian royal connection to the Allen family and Cathcart House.
The book includes two handwritten letters signed by Carl Fabergé, telegrams from Queen Alexandra to Princess Victoria - who also stayed at Cathcart House at the time - and many documents providing a fascinating provenance. The boxed set is consigned by “direct descendants of the recipient”, says Bulstrodes.
The Russian imperial link to Harrogate continued long after Alix visited. Marie Georgievna Romanova, Grand Duchess George of Russia, ended up marooned there in August 1914 when her daughters were being treated at the town’s spas. She founded five hospitals in the town to treat injured soldiers returning from active service.