This table has been the subject of TV programmes and books as well as being featured in George Hepplewhite’s book of designs “The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer’s Guide”. The description of this extremely complex metamorphic table is a starting point for a voyage of discovery.
No.401X A truly rare and magnificent George III Period Mahogany and Marquetry Inlaid Dressing Table, the elaborately inlaid Flame Mahogany Rectangular Top with crossbanded edge above three drawers, the centre drawer fitted for writing and with a baize lined slide, the two flanking drawers opening to show fitted interiors with lidded boxes and infinitely adjustable mirrors, all the drawers crossbanded, the frieze with a band of marquetry raised on four fluted legs terminating in spade feet and having inlaid flowers
Height: 33.5”, 86 cms. Width: 45.5”, 116 cms. Depth: 28.5”, 73 cms.
The amazing story of Mrs Rudd’s Dressing Table and her treachery with the Perreau twins!
Once this table came on display, it was only a matter of time before a collector would want to buy it. And so it was sold to a delightful gentleman from Surrey who I believe had invented the first electronic hearing aid in his youth. In fact so rapid was this sale, I didn’t have a chance to carry out any further research on this. My opportunity should have come some years later when he moved to another house and was “down-sizing” to use the modern idiom and so Mrs. Rudd’s Dressing Table came back in to my stock at Number 5, Old Bond Street in London’s Mayfair.
One of my dearest friends, a collector with homes in London, Vienna and Sao Paulo came by and fell in love with the table immediately and had to have it shipped to Vienna straight away. Once again I missed the boat so to speak and didn’t have the opportunity for further research. He has recently bought another property in Vienna and has given part of it over to his family so some of his collection has come back to me again and this time I have had the chance to catch up with Margaret Caroline Rudd and her table now in Witney in Oxfordshire.
Indeed, since I last handled this extraordinary and complex table, two books have been published recounting her life story. In short, she was Irish and very wayward. She was orphaned and brought up by her maternal uncle, John Stewart, being sent away to school where the parents of her peer group threatened to withdraw their offspring from the institution unless she was expelled. She returned to live with her Grandmother in Lurgan where she availed herself of the opportunities presented by having a garrison of the English 62ndRegiment of Foot Soldiers in the town. She married Lieutenant Valentine Rudd on 4th February 1762 and before long they were back in England living in London where she went through his money like wildfire. She had already befriended other men and was living a very luxurious lifestyle which could not be afforded by Captain Rudd.
The desperate man ended up in the debtor’s prison while she continued to add to his debts. There is no doubt that she had learned at an early age to make the most of herself and her appearance. Margaret Caroline Rudd (nee Youngson) was a courtesan with a seemingly large following including such luminaries as John Wilkes and James Boswell, the writer, to say nothing of Samuel Johnson. In order to keep herself in the manner to which she would have liked to become accustomed she embarked on a series of frauds that consisted of signing promissory notes forging eminent peoples’ signatures against which banks would lend money. She repeatedly claimed descent from the Scottish Royal House of Stuart!
In the aftermath of the South Sea Island (Bubble) affair, it had become the very cornerstone of the Banking World that a man’s word was his bond and indeed the wealth of the City of London was built on this trust. Mrs. Rudd inveigled the Perreau twin brothers to help in her deceptions passing off counterfeit notes signed by well-known merchants. members of the nobility etc. and forging their signatures. As they fell due for repayment so she was able at a few hours notice to come up with several thousand pounds to pay them off. We assume the money came from her clients who may well have been subject to blackmail or by just issuing further notes which were lodged with bankers. It has often been said that she used her children to this effect by claiming money from those whom she insisted were Father to her offspring without worrying too much about how many “Fathers” each child had. She had also now taken to calling herself Mrs. Perreau and claimed to be married to Daniel Perreau, even though she had never been divorced from Valentine Rudd.
She also pawned her jewellery repeatedly and bought a new house in Harley Street which she furnished. Presumably it was for this house that the famous Mrs. Rudd’s Dressing Table was made. Certainly between 1773 and 1775 Mrs. Rudd and Daniel Perreau spent many thousands of pounds on furnishing the new home in Harley Street with possessions. Daniel had always been a wastrel and a gambler whereas his brother, Robert, was an apothecary with a decent income and a loving family. The twins could not have been more different except in appearance.
Margaret Caroline Rudd left a trail of broken men behind her. This included the twins, Daniel and Robert Perreau who stood trial for her forgery, were found guilty in 1775 and hanged in January 1776 at Tyburn on a bitterly cold snowy day which over 30,000 people turned out to watch. She subsequently used her undoubted charms to secure a not guilty verdict for herself. This Georgian Scandal rocked the very pillars of the establishment with members of the public queuing round the block to get into the Old Bailey to see the proceedings. This knocked the American War of Independence off the front pages of the newspapers and journals. Apparently, the Rudd Trial was as avidly followed and widely reported in George III’s reign as the O.J. Simpson Trial was in the USA some two centuries later.
How did Hepplewhite and Shearer know what her dressing table looked like?
In the meantime we are indebted to George Hepplewhite, whose widow, Alice, published a book of his designs for furniture two years after his death in 1786. “The Cabinetmaker and Upholsterers Guide” gave the author’s name to a whole period of designs from the last two decades of the 18th century and on plate 79 we see the term “Rudd’s Table” used.
George Hepplewhite was relatively unknown during his lifetime and it is due to Alice’s business acumen that his name has survived. His style is a very traditionally based transition from the Gothic, Chinese, Rococo and Neoclassical idioms of Chippendale to the lighter lines and designs of Thomas Sheraton. However, in the notes to plate 79 he writes: “Rudd’s Table or Reflecting Dressing Table, This is the most complete dressing table made, possessing every convenience which can be wanted, or mechanism and ingenuity supply. It derives its name from a once popular character, for whom it is reported it was first invented.”
It then describes the construction in greater detail. It is also interesting to see the inlays on this example tally with suggestions in the preceding plate and elsewhere in the publication. This example also has fluted legs as does Hepplewhite’s design. Did he make the original one for Margaret Caroline Rudd? In their book “The Perreaus & Mrs. Rudd” Donna Andrew and Randall McGowen detail a lot of the items that went into the Harley Street house between 1773 and 1775 and conclude on page 117 “She even had a special Hepplewhite dressing table made, and named for her”.
The centre drawer is fitted for writing and it is delightful to see how so many of the intricate little internal fitments still retain the original lids. Again, the crossbanding to the drawers is exactly as described by Hepplewhite. Did Margaret Caroline Rudd sit at the secretaire drawer on this table to write out those forged notes that lead to the inevitable hanging of the Perreau Twins? We may never know!
David Harvey is a well known Antiques Dealer who owns WR Harvey & Co (Antiques) Ltd, in the bustling Cotswold market town of Witney, Oxfordshire. He has a life long passion for fine antique furniture and works of Art. You may very well see him at prominent Antiques Fairs up and down the UK but you will always be more than welcome to call in and see him at the shop. His other passions include rowing and down-hill skiing.