Decorative arts and social history

Decorative arts and social history

A dolls house

The diverse nature of the objects in this collection reflects the fact that the palaces have been lived in or constantly used for over 1000 years.

Overview of the decorative arts and social history collection

Some of the objects in the decorative arts and social history collection have been acquired to furnish rooms to improve visitors' understanding of life in the palaces. Many have also been acquired to tell the stories of the people that lived in the palaces.

A few of the objects have been left behind by former residents. A good example are the items from Apartment 23 at Hampton Court Palace which belonged to Lady Manning who occupied that apartment from 1935 to 1992. They form the core of an internationally significant collection of social history objects.

Artefacts from the decorative arts and social history collection

Dolls House

The 1780s doll’s house was decorated and used by the daughters of George III. It is currently on display at Kew Palace.



The harpsichord at Kew Palace was made by the Swiss-born Burkat Shudi (1702-1773). He worked in London as an instrument tuner and maker. Shudi signed his instrument in pencil like an artist would mark an artwork, with a name, location and date.

This harpsichord is made from a mixture of materials: oak, pine, walnut, brass and steel. Harpsichords often had two sets of keyboards which allowed for a rich sound.

King George III and Queen Charlotte had an enthusiasm for music and were keen harpsichord players. Newly married in the 1760s, they held weekly private concerts at St. James’s Palace. The harpsichord is most commonly associated with music of the Baroque period. George particularly liked the music of Handel.


Tuscan pot

The Tuscan vase, currently taking a rest from display in the Hampton Court Palace stores, is one of Henry VIII's valuable treasures imported from abroad. Tuscan vases were unusual in 16th-century England and highly prized. 

This vase, probably made in Tuscany in the early 1500s, was produced for export to England. It has a white tin-glaze in imitation of oriental china, with hand-painted decorations. It displays the Tudor royal coat of arms (although the continental potter has mistakenly reversed the lions and the fleur-de-lis). This type of pottery is known as ‘Majolica’. 


Clock at Kensington Palace

Augusta, Princess of Wales, mother to George III, acquired a musical clock in 1743. It was made by clock maker Charles Clay and originally contained a music box which played tunes by Handel, Corelli and Geminiani.

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