I have been looking through some old catalogues online and came across the wonderfully named Colonel Mulliner’s Extraordinary Tray, which was for sale from Apter-Fredericks in New York in 2011. It is a beautiful piece made from satinwood and tulipwood with a number of marquetry motifs including husks tied with ribbons. The design matches a number of other pieces attributed to Ince & Mayhew including a pair of card tables and a Pembroke table from Ham House.
Being curious about the name, I decided to find out more about Colonel Mulliner. In his later years he established an outstanding collection of English furniture, objects of art and tapestry, which was sold by Christie’s after his death in 1924, when his estate was worth around £250,000 (nearly £10 million today)[i]. The tray was in his collection, as well as a commode by Ince & Mayhew which is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York as part of the Untermyer Collection.
However, as Mr H H Mulliner, Managing Director of the Coventry Ordnance Works, the Colonel played a part in the build up to World War One. He took over the family’s coach-building business in 1887 and by 1897 they were making body parts for motor vehicles, including Rolls Royce and Bentley. He was also interested in developing tools to make ordnance and became Managing Director of Coventry Ordnance Works owned by Cammell Laird in 1903. In 1906 he wrote to the War Office to inform them that there was an “enormous expenditure going on at Krupp’s for the purpose of manufacturing very large naval guns and mountings quickly.”[ii] Krupp produced most of the artillery of the Imperial German Army.
Unfortunately that was not the case, and it can only be assumed he was trying to get business for his own company, which was struggling to find orders and by 1909 was lying idle. Mulliner wrote letters to The Times, visited politicians and succeeded in persuading Balfour that more Dreadnoughts had to be built. The popular press supported the scare-mongering, (sound familiar?) and eight vessels were eventually ordered. Germany, who had no intention of producing the numbers of dreadnoughts mentioned, lost all trust in British diplomacy. Philip Noel-Baker in his 1959 Nobel Prize lecture said: year by year, the race in Dreadnoughts led to panics and to counter-panics in Germany and Britain; by 1909 our foreign minister, Lord Grey said it had become the most important single factor in increasing European tension and the risk of war.[iii]
Mulliner was required to leave the Board of Directors of Cammell Laird, receiving a settlement of £100,000 in addition to the payment of £142,566 for shares on the merger of the businesses in 1903.
He was in the Territorial Army and in 1914 he was an Honorary Colonel for the Remount Service, whose role was to provide horses for the cavalry. He relinquished this appointment in October 1915. According to the London Gazette he relinquished the appointment of Hon. Col. of the Royal Field Artillery, 4th S. Mid. Brigade on 18th November 1922, on completion of tenure, retaining his rank.
He developed his interest in antiques after the war and was an important early collector. He left some items to the Victoria & Albert Museum, and also bought and modernised Rainham Hall, now belonging to the National Trust.
[i] Probate Record
[ii] Noel-Baker, Philip John, The Private Manufacture of Armaments. London, Gollancz 1936 p412-6
Sarah Ingle is the great great great great grand-daughter of William Ince and has been researching her family history for a number of years. She thoroughly enjoyed the detective work involved in tracing William’s lineage.