Two leather chests,side by side in the sitting room, reminded me of my two grandfathers – their original owners.And then I realised that the smaller one, with the initials W.C.S. on the lid, must have belonged originally to my great-grandfather, William Capel Slaughter, a city lawyer, and been passed on by him to his son, Arthur. As William died in 1917, I think it unlikely that Arthur had it during his time of military service [which included the Gallipoli campaign]. This probably explains why this small trunk [[47 x34 x 29 cm] is in such good condition for its age. It is made of brown leather over a wooden frame, and is lined with fine red leather, with red velvet inside the lid. There are two brass rings fitted inside, no doubt for securing the contents. But what exactly would it have been used for? Inside , the maker’s label is clearly visible : Hill and MIllard Ltd.. Military Outfitter and Trunkmaker, 7 Duncannon Street, Trafalgar Square, London W.C. The brass lock still works although the key is missing.
The company of Hill and Millard dates from 1854, and they were in Duncannon Street from 1890 to 1930. In an advertisement of 1884 they describe themselves as manufacturers of Barrack and Camp furniture, as well as Portmanteaux and trunks, giving delightful illustrations of their wares. My great-grandfather’s chest is too small for clothing and the quality of the lining suggests it was used for valuable or delicate items. As William was never in the army, perhaps he used the case to transport personal items when he travelled from his country house in Kent to his flat in Berkeley Square, or on his trips abroad before the war. Only one clue as to its history remains – an old label, badly torn ,all that survives of a parcel stamp showing that 7d was paid on one of its many journeys.
On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I visited the elegant eighteenth century home of the Van Loon family, now a museum. In one of the bedrooms there was a large leather trunk, and on top of it was a smaller travelling case of very similar dimensions and design as my great-grandfather’s. Unfortunately I was unable to ask if it could be opened so I could not see if there was a maker’s stamp inside. I would love to know what these small trunks originally contained – they were obviously made of sturdy materials and built to last. Susie Gutch