A Tale told by a Fork

The end of the 18th Century was a time of increased tension between England and France because of the threat posed by the French Revolutionary government. It was felt necessary to bolster the Army in defence of the British Isles and one of the regiments raised was the 28th Light Dragoons styled as the Duke of York’s Own, after the 2nd son of King George III who had just been named Commander-in-Chief in 1795 — the year the regiment was raised.

Figure 1. The Wake fork

The fork depicted in Fig. 1 was made in 1799 in Edinburgh by Robert Wilson. Fig 2 shows the back, with the crest of the Duke of York’s Own, and most unusually, the crest of an individual. Military silver would not normally carry the insignia of an individual unless it was a piece of presentation silver. So the presumption must be that the crest was engraved when the regimental silver was dispersed, a presumption supported by the fact that the crest is much clearer and thus engraved some years after the regimental insignia.

The Duke of York’s Own was disbanded in 1802 [1], shortly after the Peace of Amiens and not reformed. (The Peace of Amiens lasted just a year — the only break in the Anglo-French conflict between 1793 and 1815). So what happened to their silver?

Figure 2. The Regimental insignia and the Wake knot

The crest below the regimental insignia is a piece of rope, twisted to form Wake’s knot. This is the crest of the Wake family, descended from Hereward-the-Wake (c.1035-1072).

The Army List for the late 18th century shows that one Baldwin Wake was surgeon to the Regiment throughout its brief life. It would be reasonable for the surgeon to the regiment to acquire some of the Regimental silver on its dissolution.

Baldwin was born in 1774, the grandson of Sir William Wake, 7th Baronet of Courteenhall in Northamptonshire. Shortly after his service in the Duke of York’s Own, he retired from active military service and went on to be ‘a physician to a lunatic asylum for [over] 30 years’[2].

In 1829, he was called to serve as an expert witness in a nineteenth century cause célèbre, the trial of Jonathan Martin for setting fire to York Minster and causing enormous damage. (Silver-mounted pieces of wood from that fire were sold to raise money for the rebuilding work and are sought after by collectors today).

Baldwin Wake deposed, ‘I have not the slightest doubt of his insanity, I do not believe he can distinguish right from wrong on the subject of his delusion’ [3] . The verdict of the court agreed with him and Martin was placed ‘at the disposal of the King…. “to give such order for the safe custody of such person, in such place, and in such manner, as to His Majesty shall seem fit”’[4].

When Baldwin Wake died in 1842, he left a considerable estate and to his widow, Sarah, ‘all my household furniture, books, pictures and plate, except my silver salver’[5].

So this fork, a memento of his military career, passed to his widow — and so eventually to us.

Luke Schrager

[1] http://www.napoleon-series.org/cgi-bin/forum/archive2003_config.pl?md=read;id=14882

[2]- The Times ,   Thursday, Apr 02, 1829; pg. 5; Issue 13878; col C  

[3] The Times ,  ibid. 

[4] The Times ,  ibid. 

[5] Public Record Office: PROB 11/1962

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