Digs with a Difference

Digs with a Difference

The collection at Selly Manor Museum was largely compiled by Laurence Cadbury. As a son of Bournville founder and chocolate manufacturer George Cadbury, Laurence was an educated young man with means.

Born in 1889, Laurence attended Quaker schools, as was the Cadbury family tradition, and then went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge. During his times studying he started a serious interest in collecting antiques. He bought a number of items to furnish his rooms which overlooked the majestic Great Court at Trinity College. For a young man the acquisition and display of old furniture, exotic weaponry and stuffed animals demonstrated his worldliness to his peers and expressed his education and interests.

The earliest evidence of his collection comes from two photographs that date from 1910 or 1911, which show his rooms at Trinity College. A number of the items are now in the Laurence Cadbury Collection at Selly Manor, others remained in Laurence’s personal collection at his home The Davids near Northfield, Birmingham, until he died in 1982.

Taking on such an interest aged just 20 years old is in stark contrast to a most modern students. Whilst amongst the grand and historic architecture of Cambridge, Laurence wandered into the shops of antique dealers, which could be found in the warren of streets where he was living and studying. Just around the corner, on Bridge Street, Green Street and St Andrew’s Street, were dealers in antiquities and furniture. Laurence bought most of his early items from Jolley and Sons on Bridge Street. Benjamin Jolley was a prominent Wesleyan Methodist and later Mayor of Cambridge. Other dealers, such as Walter Stockbridge and Roger Roe, were the source of other pieces for Laurence’s embryonic collection.

Laurence’s growing interest in antiques was possibly reinforced by his great friend Bob Vereker, who later became Viscount Gort. Both young men had a fascination with early furniture and unusual antiques. One can imagine them exploring these Aladdin’s Caves of Cambridge together seeking their next purchase. Vereker himself later gathered an impressive collection which is now on display as the Gort Furniture Collection at Bunratty Castle in Ireland. Laurence’s collecting also coincided with his father’s project to purchase, dismantle and move Selly Manor a mile from its original location to Bournville. Whether Laurence set about collecting specifically for Selly Manor as early as 1911 we do not know but this ambitious scheme may well have influenced the type of objects he collected. Selly Manor made a perfect home for such a collection of early furniture and domestic objects, and a large proportion of Laurence’s collection can be seen there today.

A book about the Laurence Cadbury Collection at Selly Manor is available to buy from the museum for £10 and features a biography of the man himself, how we developed the collection and a detailed catalogue of the objects.