Image, Identity, Belonging

Highlights from the collections at Chiddingstone Castle

For thousands of years, people have used objects to cultivate their image, express their identity, and create a sense of belonging. Explore highlights from the collections at Chiddingstone Castle and their meaning to the people who originally owned them.

This online exhibition follows the visitor route through the castle. Click on the arrows to view the objects for each room.

Denys Eyre Bower

North Hall

I have devoted my life to making these collections and it is my wish that they shall be kept intact in their present setting at Chiddingstone Castle so that future generations may enjoy them as I do now.

Denys Eyre Bower (1905 – 1977)

By leaving Chiddingstone Castle and his collections to the nation, Denys Eyre Bower ensured they would be preserved as his legacy.

Denys built his career, social circle, and reputation based on his collections. In the 1940s he had the opportunity to set up his art dealership. He was a member of historical societies and would write to experts and specialists seeking advice on his collections. He was particularly proud of objects which had previously belonged to a significant or famous figure. Many of the images of Denys remaining in the castle’s archive depict him holding objects from his collections.

Denys bought the castle in 1955 and opened it to the public so visitors could view his collections. He sold tickets, arranged the displays, wrote labels, and gave guided tours.

Florence Nightingale’s pen tray, black Derbyshire marble, 19th century

Chiddingstone Castle guidebook, signed by Denys Eyre Bower in June 1965

A Tibetan statue of the Buddha from the 1500s sits beside Denys in this portrait, reflecting his identity as a collector. The Buddhist collection is the smallest of Denys’ four collections, but it held a deep personal meaning to him as a Buddhist.

Portrait of Denys Eyre Bower by Dame Laura Knight, 1950s - 1960s

The Japanese Collection

Japanese Room

Only the wealthy and powerful would have been able to own many of the objects in the Japanese collection.

The samurai warriors of Japan used armour and weapons which reflected their status. The great samurai families sat at the top of the social hierarchy for centuries, fought one another for power, and ruled over the country. Their armour, often decorated with family crests or mon, helped them stand out on the battlefield. They were also permitted to carry two swords as a symbol of their authority.

Pair of long and short swords, daisho, with dyed and lacquered shark skin scabbards, 18th - 19th century

Full mask, somen, iron, signed ‘Myochin’, 19th century

Suit of armour attributed to the daimyo (lord) Okochi Masatada, black lacquered iron with blue lacing, 18th - 19th century

Laws were frequently passed in the Edo period (1603 – 1868) which aimed to restrict clear demonstrations of wealth, for example wearing expensive clothing. A luxurious lacquer inro or accessory case was a subtle way for a man to show off his taste and refinement.

Inro with fans, urushi lacquer, late 19th century

Inro in the form of folded paper, with ho-o birds, paulownia branches, and peonies, urushi lacquer, signed Tachibana Gyokuzan, late 19th century

Inro with ho-o birds or phoenixes, urushi lacquer, 19th century

Many of the Japanese lacquerwares in the collection were made to suit the lifestyles of the Edo-period elite. The materials and time required to produce lacquerwares meant that they were expensive. Only the upper classes, and eventually wealthy merchants in the cities, could afford them. The designs on these lacquerwares were chosen to reflect the interests and status of their owners.

Picnic set, urushi lacquer, 1650 - 1750

Writing box decorated with a flower basket, urushi lacquer and inlaid shell, mid-17th century

This tray is decorated with the mon or crests of the Nakagawa samurai family. It may have been made as part of a set for a wedding. One of the crests incorporates a Christian cross. Christianity was banned in Japan in the early 1600s, so it is likely that the Nakagawa family adopted this crest before then. Christian samurai used crests incorporating a cross to identify themselves as Christians and express their faith.

Tray, urushi lacquer, 18th century


The design of this box reflects the traditions of the Imperial court. The folded paper shape references the elegant poems and letters that courtiers would write one another. The decoration also references the tradition of soaking the wheels of the imperial carriages in the Kamo River. The owner of such a box could show off their understanding and appreciation of court culture.

Box in the shape of folded paper, urushi lacquer, 1650 - 1750

The Stuart and Jacobite Collection

White Rose Room and Print Room

Relics, pamphlets, portraits, and even tableware were key in encouraging support for the Stuart family in the 1600s and 1700s.

The Stuart family were monarchs in England for much of the 1600s. In 1688, the Stuart King James II was overthrown and exiled. James II and his descendants gathered support in Europe and attempted to reclaim power by force several times in the 1700s. Their followers were known as the ‘Jacobites’, after the latin for James – Jacobus.

James II’s son and grandson were ‘pretenders’, who were people who put themselves forward as having a rightful claim to the throne. Showing support for pretenders was treason. The Jacobites used objects to show their loyalty and communicate with one another in secret.

‘God bless ye King, God bless our faith Defender, God bless, what harm in blessing the pretender.’

Ceramic mug with salt glaze and inscription in blue

Oak leaves were a Jacobite symbol. Wearing this button would have been a subtle way for a Jacobite to show his allegiance to the Stuarts and to identify himself to other Jacobites.

Silver button decorated with an oak wreath, attributed to the Jacobite ‘Cycle Club’, c. 1780

Portrait of Charles II wearing armour, unknown artist, painted after Riley or Kneller, oil on canvas in gilt wood frame, 17th century

Portrait miniature of Charles Edward Stuart, Sir Robert Strange, oil on paper set in circular wooden pendant frame, 1745

Silver mounted cup made from a coconut shell, with portraits of Charles I, Charles II, James Duke of York, and Henry Duke of Gloucester, 1665

James II died in 1701 whilst in exile in France. He was treated like a saint after he died, with parts of his body preserved as relics. The silver locket is said to contain a small part of his heart, which was brought back to England after the French Revolution in the 1700s. The small box apparently contains a tiny piece of his hair and garter ribbon.

Relic set of James II, ca. 1701 - 1730

Image credit Paul Gardner

The Buddhist Collection

Buddhist Room

The objects in the Buddhist collection are from many different countries and schools of Buddhism.

The collection includes sacred statues and paintings, which were the focus of worship and visualisation, and objects used for daily Buddhist practice.

Images of important Buddhist teachers are honoured and revered. They are a reminder of the lineage of teachings passed down from the historical Buddha, who is believed to have died in India around 400 BC.

Statue of Tsongkhapa (1357 - 1419), founder of the gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, gilt bronze with pigment, Tibeto-Chinese, 18th century

Signed photograph of the Dalai Lama, with label ‘Portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (sent to Mr. Bower 1973)’

Prayer wheels contain a small rolled up piece of paper with Buddhist prayers, or mantras. Handheld prayer wheels such as this one are carried by Buddhist practitioners in daily life. It is believed that turning the prayer wheel is the same as saying the mantra many times. This prayer wheel may have been made from an archer’s thumb ring.

Prayer wheel, jade, inlaid stones, and horn, Tibetan, 19th century

A gau is an amulet case used to carry blessed medicines or other sacred materials. It is worn in Tibet by men and women, usually across the body or around the waist.

Gau amulet case in copper, containing a blessed knot, a printed text, and a tsatsa or stamped clay amulet, Tibetan

Tsatsa amulet of White Tara, a Buddhist deity who bestows longevity, painted clay, Tibetan

In Tibetan homes, it is usual to have a dedicated shrine room which includes a model stupa. A stupa is an ancient burial monument. Stupas contain sacred material such as texts or relics. For a Buddhist practitioner, they represent the Buddha and his teachings.

Buddhist stupa, gilt bronze, Tibetan, 19th century

A mandala is a sacred diagram of Buddhist deities. This mandala is important in Japanese Tendai or Shingon Buddhist initiation ceremonies. During the ceremony, the mandala is placed on a low platform and a flower or sprig is thrown onto it. The deity on which it lands will become the personal deity of the initiate. They will visualise and identify with that deity during their practice.   

Mandala of the diamond world, Japanese, 19th century

The Egyptian Collection

Egyptian Room

The Egyptian collection includes objects which show us how people wanted to be seen in life and remembered in death.

Many of these objects reflect the religious beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians. By honouring the gods and goddesses, people could ensure that they would gain their favour and protection.

Most people would not be allowed to enter a temple. They would only see the gods and goddesses when their statues were brought out for festivals. As a record of their devotion, wealthy and influential members of society could commission statues of themselves for donation to the temple. These statues could depict the owner kneeling and presenting offerings.

Statue of a kneeling priest holding a stela (stone tablet) of the god Ptah, basalt, New Kingdom, 19th Dynasty, ca. 1295 - 1186 BC

From the inscription, we know that this statue was made for a man called Peftjawyneith, which translates as ‘his life is in the hands of the goddess Neith’. The statue was probably donated to a temple of Neith in the Ancient Egyptian city of Sais. 

Statue of Peftjawyneith, basalt, Late Period, 26th Dynasty, 664 - 525 BC

Pharaohs were believed to be divine. They were depicted in paintings and statues interacting with the gods. Amulets, with their names, were worn for protection and to bring good fortune in daily life.

Plaque amulet inscribed with cartouche of Thutmoses III on one side and a sphinx on the other side, ca. 1086 - 30 BC

Mask, gilded cartonnage, Ptolemaic Period, 332 - 30 BC

ba bird was a representation of a person’s non-physical being, sometimes described as a ‘soul’. It was believed that after death the ba could travel outside of the body of the deceased, but had to return to the tomb regularly. 

Ba bird, wood with traces of blue and red paint, Late Period, 26th Dynasty, 664 - 525 BC

This shabti, or model servant, was made for the tomb of a woman called Nesy-khonsu. She was the daughter of a high priest of Amun at Thebes, and she held several important religious and political roles herself. Another of her shabtis can be found in the National Museums Liverpool, accession number 56.22.588.

Overseer shabti of Nesy-khonsu, blue faience, Third Intermediate Period, 21st Dynasty, ca. 1069 - 945 BC

‘An offering which the King gives to Osiris, foremost of the Westerners, great god, lord of Abydos, so that he may give bread and beer, oxen and fowl, pure things, alabaster and linen, for the soul of the Osiris Irethoreru.’

Inscription translated by Dr John Taylor

Coffin lid for a man called Irethoreru, painted wood, 25th Dynasty, 760 - 656 BC

Stela were monuments which commemorated people or events. Stela for people usually included their name, titles, and image. They sometimes included information about their family. This ensured that they would be remembered for eternity along with their legacy.

Stela of a man called Siamun, limestone, ca. 1991 - 1783 BC

With thanks to independent curators Sian Flynn and Emily Fuggle for their advice and feedback on this online exhibition. 

We would also like to thank Nick Swann for his help with the text on the Buddhist collection.

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Opening Hours


The Castle, Tea Room and Gift Shop Opening Hours

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday 11am-5pm (last entry 4:15pm)

Sunday 31st March - Wednesday 30th October


Open daily 7am - 6.30pm except when closed for private functions

Fishing available



Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm