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Silver button with oak leaf wreath

John Robins
c.1780

Our object of the month for February is another mysterious Jacobite relic. It is a small silver button, which has oxidised to a dark grey colour, with a tiny wreath of oak leaves decorating it. It is attached to a piece of card on which Denys Eyre Bower wrote a note revealing its true significance. He attributed it to the ‘Welsh Jacobite “Cycle” Club’, which was founded in the early 18th century. He also identified the maker of the button as John Robins, a British silversmith active at that time.

There are other sets of buttons in the castle’s Stuart and Jacobite collection, but Denys appears to have treasured this one, perhaps due to its rarity and association with such a mysterious organisation. There is limited information remaining about the ‘Cycle Club’, as its members took great care to keep its activities secret. The club was founded by Sir Watkins William-Wynn, a powerful and wealthy landowner who was active in the politics of the time.

Portrait of Sir Watkins William, 3rd Baronet of Llanforda, Bodelwyddan Castle Trust, wikimedia commons

The Cycle Club was so called because members met in a ‘cycle’, alternating between one another’s homes. It was also known as the ‘Cycle of the White Rose’, named after the white rose emblem of the Stuarts. The members were Jacobites – supporters of the Stuart family’s claim to the throne who hoped for their return after the exile of James II in 1689. The Jacobites made attempts to restore the Stuarts to power in the early 18th century. The 1745 Jacobite rebellion was led by James II’s grandson, the famous ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. In support of the Jacobite cause, wealthy landowners in Wales met in secret as members of the Cycle Club. They held dinner parties, sang songs, and made toasts to the ‘King Across the Water’, referring to the exiled Stuart Kings in Europe. Special glasses and table wares were used for such occasions. There are some examples of Jacobite glasses in Chiddingstone Castle’s collection, and there is a glass which was owned by Sir Watkins William-Wynn himself in the Museum Wales, which was most likely used at Cycle Club dinners.

Glass with engraving ‘W. Williams’, 18th century, Museum Wales, object number NMW A 51673, © Amgueddfa Cymru - Museum Wales

Denys Eyre Bower, the last private owner of Chiddingstone Castle, was no stranger to Jacobite dinners. Denys was a member of the Royal Stuart Society and there is a photograph of him attending one of their gatherings on display in the castle’s Print Room. The Royal Stuart Society, which still holds dinners and events celebrating the Stuarts today, appears to have been a key part of Denys’ social circle. Whilst Bower was in prison between 1957 – 1962, a few members of the society lived at the castle as custodians. Denys collected Stuart and Jacobite papers, books, medals, tableware, and relics. Out of his four main collections, Denys took the most time and care with this collection. He wrote detailed notes on the papers and books and was still buying documents towards the end of his life. The last page of the 1977 Chiddingstone Castle guidebook hints at Denys’ lifelong fascination with the Stuarts and the Jacobite cause. There is a small illustration of a coin depicting Charles I holding a sword, with “Remember” written next to it.

It is possible that our object of the month was worn on a waistcoat or jacket of one of the Cycle Club members when they attended the secret meetings and dinners. The tiny oak wreath on the button would have been a subtle way for the Cycle Club member to reveal they were a Jacobite without being too obvious. Jacobites had to operate and meet in secret as support of the Stuarts’ claim to the throne was treasonous. They developed many different secret symbols, codes, and slogans which they could use to show their allegiance and communicate with one another. Denys seems to have admired the secretive Cycle Club – there are a few other objects in the collection related to it. These include two small paper roses printed with the names of Jacobite martyrs. They date to 1746, and according to castle records are believed to have been admission tickets for Cycle Club meetings.

Pair of printed ‘white roses’ on blue paper backing with names of Jacobite martyrs, 1746, Chiddingstone Castle collection, object number 01.1633

This object is just one of the many objects that form part of Denys Eyre Bower’s five impressive collections which include Ancient Egyptian, Japanese, Buddhist, Stuart and Jacobite, and Books. For more information on these objects, review our Object of the Month series, visit the Historic House and Collections or contact our Curator, Naomi Collick by email or by calling 01892 870347.

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