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North Devon in 100 Objects: 96. Mr and Mrs Rendle

A painting of a well dressed man in an 18th century style.

These rather primitive paintings are a bit of a mystery. 18th century in style, they are not the work of the kind of professional painter who was making portraits of Barnstaple’s mayors at that time.  They are catalogued as “Mr and Mrs Rendle, who founded Barnstaple’s first bank”.

Mrs. Rendle gazes enigmatically at the viewer, her face framed by what looks to be a lace bonnet, while her shoulders are draped in a type of shawl known as a ‘fichu’, also made of lace. Lace was an expensive commodity, and the wearing of such clothes would have exuded wealth. Her expression is inscrutable, but focused.

In contrast, Mr. Rendle is gazing off into the middle-distance, his expression confident, perhaps even a little haughty. In front of him is a large cloth sack, which he grasps with his right hand, while his left hand reaches inside. What is he reaching for? Money perhaps?

Since there is no record of any Bank under the Rendle name ever existing in Barnstaple, it is possible that Mr Rendle simply worked at Barnstaple’s first bank as a clerk, becoming its public face. This would have been at Barnstaple’s first known bank, set up in 1791 – which would fit with the look of the clothes. As a clerk, Mr Rendle would have undoubtedly been fairly prosperous – thus the lace and the very existence of the portraits – but far from aristocratic. Rather, it seems likely that the Rendles belonged to Barnstaple’s newly-burgeoning middle class.

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