Posts Tagged ‘Robert Adam’

During the second half of the 18th century and early 19th century Axminster carpets were the favorite carpets of the rich. They are frequently mentioned in descriptions of interiors in Regency novels, especially Georgette Heyer’s. Famous architects/designers like Robert Adam would supply the patterns based on Roman floor mosaics or coffered ceilings. Both George III and George IV patronized the factory, commissioning carpets for various Royal residences.

Reproduction of the Axminster carpet in the music room, Brighton Pavilion. Image @Craigie Stockwell

The history of the Axminster carpet started in 1755, when Thomas Whitty opened a carpet manufacturing company in the town of Axminster, in the county of Devon. The development of carpet manufacture in England during this period was enabled by laws which were designed to promote locally produced textiles, out of concern that foreign textiles were dominating the market, particularly by the French Savonnerie carpets. These early Axminster rugs were hand knotted, and they quickly became the undisputed choice for wealthy aristocracy. Antique Axminster carpets and rugs grace the floors of Chatsworth and Brighton Pavillion to name a few and were bought by George III and Queen Charlotte who visited the factory in the 18th Century. – Doris Lelsie Brau, English Axminster and Wilton

The Brighton Pavilion music room carpet (first image) has quite a remarkable story. The original carpet was made by Thomas Whitty and his daughters circa 1820 for the Prince Regent. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, apparently disliked the brash blue color of this  ‘decadent’ carpet and had it removed, bleached into a light beige colour,  and cut up to be used in a guest bedroom at Buckingham Palace. The reproduction of this carpet is outlined in  Craigie Stockwell’s Historic Reproduction. (Scroll down the page to find the details of how a copy of the original carpet was made!)

The story of how Thomas Whitty (1713-1792), cloth manufacturer of Axminster in Devonshire, came to make his first carpet is well known. As an old man, he wrote an account for his son describing how, in 1755, in an attempt to provide a better income to support his growing family, he spied on the carpet factory of French émigrés in Fulham and returned to Axminster where “I immediately began to prepare a loom and materials for making a Carpet, and on MIDSUMMER’S DAY 1755, a memorable day for my family, I began the first carpet I ever made, taking my children and their Aunt Betty Harvey to overlook and assist them, for my first workers”. – Early Axminster Carpets

George III Axminster Carpet, England, by Thomas Whitty, late 18th century approximately 1323 by 572cm; 43ft. 5in. by 18ft. 9in. Photo: Sotheby's

This enormous late 18th century Axminster carpet was made by Whitty for the Music Room at Powderham Castle, 1798. Image @Eloge de l'Art par Alain Truong

Axminster carpets are distinctive because of their bright colors and intricate designs. They are traditionally made from wool.

Large Axminster carpet, late 18th century. From Cowdray Park and Dunecht House, At Cowdray Park, West Sussex. Image @Christie's.

 Samuel Whitty, in an advertising broadsheet, described the advantages of Axminster carpets thus: “They are made in one piece, to any size or pattern and of any shape however irregular. They are capable of the most beautiful designs in Flowers, Fruit, Armorial Bearings, Grotesques or any other….and their texture is extremely durable”. – – Early Axminster Carpets

Detail of the Axminster carpet in the music room of Harewood House, c. 1791.

At Harewood House, for example, where Thomas Whitty made carpets for rooms remodeled by Robert Adam in the 1790’s, the neoclassical ideal of the whole becomes magnificently apparent. In the Music Room a flat plaster ceiling decorated with low-relief arabesques and geometric motifs incorporates small round classical paintings by Angelica Kauffmann; these medallions are exactly reflected in the Axminster carpet below, and the lines of the carpet mirror the lines of the light, airy plasterwork. – The Most Splendid Carpet, Chapter 3

The early 19th century English Axminster carpet in the video above has a sand field with a golden leaf roundel containing four fish around a naturalistic lion head within a border of finely-drawn mythological animals, palmettes and vinery. It goes for $425,000

Axminster carpet in the Blue Drawing Room, Dumfries House

This carpet [above] is one of the earliest datable examples to have survived from the formative years at Axminster and was commissioned for the Drawing Room at Dumfries House. In a marvellously early example of thrift, it was shipped up separately from another, identical carpet, which the surviving invoice tells us was part of a Buy One – Get One Half Price deal! At £69 for the first one, this represents a saving of a large sum of money for the day. This is, of course, explained by the fact that they were both worked to the same design as a pair, so that the cartoon only need to be paid for once.

The carpet signifies the growing 18th century interest in exotic botany, as it includes a flowering cactus. The carpet dates from before Whitty’s collaboration with Robert Adam on the design of carpets. However, it is a wonderful example of a colourful, animated and sumptuous looking rococo piece of design. – The Story of the Blue Drawing Room: Dumfries House

The colors, designs,  and shapes of Axminster carpets were quite versatile.  Examples included floral carpets of the 1750s and 1760, and architect-designed carpets by Robert Adam for Harewood and Saltram, by Lewis Wyatt for the Library at Tatton Park, and by Robert Jones and Frederick Crace for the Brighton Pavilion. Axminster carpets were shaped and could be circular,  semi-circular, or woven with shaped ends to fit semi-circular and square alcoves and apses.  (Early Axminster carpets)

Detail of an Axminster carpet, c 1791. Image @Metropolitan Museum of Art

Axminster dominated the English carpet market until 1835, when Samuel Rampson Whitty, grandson of the founder, declared bankruptcy following a disastrous fire which destroyed the weaving looms. With competition from Europe and the rise of high-quality but cheaper, machine-made carpets, it was too expensive to try to revive the works.- Risky Regencies

The fire was disastrous on many levels, destroying records and carpet designs:

The fire destroyed not only buildings, looms and stock but also most of the written records, including the working drawings for carpets. Whereas the Woodward Grosvenor Company of Kidderminster still have an extensive archive of early cartoons, such cartoons are virtually non-existent for early Axminster carpets.  – Early Axminster Carpets

The Axminister carpet industry was revived in the 20th century. According to the Axminster website, “a carpet manufacturer called Harry Dutfield was on a train where he met a vicar from the West Country who told him that carpets had not been made in Axminster for a while due to a disastrous fire that had destroyed the factory. The germ of an idea was born and in 1937 the decision was taken to relaunch carpet manufacturing in the town of Axminster. This was the renaissance of ‘Axminsters from Axminster’.” Today the name serves as a generic term for all machine-made carpets with pile similar to velvet or chenille, with almost all pile yarn appearing on the surface of the carpet.

Modern Axminster carpet in the Casino de Deauville, France.

When one sees patterned carpet in a public place [today], such as a casino, hotel or restaurant, it is usually an Axminster.  Axminsters are more economical, for they use less yarn in their construction.  The pile is created by a V-shaped tuft of wool that is trapped in place between the warp and weft. This weaving method also allows for the use of many more colors, as it is not limited like the Wilton/Brussels construction.   For this reason, there were many carpets with huge sprays of flowers and Arabesques that could now be produced cheaply, and were available to the middle class, including outlets such as Sears and Roebuck. – Old House Web

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Inquiring Readers, Carolyn McDowall of The Culture Concept Circle has graciously allowed me to recreate Part One of her Two Part series. Find Part Two of Vanity Fair, but where is Mr Darcy? at this link.

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously…pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us” … Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1811

William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen by Thomas Gainsborough, courtesy National Gallery at London

By the close of the eighteenth century archaeological investigations in Europe and Egypt were revealing more and more about the ‘antique’ past. The expansion of knowledge about antiquity revealed that ancient artists and writers had been accustomed to free expression in their work, with religion and honour paramount to any society’s daily existence. This revelation began changing the social and moral values and concerns of the many English, American and European societies who were all now ardently in search of truth.

Author Jane Austen lived in one of the most eventful, colourful and turbulent epochs in the history of England and Europe. The scenes of this extraordinary era were well recorded by many talented painters and sculptors of the day. In England this included the renowned painter Thomas Gainsborough.

In 1785, when Jane Austen was just 10 years old, he captured William Hallett and Elizabeth Stephen stepping out in style together for a morning walk. They were an elegant young couple, both 21 years of age and bound by their social status and the rules it imposed. They were due to be married in the summer of 1785.

They epitomize the stylish quality of the people who starred in Jane’s novels. He is discreetly dashing in a well fitting black velvet riding coat, an aspect of a gentleman’s costume that reflected his desire to be seen as ‘informal’, approachable, someone in touch with the political scene and social set of his day. He has the quiet confidence of a compleat gentleman.

She looks lovely in her softly floating silk dress, a smart black band accentuating her small waist and balancing perfectly with the simple black straw hat tied with a ribbon and feathers and placed at a jaunty modern angle on her very bouffant hair.

Strolling happily through a woodland landscape with an adoring dog at the lady’s heel they both appear full of hope in love and eagerly looking forward to a July wedding and a happy life together into the new millennium.

Cassandra's portrait of her sister, Jane Austen. National Portrait Gallery

One of Jane Austen’s peers, renowned Scottish author of romantic novels Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) said of Jane (1775-1817) that he believed the secret of her success was that she had chosen to write about ‘ordinary people doing things that happen in every day life’.Born at Steventon, Hampshire on 16th December 1775. The seventh child and second daughter of a scholar-clergyman and rector of the small country parishes of Steventon and Deane, Jane Austen’s family were members of the wealthy merchant class on her father’s side and aristocrats on her mother’s side. She was brought up in a country rectory and was, from contemporary descriptions, without pretension, her demeanour more ‘in a homely rather than grand manner’. Another way of saying that she was plain.

Captain Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones)

She and her family enjoyed amateur dramatics in the barn, playing charades, literary readings and musical evenings. While her older brothers hunted and shot game her mother industriously managed a small herd of cows, a dairy and, as a woman of sensibility and of some station in life, looked to the wellbeing of the local poor. Her father, as a rector, was regarded as a ‘gentleman’. He was an affable, courteous man welcomed by all the local landed gentry, and their well off tenants, as was her brother Edward, who just happened to be the heir to his cousin Mr. Thomas Knight’s estates. This meant Jane was able to move comfortably out and about in society and become a respectable observer in the luxurious world of the leisured classes.

A Georgian Rectory

It seems that her family more than likely fell into a category of middling people, a term coined by literary wit and social commentator Horace Walpole on his return from the continent in 1741 “I have before discovered that there was nowhere but in England the distinction of being middling people. I perceive now that there is peculiar to us middling houses; how snug they are” The country gentry actively supported the ruling and upper classes by cultivating an ambience of politeness, a keen, though delicate sensibility, which was always balanced by displaying a great deal of practical common sense.

Their gentrification was reflected in how they dressed, dined, performed and were entertained, in a selection of social settings. They rotated from the socially competitive atmosphere of London’s elegant drawing rooms to the cheerful gaiety of Bath’s assembly’s room and they also enjoyed the more robust attractions of popular coastal resorts like Brighton, which were after 1792 was also frequented by the Prince Regent and his entourage.

They strove for aesthetic perfection urged on by their awareness of the ‘antique’, while striving to emulate the ideal – classical perfection, The classical ideal had flowed over into the landscape during the eighteenth century and small temples originally designed as refuges from the hot Mediterranean sun, became focal points of beauty.

View of the Hall at Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill 1788 Watercolour by John Carte

At the time of Jane’s birth Horace Walpole, for whom literacy mattered, was using decorative ornament inspired by a literary and pictorial interest in Gothic architecture at his house Strawberry Hill.

He and his peers benchmarked standards for excellence in taste and style well recognised by Jane and the burgeoning middle classes, who wished to emulate them.

Horry took what he liked and used it the way he wanted and his character seemingly enjoyed total satisfaction by ‘imprinting the gloomth of abbeys and cathedrals on one’s house.’

Godmersham Park.

Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight eventually inherited the very gentrified Godmersham Park in Kent and two of her other brother’s Francis and Charles had distinguished careers in the British navy. Francis received a knighthood and the much coveted order of Bath and Jane’s brother Charles bought topaz crosses for his two sisters, going without to purchase them.

In the Christian understanding perfect love makes no demands and seeks nothing for itself, and this was the quality of the people that abounded in so many of the characters in Jane Austen’s life and in her novels. Jane enjoyed what she herself called ‘life a la Godmersham”.

Emma (Gwynneth Paltrow) and Mr Knightley (Jeremy Northam) dance

Her brothers hunted in Edward’s park, played billiards and entertained in a style that amused Jane. Writing from Godmersham in 1813 she commented “at this present time I have five tables, eight and twenty chairs and two fires all to myself”.

The Royal navy were winning great victories on the continent at the time. For the leisured classes in Jane’s novels the war was something that happened in the newspapers or far out at sea. Although her brothers were involved, many of these events seemed very remote and Jane and her peers continued to pursue their daily activities such as music, painting, playing games and writing with great enthusiasm comforted in the knowledge that England had the best navy in the world.

Trafalgar Chair, 1810, courtesy V & A Museum, London

The Duke of Wellington’s victories and Admiral Nelson’s death at the Battle of Trafalgar caused a nation to mourn as well as celebrate wildly for twenty years afterward. And all manner of goods were named for him including “Trafalgar chairs”, which along with the sofa table were two very popular pieces of furniture during the Regency period.

Rosewood Regency period Sofa Table c1810, courtesy Mallett Antiques, London

Country houses and their beautiful parks were not simply the expressions of a wealthy ruling class for Jane and her contemporaries. They represented an ideal civilization with a mixture of self-esteem, national pride and uncompromising good taste. For the rest of the population they reflected the unequal structure of a society where a third of the nation’s population faced a daily struggle to survive. From the monarch to the poorest of the land there was a pyramid of patronage and property. At the base of which in 1803 a third were the labouring poor, the cottagers, the seamen, the soldiers, the paupers and the vagrants who lived at subsistence level.

Jane’s letter to her sister Cassandra in 1799 highlights the point, when a horse her brother purchased cost sixty guineas and the boy hired to look after him four pounds a year. Those employed in service counted they lucky, but even in well off household’s service conditions were still fairly primitive. Jane said “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can”. The contrast of the battlefield and the ballroom are apt as a reminder of the powerfully opposed elements that made up the England into which Jane was born and in which she grew to maturity.

Beau Brummell - The Fashionable dress of a Gentleman

George, Prince of Wales, the future George IV was the very active, central focus of the style we now know as the Regency period. His personality was complex and he often indulged in fantastic flights of fantasy.

George, Prince of Wales in 1792

As a young man he had fair hair, blue eyes and pink and white complexion, and a tendency to corpulence. As he grew to maturity he gained considerably in popularity due to his good looks, high spirits and agreeable manners.

He was the darling of the fashionable world. George Bryan Brummell (England, 1778-1840) became the most famous of all the dashing young men of the Regency. He was not of aristocratic birth, but the son of the secretary to Lord North.(George III’s Prime Minister who played a major role in the American Revolution). Educated at Eton, the Beau became known as Buck and was extremely well liked by the other boys. He spent a short period at Oriel College, which has the distinction of being the oldest royal foundation in Oxford, dating from 1324.

Sartorial splendour - shades of Mr Darcy? (Colin Firth)

The Prince Regent was told that Brummell was a witty fellow, so he obtained an appointment for him in his regiment (1794). Brummell became a Captain of the Tenth Hussars and was constantly in the Prince’s company.

Military sartorial splendour...must be Mr Wickham! (Rupert Friend)

In the circles around the Prince he was known as a virtual oracle on matters related to dress and etiquette. As the new dictator of taste he established a code of costume.

A typical Regency outfit for day wear was a jacket cut away in front and with tails at the back. There was no waist seam, a feature present in Victorian coats. The open area around the hip had a distinctive curve pulling slightly around the waist.

Even more notably, the sleeves were particularly long and seated high on the shoulder. There are virtually no shoulder pads. Normally jackets had fabric-covered buttons. An exception was blue jackets with brass metal buttons–an association with military styles.

At night it was all sartorial splendour, rich textiles velvet, brocades, silks, all combined with a great deal of elegance, the costume for a gentlemen including a black coat.

Today we would say the Beau was very well connected, an important part of an influential network and a man to know.

Entrance Hall, Carlton House, 1819 by W.H.Pyn

It was in 1784 when the Prince of Wales took one look at Maria Fitzherbert standing on the steps of the Opera and fell instantly in love with her. He was totally besotted and would only attend parties and events if the hostess assured him Maria would be both there – and sat next to him!

Maria Fitzherbert

Following a dedicated and unsuccessful pursuit of Mrs. Fitzherbert, Maria was surprised one evening by a visit from some of the Prince’s men. They had found him weak and bleeding in his home Carlton House, whose interiors were among the wonders of the age.

They told her the Prince had tried to commit suicide and Mrs. Fitzherbert, accompanied by the Duchess of Devonshire, rushed to his side whereupon he persuaded Maria to marry him. In 1785 George, Prince of Wales Prince married Mrs. Fitzherbert (1756 –1837) a Roman Catholic who had been married twice before. The couple was happy and while society seemingly accepted the unconventional pair the marriage rocked court circles, which could not cope with the thought that a Prince might marry a divorced woman.

Bedford Square Brighton built 1801

Eventually the Prince would be forced to put her aside and it did not help his cause that his friend Beau Brummell, to whom Maria took a pronounced dislike, disapproved of the liaison.


Initially the Prince spent a great deal of time and effort building Maria his bride a house nearby his home Carlton House in Pall Mall and decorating his own home. He ran up such huge debts the only way his father, the King would agree to help him out and pay them was if he put aside Maria and marry Caroline of Brunswick, for political reasons, which he did.

In 1793 George, Prince of Wales visited the seaside town of Brighton, and ordered the subsequent renovation of a small house he purchased from one of his footman. Architect, Henry Holland, well known for his refined Francophile tastes, fashioned it into a splendid marine villa with gentle curving bays, wrought iron balconies and long sash windows, and it was much admired and set a standard for marine villas for many years to come. Mrs. Fitzherbert and the Prince parted company upon the marriage to Princess Caroline, however following the birth of his daughter; the Prince recommenced his pursuit of Maria.

Mathematical Tiles on Regency House, Brighton

Maria was wary, however and upon asking the Pope for guidance she was informed that she was the only true wife of the Prince so she returned to him. Again the couple spent a lot of time entertaining at Brighton and London.

Sea Bathing England C19

Bathing in the sea had become very popular, with the Prince’s own physician recommending he bathe daily and bathing machines were set up especially for that purpose. All over Brighton, rows of small villas were built, echoing the Pavilion’s shape.

Some of the newly popular ‘seaside’ villas in Brighton were glazed with a smart material called ‘mathematical tiles’ which enabled villa houses to be built of less expensive brick and then ‘faced’. Introduced into the English architectural system after 1700 in England they were hung on buildings originally built of timber to give the appearance of higher quality brick walls. Today they are still not easy to recognise and are often mistaken for conventional brickwork. Black, glazed mathematical tiles are easy to discern, however, and may be seen at many locations in Brighton.

Chair designed by Thomas Hope, London in 1807 and made in 1892

Painted furniture and at wall decoration ‘Etruscan style’ at Osterley House. The interiors were designed by Scottish Architect Robert Adam
Interior arrangements whose design focus was based on classical order reached the height of its popularity through the neoclassical style of Scottish architect Robert Adam between 1760 and 1793. The expansion of the neo-classical style was fuelled in the last half of the eighteenth century because of the interests of English Grand Tourists in the new discoveries being made at Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy.

Etruscan room, Osterly House, Robert Adam.

Not only the shapes of the furniture were greatly influenced – for instance in the use of animal forms as supports for tables and chairs – but also the colour and decoration used for painted furniture, which was to be found in grand houses as well as much simpler gentry houses. Much of the charm of collecting such pieces lies in the rather primitive way the decoration was thought out and executed and many examples of very sophisticated simulated bamboo pieces were destined for important rooms.

Adam’s interiors could have easily been the inspiration for those of the formidable Lady Catherine de Burgh. Her country house Rosings in Pride and Prejudice was described by Jane as an interior of ‘fine proportion and finished ornaments’

Vanity fair, but where is Mr Darcy? – Part 2

Carolyn McDowall, April 2011 ©The Culture Concept Circle

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Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago was no ordinary luxury-loving, self-indulgent socialite.  Her love for doll houses as a child spilled over into adulthood, and she collected miniature furniture as she traveled through Europe. Her hobby led her to commission cabinetmakers and architects to recreate dozens of detailed historically accurate and important rooms on a scale of one inch to one foot. Each room was not only made to scale, but so were the upholstery, textiles, rugs, and curtains, which were fashioned by the Needlework Guild of Chicago.

Mrs Thorne bequeathed 26 European rooms and 98 American rooms to the Art Institute of Chicago. When I visited that world renowned museum, I had the forethought to bring my Flip Camera. My amateurish videos managed to capture the three-dimensional quality of the rooms and how they were lighted. Each room provides a peek into another space, giving the sense that doors and windows open up to a real world outside or lead to hallways and other important spaces.

Detail of side table with flanking pedestals and oval wine cooler, with architectural drawing.

Image scanned from Miniature Rooms: The Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago.

This remarkably detailed model of an English dining room was based on the interior of the dining room designed by Robert Adam at Home House in London. Features from the dining room in Saltram in Devonshire were also incorporated into the miniature. Comparing the miniature model (below) with the life-sized recreated Adam dining room from Lansdown House, which is now housed at the Metropolitan Museum in New York city, one can see how faithful Mrs. Thorne and her artisans were in recreating details and proportions.

About this work: Art Institute of Chicago

Like Adam, who had control over all aspects of the design, including the architecture, decoration, antiques, furniture,wall papers, paint and plasterwork, Mrs. Thorne closely oversaw each detail of her exquisite rooms. The furniture throughout Mrs. Thorne’s version of the Adam dining room were decorated with ram’s heads, as was the frieze. The urns on the fireplace mantle are copies of Wedgwood examples, and the paintings over the mantle and side table are after Claude Lorrain.

Dining room, Lansdowne House, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Heilbrun Timeline of Art History

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Detail of the North Side of Portman Square

Detail of the North Side of Portman Square

Inquiring readers: For two weeks, Laurel Ann, my blogging partner at Jane Austen Today, has been blogging about Lady Susan at her own blog, Austenprose. Lady Susan was published posthumously in 1871, almost 80 years after Jane Austen wrote this short epistolary novel. When one reads the book, one is struck by the number of letters Lady Susan writes to an address on Upper Seymour Street. This is where her friend Mrs. Johnson (Alicia) lives. It was Alicia who famously wrote at the end of the book:

I would ask you to Edward Street, but that once [Mr. Johnson] forced from me a kind of promise never to invite you to my house; nothing but my being in the utmost distress for money should have extorted it from me. I can get you, however, a nice drawing-room apartment in Upper Seymour Street, and we may be always together there or here; for I consider my promise to Mr. Johnson as comprehending only (at least in his absence) your not sleeping in the house. – Mrs. Johnson (Alicia) to Lady Susan, ca. 1805

The houses along Upper Seymour Street in Westminster, which is situated near the Marble Arch (then known as Tyburn) near Hyde Park Corner, are tall, narrow, and four stories high. Edward Lear, the Victorian writer of charming limericks, lived in a house that has been converted to a hotel (Image below). I stayed on the 3rd floor a decade ago and can attest that the stairs are steep!

Living at this location off Oxford Street was considered a moderately respectable to fairly good address during the Regency era.  Upper Seymour Street is close to Hyde Park, and within easy walking distance to Mayfair and St. James’s, where the upper crust lived and visited each other when they stayed in London. Upper Seymour Street is actually situated in Marelybone, just around the corner from Portman Square and one block over from Upper Berkeley Street, an area that Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, knew well:

Upper Seymour Street and Portman Square

Upper Seymour Street and Portman Square

The Countess de Feuillide looked out from her windows in Upper Berkeley Street towards Portman Square, waiting for her cousin Cassandra to arrive. It still pleased the Countess to be know by her former title rather than as plain ‘Mrs Austen’, and she was always gratified by tradespeople and others who thought to humour her vanity in this matter. – Jane Austen: A Life, David Nokes, 1998, Google Books

North side, Portman Square, 1812

The nouveau riche, whose ambition was to enter Society, moved as close to the “action” as they could. In 1772, Lady Home, a 67-year-old widow,  made plans to move to Portman Square. This area of London was just beginning to be developed, and, as the image at right attests, the houses (Rated 1 and 2) were big and spacious.  Lady Home had been twice widowed and had become rich from the money she inherited from her father and first husband, Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica. Her second husband, the 8th Earl of Home, was a dissipated spendthrift. Their marriage in 1742 was one of convenience, for while she got the title, he most definitely married her for her money. In 1744 the earl deserted Lady Home just months before she was to give birth to their child, who, sadly, did not survive. The earl died in 1761, leaving Lady Home a widow once again and free to act as she pleased.

Home House Today

Home House Today

Very little is known about Lady Home’s life until she began to build her grand house in Portman Square. In the early 18th century, Henry William Portman had developed 200 acres of meadow passed down from a Tudor ancestor and turned them into Portman Square. In 1755 he began issuing the first housing leases. Lady Home took a 90 year lease from William Baker in June 1772, on which she was permitted to build a brick house. By 1774, builder Richard Norris was close to completing the house, which had been designed by the architect James Wyatt. His claim to fame was The Pantheon which had opened in 1772 when Mr. Wyatt was just 26 years old.  In 1775, Lady Home fired Wyatt and hired his archrival Robert Adam to complete the interior. One of the most unforgettable features of Adam’s design was the breathtaking  neoclassical stairway under a glass dome.

Stair case

Stair case

Stair case, view down

Stair case, view down



Skylight above staircase

Skylight above staircase

Adam details, Music room

Adam details, Music room

William Beckford, who came from another wealthy plantation-owning family, and who also lived in [Portman] square, described her as: ‘.. the Countess of Home, known among all Irish chairmen and riff-raff of the metropolis by the name, style and title of Queen of Hell…’ He went on to describe her extravagant and eccentric behaviour. She entertained other wealthy Caribbean plantation owners and was related to many of them. She also had royal connections. – BBC History, The business of enslavement

In reading about Lady Home, I was struck by her ambition and audacity, and began to compare her to Lady Susan. Publicly deserted but her husband, Lady Home chose to remain in London and entertain in high style. She successfully made a life for herself on the fringes of society, but, despite her wealth, she was never quite accepted among the haut ton. She lived and entertained in the house from 1776 to 1784, the year that she died.

Adam fireplace

Adam fireplace

In an interesting aside, Robert Adam and James Stuart were also the architects of Montagu House, which was built for Mrs. Elizabeth Montague in the northwest corner of Portman Square. The house, known as the ‘Montpelier of England’, became famous for its meetings with the literary world. The Blue-Stocking Club, named for the informal blue stockings that many in the group wore, invited intellectuals to discourse on a variety topics.



Lady Home’s Etruscan bedroom reflected the current interest in antiquities. The house almost did not survive. From 1989 to 1996, the house was listed on the 100 most endangered sites, and extensive renovations did not begin until 1998. Today the house is part of a private men’s club.

Etruscan room, Home house

Etruscan room (bedroom), Home house

Two portraits by Gainsborough hung in her house, depicting the duke and duchess of Cumberland. The duke was the brother of George III and the duchess related to Lady Home through her first husband. It has been suggested that Lady Home’s motive for building such a large and elegant house when she was a widow who had no children was to entertain the Cumberlands. – BBC History, The business of enslavement

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Robert Adam, one of the premier architects, furniture designers, and interior designers of his age, was commissioned in 1768 to refurbish part of Saltram House in Devon. He created a suite of rooms in the Neo-classical style to update the house. Click here to view the Robert Adam interior in this silent 3-minute video from the Victoria and Albert Museum

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