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Architects and craftsmen at Ditchley

  • Andor Gomme

Ditchley (Fig. 1) is the first known collaboration between Gibbs and Francis Smith — or, more accurately, the first building in which they are both known to have been engaged. There are six others in which both men’s names appear among the documents: at All Saints’, Derby and the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, Gibbs is known to have been the architect and Smith the contractor; the same can with confidence be assumed at Kelmarsh Hall (Northants), Patshull Hall (Staffs) and the stables at Compton Verney (Warwicks). Smith was himself evidently the architect for most of his long sequence of building works at Badminton, but presumably he also built the pavilions which Gibbs designed during the same period. At Ditchley, despite the appearance of the house in Gibbs’s Book of Architecture (Fig. 2) and in two sets of preparatory drawings in his hand (Fig. 4), there is good reason to think that the design is not his alone. The house as built differs significantly from both the drawings and the engravings, which differ less importantly from one another. Furthermore it is plain that Smith was on the scene before Gibbs and may have anticipated Gibbs by building one of the pavilions before the latter arrived.

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1 Victoria and Albert Museum, E. 3603-1913; Ashmolean Museum, Gibbs drawings, 1.10.; Book of Architecture, 39.

2 In the plans the dimensions vary a little, and the drawing includes niches in hall and saloon and fan-shaped flights in the subsidiary staircases. In the elevations there are minor differences in the proportions of details (keystones, urns, chimneys, parapet), and the drawings show the fascia below the attic much deeper; the pavilion cupolas appear as regular octagons. The Ashmolean drawing, rather than that in the V & A, was evidently the one from which the engraving was prepared.

3 So spelt in all the early documents. These are among the Dillon deposit at the Oxfordshire County Record Office. They carry the prefix Dil I/p, and subsequently all references to the Dillon papers are given in angle brackets, identified simply by their code numbers within this group. The letter, which is Dil I/p/1a, would thus be referred to simply as < 1a >. I wish to acknowledge the kindness of the Oxfordshire County Archivist in allowing me to reprint excerpts from the Dillon papers and that of the Bursar and other members of staff of the Ditchley Foundation in making my visits to the house so easy and friendly.

4 The full text of the letter reads as follows:

May it please your Lordship Warwick ye 4th May 1720.

The reason of my not answering Yours before this time was occasioned by my being from home almost this fortnight So that I had not a Sight of the Draught Your Lordship sent till Yesterday. I must not presume to find fault with M‘ Tinley is Draught but take it to be a much better House for some Situations than for your Lordships by reason the parlour and Best appartment lying backward which according to your Situation oughts to ly at that end next your Garden. My Lord Your back Stair Cases are very small & will be very dark nor Can they be any way well lighted by a Skyelight by reason they are so very small. The Bed Chambers my Lord are very little rooms notwithstanding the Addition of the Bow windows which Circular break I cannot think will be any handsom Ornament in the ffront of Such a Building. My Lord M‘ Tinley is pleased to mention that the Oratory and Library need not to have any rooms under them, which I believe there must if your Lordship builds according to this designe By reason there will be a Bass Court as low as the Cellar floors and Offices at that End of the House and the Common passage into those offices will be at that end from the Stables but all these particulars I wholly leave to your Lordships better Judgment.

I have sometime since treated with a Timber man for some long Timber for your Lordship which they hold pretty dear by reason we take no short Timber with it I cannot prevail with them to deliver it at Ditchley but they will deliver it at Stratford at 17 p foot ready saw’d which I believe will be much Cheaper than your Lordship can have it any where else but I have this day sent to them which I hope will come time enough to their hands to prevent their cutting of it into Scantlings till I gave them further orders If your Lordship builds according to this designe the timber for over the Hall must be Still longer than by the other Draught: My Lord the alterations in the Draught may cause some Alterations in the scantlings of the Stone therefore the Sooner Your Lordship fixes upon a Draught the better upon all accounts And if I can be any way serviceable if your Lordsp pleases to lay your Commands upon me Ile wait upon You in London giving me a weeks notice I am My Lord

Your Lordships most Dutifull and Obedient Servant ffran: Smith

My Lord

I shall have occasion to pay my Dale Merchant in town about a fortnight hence a bill of about 80 which if Your Lordship pleases to give me leave to draw upon You twill be of great Service to me of which I should be glad to know Your Lordships pleasure.

5 ‘Such Coins as the other front’ presumably implies quoins all round the house at the angles and breaks, but ‘other’ is so vague that one can’t be sure.

6 The figure for the Gibbs design may have been arrived at as follows: the total length of all four façades, including breaks, is about 502 feet; height of principal storeys from plinth to cornice 36 feet (Lord Litchfield’s stone was to be used for the basement), giving a surface area below the cornice of 18,072 square feet. For these storeys the stone would be 18 inches thick, but in the 10-foot-high attic (5,020 sq. ft) only a foot. This would give a total volume of 32,128 cubic feet, leaving 2,372 for cornices, quoins and other ornaments. Such a method of calculation disregards the door and windows openings, which of course greatly reduce the actual area of stone, though some additional will be needed for architraves, etc; but this appears to have been common practice. See Neve, Richard, The City and Country Purchaser (1726), 254 , s.v. ‘Stone-work’; the article was later copied into Bettesworth and Hitch, The Builder’s Dictionary (1734, unpaginated), s.v. ‘Stone’, sub-section ‘Of the Measuring of Stone Work’.

7 Terry Friedman has argued (James Gibbs (1984), pp. 118, 318; and see pl. 117) that Gibbs in fact gave in two drafts, one of them for a two-storyed house with pedimented corinthian frontispiece: the main block, though oblong (not H-shaped) is similar in layout to the house that was built, but its architectural character and relationship to its (much larger) wings are totally different. There is nothing to connect this design with Ditchley beyond its having been acquired by the V & A, where it is numbered E.3605-1913, at the same time as their copy (E. 3603-1913) of the drawing used for the Book of Architecture. To have built E.3605 would of course have involved the demolition of the pre-existing stable.

8 This is attested by the first entry in a continuing account ofmoney paid to him between 1720 and 1733 < If. Ig >: this first payment, of £80, was presumably made in response to Smith’s request in the postscript of the Tinley letter (see above n.4). If gives 25 March as the date of payment, but this is corrected to May in 1g.

9 The entrance front of the house in fact faces considerable east of south, but for convenience the conventional orientations adopted in the early documents are used in this account.

10 A bill for plastering done in 1735 < 1w > (see below) refers to rooms ‘at the bowling green end of the house’: these can certainly be identified as lying at the west end, which was not fitted up until the 1730s. As was the rule in preparing for engravings, Gibbs’s drawing is reversed to enable the engraver to measure it directly on to the plate: it is possible that — perhaps not having visited the house for some years — he was confused about the relative positions of stable and offices or simply forgot the need to reverse them. (The levels at which the pavilions are shown on the plans are difficult to interpret.) Both pavilions have long been completely changed inside, with consequent modifications to their north elevations; and it may be that traditional beliefs about their former use are derived, mistakenly, from Gibbs’s published plan.

11 This rhythm is also used on the end elevation of the house, where it is shown on Gibbs’s plan, though without the existing break forward.

12 ‘In the making of the Stair-Case they have well avoided the grand schemes on the one hand and the pitiful new-fashioned Italian Stair-cases on the other; this is not wide or grand at all, but wondrous neat and pleasing, particularly for that it takes up the least Room that I ever saw, though it reaches to the top of the house, where a Window from the Leads affords it a sufficient Light’. Diary for 28 June 1734, quoted in Markham, Sarah, John Loveday of Caversham (1984), p. 173 .

13 Hussey, C., English Country Houses: Early Georgian (2nd edn 1965), p. 68 .

14 Friedman’s account (James Gibbs, pp. 118, 318) of the supersession of Smith’s design by Gibbs’s is inaccurate: having quoted Smith’s total of £2,187 5s. (for workmanship and materials for his own proposal), Friedman claims that this was ‘outflanked’ by Gibbs’s ‘submitting a plan . . . with an estimate of £1,975’ — thus suggesting that the estimate too was provided by Gibbs. In fact it too was Smith’s, and a true comparison would show an estimated cost of Gibbs’s design to be £3,753 11s. 6d.

15 Confusingly Litchfield’s bank account at Child’s shows large payments in 1724-25 to Timbrell and Phillips, the highly regarded London carpenters. Their names appear no where among the Ditchley papers; and it seems likely that they were being employed on a London house owned or occupied by the Lee family.

16 Child’s bank, ledger 18, fol. 283. For Cornforth’s suggestion see Country Life, 17 November 1988, p. 102.

17 DB 690*.

19 Cf. e.g. his ‘Cube room’ design, prepared for pl. 68 of Designs Inigo Jones, etc (RIBA Drawings collection, repr. in Harris, The Palladians (1981), pl. III). One may compare, for example, Gibbs’s drawing for the interior of the Octagon at Twickenham (Ashmolean 1.40) in which the heads are generalized (see also 1.45, for wall monuments with busts) with the Ditchley drawing in which they are individual. Or again in II. 32 (design for a large hall) the shading is harsher and ungraduated, but the ornaments and heads only vaguely sketched.

20 Cf. e.g. Architectural History, 27 (1984), p. 180.

21 Or re-attribution: see Pevsner, Niklolaus and Sherwood, Jennifer, The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire (1974), p. 574 ; Hussey (Early Georgian, p. 69) finds it difficult to make up his mind.

22 I/p/4: £50 and £150 for unspecified work in 1725, identified in 1726: ‘(with the rest received before being full payment for the middle picture in his great hall at Ditchley) fivety pounds’ — making £250 in all: one voucher is missing.

23 In a recent conversation John Harris has confirmed to me his opinion that the Ashmolean drawing is in fact in Kent’s hand, without Flitcroft’s playing any part in its production.

24 Loveday thought it ‘something uncommon to find the Nobleman’s Picture in his hall, or indeed Paintings of any but fictitious Persons’. (Markham, John Loveday), p. 173.

25 The most recent attempt to sort out the relationships between the Ticinese stuccoists working in this country is Laing, Alastair, ‘Foreign Decorators and Plasterers in England’ in Charles Hind, ed., The Rococo in England (1986), pp. 21-45.

26 To judge by the latter part of the summary account, however, Giuseppe Artari seems to have played the part of senior partner.

27 Friedman, James Gibbs, p. 123. He does allow that ‘the details are sufficiently indebted to North Italian Baroque plasterwork to conclude that [Gibbs] permitted a considerable freedom of interpretation to his stuccatori.’ In fact, as Laing has shown, the connection is rather with Germany, where the Ticinesi had worked before coming to England.

28 Laing, ‘Foreign Decorators . . .’ 31-34.

29 This pediment — in the shape of a flattened half-ellipse between two bits of horizontal cornice — is curiously echoed in that over the fireplace in the hall at Barnsley Park, a room in which I think there is separate reason to suppose Gibbs might have taken a hand. Yet one would not think this particular profile one that he would find congenial.

30 Cf. e.g. the much later dining-room ceiling at Shugborough.

31 Accounts kept at house: copy in Hereford and Worcester C.R.O.

32 Markham, John Loveday, p. 173.

33 Payments of £40 recorded at the end of this account indicate that Smith was also engaged on a building at the Lee property at Quarrendon, near Aylesbury: there is no evidence of what this might have consisted in, and the great house vanished entirely long ago.

34 Assuming the correctness, in this instance, of Gibbs’s plan — whichever way round. Stable and chapel — or rather parish church — are similarly bound together at Biddlesden, N. Bucks. — a house whose style suggests Smith’s hand.

35 Country Life, 24 November 1988, p. 83.

36 A receipt by Stanley for a further 3 guineas also exists < ix >.

37 Sherwood (Oxfordshire, p. 575) presumably follows Gunnis (who quotes England Display’d as his authority) in attributing that in the green drawing room to Scheemakers. His name does not appear in the accounts, and Cheere’s bills are there as incontestable evidence.

38 Country Life, 9 June 1934, p. 592; Hussey, Early Georgian, p. 67. Prohibitively high reproduction fees unfortunately prevent its being shown again here.

39 Friedman, James Gibbs, pp. 120, 318.

40 Cf. Gomme, Andor, ‘Badminton Revisited’, Architectural History, 27, p. 170 f.

41 Though this would imply that, when making the executed draft, Gibbs was aware of those characteristics of the pavilions which he ignored in his subsequent drawings for the Book of Architecture.

42 RIBA Drawings collection, K. 10/11/13-14.

43 See Gomme, , ‘William & David Hiorn’ in Roderick Brown, ed., The Architectural Outsiders (1985), pp. 46-47.

43 See Gomme, , ‘William & David Hiorn’ in Roderick Brown, ed., The Architectural Outsiders (1985), pp. 46-47.

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Architectural History
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