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Downton Castle: Function and meaning

  • Andrew Ballantyne
Extract

This article is an attempt to describe the design of the house which Richard Payne Knight built for himself at Downton on the Rock, near Ludlow, between 1772 and 1778 (Fig. 1), showing what the building might have meant to its designer. The house is in some ways familiar enough. Its place as an influential building is already established, it being the subject of a number of studies — the most important to this article being Nicholas Penny’s in The Arrogant Connoisseur — but the house is often misunderstood as a prophetic anticipation of nineteenth-century Mediaevalism. The following text is divided into three sections, examining the building stylistically, functionally and symbolically. The first shows why the reading of the house’s exterior as an exercise in Mediaevalism is unsatisfactory. The second examines the practical rationale for the irregular planning, which is the house’s most important innovation. And the third concludes by suggesting sources for the building’s imagery.

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1 Christopher Hussey, The Picturesque, Studies in a Point of View (1927); idem., ‘Downton Castle’, English Country Houses, Mid-Georgian 1760-1800 (1956); Sir John Summerson, The Life and Work of John Nash, Architect (1980); David Watkin, The English Vision: The Picturesque in Architecture, Landscape and Garden Design (1982).

2 Penny, Nicholas, ‘Architecture and Landscape at Downton’, in The Arrogant Connoisseur: Richard Payne Knight, 1751-1824, ed, Clarke, and Penny, (1982 ) This article analyses the conventional classicizing details in the house’s internal decoration.

3 Knight, Richard Payne, An Analytical Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (1805) 4th ed., 1808, p. 223 .

4 Knight, Richard Payne: Expedition into Sicily, ed. Stumpf, (1986); Stumpf, Claudia, ‘The Expedition into Sicily’, in The Anogant Connoisseur....

5 SirPevsner, Nikolaus, Herefordshire (1963), p. 118 ; Penny, ‘Downton. . .’, p. 32.

6 Richard Payne Knight to Samuel Nash, 25 September 1772 (MS, Downton Castle Papers, Hereford). Quoted in part by Penny, ‘Downton. . .’, p. 32.

7 Samuel Nash to Richard Payne Knight, 2 November 1772 (Downton Castle Papers). Quoted by Penny, ‘Downton. . . ‘, p. 32, and (with conventional spelling) by Rowan, Alistair, ‘Downton Castle, Herefordshire’, The Country Seat, ed. Colvin, and Harris, (1970), p. 170 .

8 Penny settled the extent of Pritchard’s involvement with the design of the house (‘Downton. . .’, p. 32ff); see also Colvin, Howard, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1660-1840 (1978), p. 663 , where Downton Castle is mentioned in the entry for Pritchard (there being no entry for Knight); Harris, John, ‘Pritchard Redivivus’, Architectural History, II (1968), p. 17 ff.. included neither Downton Castle nor the bridges in his list of Pritchard’s work: Alistair Rowan ‘Downton. . .’, p. 170, noted stylistic affinity between Downton Castle and Pritchard’s work.

9 Claudia Stumpf, introduction to Knight: Expedition into Sicily. . ., p. 10.

10 Penny, ‘Downton. . .’, p. 34.

11 SirPevsner, Nikolaus, ‘Richard Payne Knight,Art Bulletin, XXX (1949), reprinted in Studies in Art, Architecture and Design, 2 vols (1968), 1, p. 109ff., pointed out that such notably asymmetrical houses as Vanbrugh’s Castle at Blackheath or Walpole’s Strawberry Hill at Twickenham, which would at first sight seem to have anticipated Downton, were originally symmetrical buildings and were only later adapted into their well-known irregular states. Penny, ‘Downton. . .’, pp. 42-43; Hussey, Christopher, ‘A Regency Prophet of Modernism’, Country Life Annual (1956), p. 48 .

12 Lipscomb, Geoffrey, A Journey into South Wales (1802), pp. 265-67.

13 Uhlmann, Diana, Croft Castle (1982), p. 10 .

14 Knight, Richard Payne, The Landscape, a didactic poem (1794), 2nd ed. 1795, pp. 62-63, vv. 406-13.

15 Ibid., p. 4n.

16 By R. P. Knight’s great nephew Andrew Johnes Rouse Boughton Knight; Penny, Nicholas, ‘Richard Payne Knight: a brief life’, in The Arrogant Connoisseur. . ., p. 18 .

17 Hussey, The Picturesque. . ., p. 46.

18 Lipscomb, Journey. . ., pp. 268-71.

19 Gentleman’s Magazine (July 1797) p. 473 (unsigned).

20 Knight, Principles of Taste. . ., p. 166.

21 Ibid., pp. 163-64.

22 Penny, ‘Downton. . .’, p. 34.

23 Knight, Principles of Taste, p. 224.

24 Ibid., pp. 167-68.

25 Skrine, Henry, Two Successive Tours Throughout the Whole of Wales with several of the adjacent English Counties; so as to form a comprehensive view of the Picturesque Beauty, the peculiar manners, and the fine remains of antiquity, in that interesting part of the Island (1795). Reprinted in A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages and Travels in all parts of the World. . ., ed. Pinkerton (1808), p. 641.

26 See for example Knight: Expedition into Sicily. . ., p. 61.

27 Broadbent, Geoffrey, Design in Architecture (1973 ); Lawson, Bryan, How Designers Think (1980 ). For science see the works of Sir Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend et al.

28 Penny, ‘Downton. . .’, p. 39.

29 It is necessary to walk in the open air between the kitchen and the dining room at Berrington, where the offices were grouped in a symmetrical court behind the main block of the house which is shown as Figure 10. The location and size of rooms among the offices at Downton is conjectural, having been obliterated by Victorian alterations. The kitchen, however, survives.

30 Knight, Principles of Taste. . . . , p. 225.

31 Hugh|Kargon, Robert, Atomism in England from Harlot to Newton (1966 ).

32 Greville, Charles, The Greville Memoirs 1814-1860, ed. Strachey, and Fulford, , 8 vols (1938), IV, p. 182 .

33 Knight, Principles of Taste. . ., p. 286; see also pp. 276, 289, 318, 340, 434.

34 Lucretius, , De Rerum Natura, Book II, vv. 598609 . Translation by Sisson, C. H., Lucretius: The Poem on Nature (1976), p. 60 .

35 Oxford Latin Dictionary (1968), p. 1146c (muralis, 3).

36 For example by Latham, Ronald, Lucretius: On the Nature of the Universe (1951), p. 77 ; and by Bailey, Cyril, Lucretius: De Rerum Natura (1947 ).

37 See for example: Richard Payne Knight, A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, and its connexion with the Mystic Theology of the Antients, (1786/7); idem, An Inquiry into the Symbolical Language of Ancient Art and Mythology (1818).

38 Mayoux, J.J., Un Epicurien Anglais: Thomas Love Peacock (Paris, 1933 ); Butler, Marilyn, Peacock Displayed (1979), pp. 30 -37.

39 Peacock, Thomas Love, ed. Brett-Smith, and Jones, , 10 vols (1924-34), II, Melincourt, p. 302 .

40 Knight, The Landscape. . . , Book II, vv. 280-87, P- 53-

41 Smith, Adam, ‘On the Natural Progress of Opulence’, from An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), Book 3, Chapter 1.

42 Downton Castle Papers. . . . Quoted by Penny, ‘Downton. . .’.p. 36.

43 Oxford Latin Dictionary. . . , p. 447a: corona (1.a) a crown awarded as a prize for military valour; p. 447b: corona (3.g) a cornice.

44 Knight, Principles of Taste. . . . , p. 148.

45 Idem, Civil Society. . . . , p. 82, vv. 179–80.

46 Idem, The Landscape, Book 2, vv. 280–87, P. 53.

47 Pevsner, ‘Richard Payne Knight. . .’, p. 112.

48 Penny, ‘Downton. . .’, p. 41.

49 Bacon, Francis, The Advancement of Learning (1605), ed. Johnston, (1974), p. 90 .

50 Knight, Principles of Taste. . . ., p. 216.

51 Ibid., p. 223.

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Architectural History
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