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Portman Square, numbers 41 and 21, London: executed and unexecuted designs for alterations, for William Locke, 1765-66 and 1772-78 (9)

Signed and dated

  • 1765-66
  • 1772-78


William Locke (1732-1810) was an art connoisseur and patron. He is thought to have been the illegitimate son of William Locke, MP for Grimsby, from whom he inherited his fortune. In 1767 he married Frederica Augusta Schaub (1750-1832), the daughter of Sir Luke Schaub. Locke had begun collecting art during his Grand Tour in 1749, initially housing his collection in London, but in 1774 he purchased Norbury Park, Michelham, Surrey. He died at Norbury, and the estate was sold nine years later, in 1819, by his son, also William Locke.

Locke owned also a succession of town houses in Portman Square, which had been laid out by Henry William Portman in c1765. First Locke purchased number 41 on the south side of the square. For this house James Adam (possibly in collaboration with his brother Robert) was commissioned to make alterations to the house. From evidence in the RIBA drawings collection it appears likely that James Adam made designs for alterations to the fabric of the house, as well as at least one extant design for the interior. None of Adam's designs for this house were executed.

In 1775-76 Locke left number 41 in favour of number 21 in the north side of Portman Square. Number 21 had been built from c1772 to designs by James Adam. There are extant drawings for the fabric at the RIBA, and for the interior at the Soane Museum. This Adam house was altered in 1866, and the principal entrance was moved to the front on Gloucester Place. Further alterations were made to the interior in 1972 for the RIBA Drawings Collection, and again from 2004 for the Home House club (19-21 Portman Square). Locke only remained at number 21 for two years owing to financial difficulties, and in 1778 he moved to number 14 on the west side of the square.

The extent of James Adam's authorship of the designs for these two houses, or indeed any collaboration with his brother Robert, is unknown. There are three contract drawings, datable to 1765-66, attributed to James Adam, which may have been for the unexecuted scheme for 41 Portman Square, within the RIBA drawings collection. There are also four preliminary designs and designs, datable to c1773, attributed to James Adam, showing 21 Portman Square as executed but with alterations, within the RIBA drawings collection.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 48, 78; B. Cherry, and N. Pevsner, The building of England: London 3: north west, 1991, p. 650; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume 1, pp. 398, 402-3, Volume 2, pp. 78, 130; K. Maxwell, '21 Portman Square', The Georgian, Volume 1, 2005, pp. 26-8

Frances Sands, 2012



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of Portman Square, numbers 41 and 21, London: executed and unexecuted designs for alterations, for William Locke, 1765-66 and 1772-78 (9)