Explore Collections Explore The Collections
You are here: CollectionsOnline  /  Hill Street, number 23 (now 31), London: designs for redecorating the dressing room for Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, 1766 (6)



Hill Street, number 23 (now 31), London: designs for redecorating the dressing room for Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, 1766 (6)

Signed and dated

  • 1766


Elizabeth Montagu (née Robinson) (1718-1800) was the eldest daughter of Matthew Robinson of Edgeley and West Layton, Yorkshire, and Mount Morris, Kent, and received an upbringing which encouraged intellectual pursuits. Through a childhood friendship with Lady Margaret Harley (later 3rd Duchess of Portland), Elizabeth was introduced to London society, and in a letter of 1738 to that lady, she expressed her intentions of forming a marriage which would facilitate a comfortable and elevated metropolitan lifestyle. Four years later, Elizabeth married Edward Montagu (1692-1775), a grandson of the 1st Earl of Sandwich, who was in possession of a country estate, Sandleford Priory, Berkshire, and valuable coal mines in Berkshire, Yorkshire and Northumberland. Moreover, Edward Montagu shared Elizabeth’s scholarly interests, and was himself a mathematician.

The Montagu family spent much of the year in their London house at 23 Hill Street, and it was here that Elizabeth established a reputation as a literary hostess, gathering around her a large group of intellectual friends, and earning the title, 'queen of the bluestockings'. Both husband and wife took an active interest in the management of their coal mines and increasing their income to allow the patronage and promotion of the arts and literature. In 1765 Edward Montagu employed Robert Adam to extend Sandleford, although this work was lost when Elizabeth - in her widowhood - largely remodelled the house in 1780-86 to designs by James Wyatt (1746-1813). There are no Adam drawings for this work at the Soane Museum, and Sandleford Priory is now a school.

Extensive works were also undertaken at their townhouse at 23 Hill Street. This was a new house. Hill Street is part of the Berkeley Estate, and was developed in the 1740s, and Elizabeth had personally overseen the construction of number 23. The interior decorative schemes were largely installed by James Stuart (1713-88) in 1760-72, but also by Robert Adam. Adam was commissioned to redecorate Elizabeth Montagu's dressing room on the first floor of the house - known as the Silver room - and in reality a large room for entertaining. This room had been fitted up in the 1750s in the Chinoiserie style by Elizabeth herself, with the assistance of the poet, Gilbert West (1703-56). In 1766 Adam was commissioned to redecorate the space. He had very limited experience in the Chinoiserie style, but the result was a beautiful Classical scheme with painted Chinoiserie motifs and medallions.

On Edward Montagu's death in 1775, Elizabeth was left a very wealthy widow, and acquired a 99-year lease on 22 Portman Square, which she rebuilt in 1777-81 to designs by Stuart. She left 23 Hill Street in favour of this new house at the end of 1781. 22 Portman Square was destroyed by fire in 1941. Adam’s interior at 23 Hill Street was altered in the nineteenth century, but survives in situ in this altered state. The building is now used as offices.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, pp. 99-100, Volume II, Index pp. 41, 81; J. Lees-Milne, The age of Adam, 1947, pp. 148, 171; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 56, 89-90; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, p. 99; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, p. 61; H. Hayward, and P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell: eighteenth-century London furniture makers, 1980, pp. 74-75; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, pp. 7, 347, 349; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 307, 309; R. Baird, 'The queen of the bluestockings: Mrs Montagu's house at 23 Hill Street rediscovered', Apollo, August 2003, pp. 43-49; S. Bradley, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: London 6: Westminster, 2003, p. 537; E. Eger, and L. Peltz, Brilliant women: eighteenth-century bluestockings, 2008, pp. 21, 24-27; D. Pullins, 'Reassessing Elizabeth Montagu's architectural patronage at 23 Hill Street, London', Burlington Magazine, June 2008, pp. 400-4'; A. Aymonino, L. Gwynn, and M. Modolo, Paper palaces: the Topham collection as a source for British neo-Classicism, 2013, pp. 22-39; 'Montagu [née Robinson, Elizabeth (171-1800)', Oxford dictionary of national biography online

Frances Sands, 2013



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

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: drawings@soane.org.uk

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.

Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).  

Contents of Hill Street, number 23 (now 31), London: designs for redecorating the dressing room for Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, 1766 (6)