Bowood house had been built by Sir Orlando Bridgeman (c1678-1746) from c1725. The estate was purchased by the 1st Earl of Shelburne, in 1754, and Henry Keene (1726-76) was employed to remodel the house. These works were carried out in 1755-60. Moreover, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716-83) and the Hon. Charles Hamilton (1704-86) were commissioned to landscape the park. On the 1st Earl’s death in 1761, his countess approached Robert Adam to design a mausoleum for the Bowood estate. Shortly thereafter, she sold the Bowood Estate to her son, the 2nd Earl for £15,000. As such the 2nd Earl became responsible for the mausoleum, completed in 1763, and this brought him into contact with Adam who became his architect at the house.
The 2nd Earl of Shelburne was one of Adam's earliest clients. In 1761-65 Adam added a seven-bay Doric portico, and refitted the entrance hall, and three rooms on the north front, including the great room. At this time Adam also designed a bridge for a new approach to the house, and although this was not executed it is illustrated in the second volume of Works. Adam’s work at Bowood was then suspended in 1765-68 while Shelburne was pursing political activities in London. Then, during a second phase of works at Bowood, Adam enclosed the E-shaped offices and stables with a new range ornamented with a colonnade of Spalatro order columns, resulting in its name, the Diocletian wing. This new range contained various rooms and greenhouses, and was connected to the main house by an additional link. The plasterwork was carried out by Joseph Rose, carving by John Gilbert and Benjamin and Thomas Carter, and furniture was supplied by John Linnell, John Cobb, and Ince and Mayhew. Relations between Adam and Shelburne became strained in 1771 when Shelburne publically opposed Adam's Adelphi scheme. At this time Adam ceased work as Shelburne’s architect, and his designs for Bowood were brought to fruition by a local builder, James White.
Shortly after Adam's death Shelburne, now the 1st Marquis of Lansdowne, employed George Dance the younger (1741-1825) to make alterations to the house. This included the implementation of a new drawing room, resulting in Adam’s great room being turned into a dining room, as well as the supper room and eastern greenhouse in Adam's Diocletian wing being replaced by libraries. The 1st Marquis of Lansdowne died in debt, having spent a considerable sum on building works at Bowood and Lansdowne House. His son, the 2nd Marquis, did not live at Bowood, and sold most of the contents in 1805. The 3rd Marquis inherited the house in 1809 and began a process of restoration to designs by Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867), who designed the upper terrace in 1817-18; Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863), who built a chapel, library and breakfast room in 1822-24; and Charles Barry (1795-1860), who added the clock tower, and made alterations to the house in c1830-48. The majority of Adam's interiors at Bowood, including the octagonal staircase hall and the great room, were altered during this prolonged period of nineteenth-century restoration. There is an excellent plan showing Bowood in c1792 included in Bolton's chapter on the house.
Henry Keene's central house was demolished in 1955, owing to serious dry rot, and this was attended by the demolition of Adam's link between the central house and the Diocletian wing. Various fittings from the house were sold prior to demolition. The interior of Adam's great room was removed to the board room of Lloyds of London in 1955-56, and then moved again into Lloyds' new building in 1986. In 1955 the family moved into Adam's Diocletian wing. Bowood remains in the possession of the Petty-Fitzmaurice family, and was opened to the public in 1976.
There is a collection of architectural drawings belonging to the 9th Marquis of Lansdowne at Bowood, and these include Adam drawings for the dining room of c1770, and three undated designs for chair backs. There is also an unexecuted, reduced version of the design for the ceiling in the great room (11/79) at the V&A Museum, dated 1763, and showing a coved rectangular ceiling ornamented with oval coffering.
See also: Bowood Mausoleum, Calne, Wiltshire; Lansdowne House, London
R. & J. Adam, The works of Robert and James Adam, 1779, part II, pl. vii; E. Fitzmaurice, Life of William Earl of Shelburne, 1912, Volume I, p. 216; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, chapter 11, Volume II, Index pp. 4, 87; J. Lees-Milne, The age of Adam, 1947, pp. 62, 86, 102-3; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 48, 68; N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Wiltshire, 1963, pp. 109-110; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, p. 47; D. Yarwood, Robert Adam, 1970, pp. 133, 201-202; G. Beard, The works of Robert Adam, 1978, p. 40; H. Hayward, and P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell: eighteenth-century London furniture makers, 1980, Volume I, pp. 123-25; A. Rowan, Catalogues of architectural drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum: Robert Adam, 1988, p. 48; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy: 1701-1800, 1997, p. 852; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, chapter 7; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 179, 192-94, Volume II, pp. 207, 215, 271; M. Miers, 'Bowood House, Calne, Wiltshire: the seat of the Marquess of Lansdowne', Country Life, 22 June 2006; M. Symes, 'Charles Hamilton at Bowood', Garden History, Winter 2006, p. 206; E. Harris, The country houses of Robert Adam: from the archives of Country Life, 2007, pp. 48-53; L. Namier, 'Petty, William, Visct. Fitzmaurice (1737-1805), of Bowood, Wilts.', History of Parliament online, 2012
I am grateful to Dr Kate Fielden, Curator of Bowood House, who provided me with a handlist of the Adam drawings within the Bowood collection.
Frances Sands, 2012
Contents of Bowood, Calne, Wiltshire: designs for the house, offices and park buildings, for William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, 1761-71 (32)
- Designs for the house and offices
- Designs for the interior
- Designs for buildings within the park