Beckford relocated to London in 1744, and also purchased the estate at Fonthill, Wiltshire. He kept enslaved people in England to serve him. In 1756 he married Maria, daughter of the Hon. George Hamilton, second son of James, 6th Earl of Abercorn. His only legitimate son, William Thomas Beckford (1759-1844), inherited the majority of his estate, although eight illegitimate children were also recognised and provided for in Beckford’s will. Beckford served as MP for Shaftesbury in 1747-54, and London in 1754-70. In 1752 he was elected Alderman of Billingsgate (his trading interests were restricted to the goods produced by his Jamiacan estates), in 1755-56 he was the Sherriff of London, and in 1762-63 and 1769-70 he served as Lord Mayor of London. Despite his many successes Beckford was criticised as nouveau riche and a vulgar colonial. Horace Walpole described him as a ‘noisy good humoured flatterer, vulgar and absurd, pompous in his expense, and vainglorious’. His rivals enjoyed illustrating the contradiction between his fight for liberty in Parliament, and his great wealth founded on the backs of enslaved people working in Jamaica.
In 1761 Beckford purchased Witham Park, once England's first Carthusian monastery, which had been much altered since the Dissolution. Final alterations were made to the house for Sir William Wyndham in c1717 to designs by James Gibbs (1682-1754), before it was sold by Charles Wyndham, 2nd Earl of Egremont. Although Beckford's principal residence was Fonthill Splendens, Wiltshire, he demolished the old house at Witham in c1764 in favour of a new house built on a nearby site to designs by Robert Adam. It is possible that Beckford had become acquainted with Adam through his old school friend William Murray (later Lord Mansfield), who was Adam's patron at Kenwood, but Beckford's roles within Parliament and the City would have also brought him into contact with a great many other Adam patrons. The work at Witham began in c1762, and the shell of the fabric was well advanced, but it was abandoned after Beckford's death in 1770, and finally demolished in 1791. Despite this the house is illustrated in the fifth volume of Vitruvius Britannicus (1771, pl. 38-42).
See also: Fonthill Splendens, Tisbury, Wiltshire
J. Woolfe, and J. Gandon, Vitruvius Britannicus V, 1771, pls. 38-42; H. Walpole, Memoirs of the reign of George II, 1849, Volume II, p. 177; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 31, 62; R. Wilson-North, and S. Porter, 'Witham, Somerset: from Carthusian monastery to country house to gothic folly', Architectural History, Volume 40, 1997, pp. 81, 93-96; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, p. 186; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, p. 105, Volume II, pp. 81-85, 134; 'Beckford, William (1709-70), of Fonthill Abbey, nr. Hindon, Wilts', and 'Beckford, William (1709-70), of Fonthill, Wilts', The history of Parliament online; Legacies of British Slavery database, UCL: www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs
Frances Sands, 2012
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 Witham Park, Frome, Somerset: designs for the house for Alderman William Beckford, partly executed with alterations, 1762-70 (10)
- Preliminary designs, finished drawings and a record drawing for the house, 1762, partly executed with alterations (10)