Teddington, Middlesex, designs for a house and stables for Robert Udney, possibly executed, c1789 (5)
Robert Fullerton Udney (alternatively spelt Udny), of Udny Castle, Aberdeenshire, was born 10th July 1722, the second son of James and Jane (née Walker) Udny. He acquired a substantial fortune as a West India merchant, and eventually succeeded to the family’s Aberdeenshire estate, although quite late in life.
In 1749 he married his first wife Mary Hougham with whom he had a daughter, Mary, wife of Sir William Cunynghame. After the death of his first wife, Udney was remarried in 1787 to Martha Jourdan, a young woman some thirty years his junior. The couple were friendly with their neighbour Horace Walpole, whose estate at Strawberry Hill was close to Udney’s home in Teddington. Walpole candidly noted his first meeting with Martha Udney on 29th July 1790, stating:
I have seen Mrs. Udney. Oh she is charming, looks so sensible and, unluckily, so modest; ... Mr. Udney looks as old and decrepid as I do…
Later on 6th September 1795 he wrote of a note from Mrs U to invite me to a concert on Sunday.
Udney himself was a renowned collector of paintings, prints and drawings. Robert’s brother John served as Consul in Venice and, from 1776, in Leghorn. A Successor to Consul Joseph Smith, Udney, like Smith before him, was an art dealer of some significance. Interestingly, in 1784, an album of prints directly comparable to Adam’s Ruins… of Spalatro was dedicated to Udney’s brother John, with the first plate bearing the Udney coat of arms. This edition was comprised of twenty prints, a selection of perspective views and ornamental elements previously published in Adam’s Spalatro.
Acting as his brother’s agent in Italy, John was able to acquire a number of Italian works for Udney’s collection. To house them, a purpose built gallery was constructed at the Udneys’ Teddington estate, which seemingly received much local admiration. One account records a notable morning visit from George III and Queen Charlotte, who chose to break their journey from nearby Kew to Windsor, in order that the royal couple might breakfast and inspect the extensive collection.
Robert Udney died at his London townhouse in Hertford Street, Mayfair in January 1802. The Gentleman’s Magazine described him as:
a gentleman much distinguished for his taste in the fine arts… and possessed of a very fine collection of pictures, He was a man of general information, great liberality and a very hospitable disposition, indeed he was one of the old breed of true English gentleman.
Following his death Udneys' collections were sold at Christie’s, with his prints, drawings and books dispersed in May and June 1802 and latterly his painting collection, 18-19 May 1804. His daughter Mary inherited the house in Teddington and her son Captain George Cunynghame resided there until 1851. Following the death of her husband, Martha Udney became under-governess to Princess Charlotte of Wales, although the Princess was known to greatly dislike her. Indeed as a child, whilst drawing up a pretend will, she made specific notes to ensure Nothing to Mrs Udney.
Udney’s estate in Teddington included seven acres of land from the corner of Kingston Lane, positioned just to the south of the present St Alban’s Church. The first house recorded on the site dated to 1647, seemingly rebuilt in 1768. Its principal rooms were south-facing with the lawn views extending across to Bushy Park. The estate also included a walled garden and stables. Adam’s scheme for the house proposed an additional wing to the west of the main house to contain a picture gallery. Alongside this there were further proposals for alterations and extensions to the stable block. Udney’s famed picture gallery was dismantled in 1825, presumably following the sale of his collections some twenty years before. Later, in 1899, the house was also demolished, but we are fortunate to have a detailed description of the property by Niven, dating to November of that year. In his description Niven noted the house’s construction date of 1768, along with the initials I.K. preserved in the façade. Significantly for the Adam designs, Niven also recorded the interiors, noting the survival of a first-storey elliptical room with a domed ceiling, positioned just beyond the drawing room. Niven surmises that this room originally formed an ante-room to the picture gallery beyond, which was positioned to the west of the main block, but since demolished. This description for an elliptical room in the south-west corner of the house, serving as an ante-room to the picture gallery matches Adam’s designs for the proposed alterations. It is therefore highly probable that this scheme was indeed executed. It is interesting to note that Niven also recorded the presence of an elaborate inlaid chimneypiece combined with a delicate ceiling design in the drawing room, and it is possible that these may have also formed part of Adam’s scheme.
P. Toynbee (ed.), The Letters of Horace Walpole, Fourth Earl of Orford, 2742, 2975; W. Niven, ‘Robert Udny’s Villa at Teddington’, The Home Counties Magazine, Volume I, no. 4, October 1899; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam , 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 30, 90; S. Reynolds (ed.), A History of the County of Middlesex, 1962, Volume 3, pp.66-69; I.G. Brown ‘ Spalatro redivivus: An Italian reworking of Adam’s plates of Diocletian’s Palace’, Apollo, Jan 1998, pp. 32-6; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 121, 183, 226; www.botlhs.co.uk; www.britishmuseum.org: www.christies.com; www.royalcollection.org.uk; www.twickenham-museum.org.uk (accessed July 2018)