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Earl of Findlater, designs for a town house for an unknown location, possibly Portland Place, London, c1783, unexecuted (17)

c1783
Robert Adam’s scheme for a townhouse for James Ogilvy, 7th Earl of Findlater and 4th Earl of Seafield (1750-1811), forms part of a number of extensive designs produced for the Earl’s residences, of which very little was executed. Rowan highlights a letter dated 20 October 1789, in which Adam expresses his frank exasperation with the circumstances to his client, Thomas Kennedy:

‘I have made a new edition of a plan for Lord Findlater, but whether he will ever begin to build it, I don’t know; if a new edition could be made of himself, I should be more able to answer your question.’

The Adams had previously worked for his father, the 6th Earl. Keen on agricultural development and a Trustee for the Improvement of Fisheries and Manufactures, the 6th Earl commissioned John Adam to construct a granary in 1765, now thought to be the building known as Lord Findlater’s Corf in Portsoy, Banff. Shortly after this, in 1767, James Adam produced a series of designs for internal alterations to the Earl’s home in Cullen, Moray.

Born 10 April 1750, Findlater was one of two sons born to James Ogilvy, Lord Deskford, 6th Earl of Findlater and Seafield (cr. 1714- 1770), and his wife Mary Murray (1720-1795), second daughter of John, 1st Duke of Atholl.

In a letter from Paris dated 10 July 1771, Horace Walpole records an encounter with the young 7th Earl:

‘I am woe-begone to find my Lord F- in the same hotel. He is as starched as an old-fashioned plaited neck cloth, and come to suck wisdom from this curious school. He goes on to state that he had once been an acquaintance of his father’s, but ‘that does not at all increase my partiality to the son’.

In 1779 Findlater was married to Christina Teresa Murray (1755-1813). Shortly after their marriage, however, he ceased to live with Christina, and by 1789 was residing with Mr Wilson, his companion, for whom there were rooms designed in Adam’s scheme for Findlater Castle. Increasingly it seems the Earl spent time living on the Continent, as recorded in The Gentleman’s Magazine. After acquiring a number of vineyards in the Loschwitz district of Dresden, Findlater began the construction of an extensive country house residence overlooking the River Elbe. The house, which later formed the core for Schloss Albrechtsberg, was nearing completion when the Earl died on 5 October 1811. He was succeeded by his cousin Lewis Alexander Grant (later Grant-Ogilvy), but only in the Earldom of Seafield. Upon his death, the Earldom of Findlater and Lordships of Deskford and Ogilvy became dormant. Grant stood as Findlater’s heir apparent; however, a number of properties, including that in Dresden, had been bequeathed to Findlater’s then companion, Johann Georg Fischer.

Findlater was buried in a tomb at Loschwitz Church, where some years later at the age of 87, Fischer was also interred.

Rowan underlines the eccentric nature and extravagance of the designs produced for Lord Findlater and considers that Adam was altering schemes to incorporate his client's own ideas. Considering the family’s finances, Rowan notes that less than twenty years earlier the estate was narrowly saved from ruin by the careful management of Lady Mary, Findlater’s mother. He suggests that the execution of these elaborate schemes was always unlikely, and concludes that the Earl’s unusual commissions were ultimately ‘self-deception’. This may indeed be the case, but it is clear from his time on the Continent, with his extensive construction of the county house at Dresden, and a series of public buildings at Carlsbad, that the Earl did find the means to build on a grand scale.

Furthermore, a letter from James Adam to the Earl (April 1780), referenced by Thom, sees a plea to Findlater for investment in further speculative projects, following on from the Adams' financial difficulties of the 1770s. This suggests that the Adam brothers, at least, believed the Earl to possess the funds for such projects, and significantly Findlater is also linked to the earlier Adam development at Portland Place.

It is noted by Bolton and King that the Earl’s archives, at Cullen House, Moray, contain a plan for Portland Place, London. The plan is undated, but King proposes a date on the basis of a note which records the Earl of Kerry’s house as ‘to be begun in March’. Although this house was never executed, the designs date to 1774, suggesting the plan was produced at around this time. Significantly the plan shows Findlater in possession of two sites in Portland Place, sites which King notes are subsequently occupied by the Adam house Nos. 23-32 and 48-60. As a result Portland Place has been proposed as the intended location for the Findlater town house, with the suggestion that it was designed for one of these two locations. However, the scheme’s date of 1783 contradicts this, and as King highlights, by then the development of these sites was well underway. It is possible that the townhouse was intended for an undeveloped site at Portland Place, but there is nothing in the surviving drawings to confirm this.

Adam’s scheme for Findlater’s townhouse includes several variations in design. These include slight alterations to the principal front and a number of alternative plans for the internal layout, with three surviving variations of the ground-storey level. King notes the use of the circular porch in the principal elevation, with a balcony set above, and compares this to Adam’s designs for a cottage at Strawberry Hill, and the Fountain Cottages built at Mistley.

Findlater’s townhouse was unexecuted, alongside a number of schemes produced for the Earl by the Adam office, including designs for Findlater Castle; alterations to Cullen House and estate; and a series of lodge houses. The only commissioned work from the Adam office known to have been executed was for an Ionic entrance screen at Cullen, dating to c1780.

See also: Cullen House, Moray; Findlater Castle, Moray; Lodge Houses for the Earl of Findlater, unknown location

Literature:
Horace Walpole, Letters, volume VIII, P.J. Toynbee (ed.), 1903; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, pp. 102-4, Index, pp. 45, 71; A. Rowan, Designs for Castles and Country Villas by Robert and James Adam, 1985, p. 138; D. King, The complete works of Robert James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I pp. 427-8, Volume II, pp. 3, 57, 102-6, 130, 135, 162, 165, 179, 217, 244, 252, 257, pls. 114-5; C. Thom, ‘Some promising young men: Robert Adam and his brothers’, Robert Adam and his brothers, New light on Britain’s leading architectural family, 2019, p. 8; T.F. Henderson, ‘Ogilvy, James, sixth Earl of Findlater and third Earl of Seafield (c1714-1770)’, 2004, www.oxforddnb.com; www.findlater.org.uk/Earls; www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk (accessed July 2019)

Anna McAlaney, 2019
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