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Harwich House, designs for a house for John Robinson, 1778, unexecuted (11)

John Robinson was born at Appleby, Westmorland on 15 July 1727, the eldest son of merchant Charles Robinson (d. 1728) and Hannah (nee Deane). He was educated at Appleby Grammar School and later, at the age of 17, he was apprenticed to his uncle Richard Wordsworth (the grandfather of poet William Wordsworth). Wordsworth was an attorney based in Westmorland and steward of the Lowther Estate. In 1751 Robinson was made joint steward alongside his uncle and by 1760 he was appointed sole steward and acting as Sir James Lowther’s principal agent.

In April 1758 Robinson married Mary Crowe (1733-1805), the daughter of the Caribbean merchant Nathaniel Crowe. The following year their only child, Mary, was born. She would subsequently marry Henry Nevil, Earl of Abergavenny.

Robinson began his political career supporting Lowther’s interest for Westmorland, where he was elected MP in January 1764. In February 1770 he was appointed Secretary to the Treasury on Lowther’s recommendation and until 1772 Robinson continued to support Lowther politically. In 1773 a bitter feud arose between the two men which almost resulted in a duel. Following this Robinson abandoned his Westmorland constituency and in 1774 he was returned as MP for Harwich. In the years following, Robinson sold off his northern properties, with the exception of his estate at Winder, to Lord Thanet. He would remain MP for Harwich until his death in 1802.

Robinson’s post with the Treasury, which he held until 1782, involved the development of the administration surrounding the East India Company. During the American War of Independence and the failing of the North administration, Robinson found himself set within the role as adviser to the King. The King increasingly relied on reports from Robinson regarding North’s behaviour, with particular information supplied concerning the extent of the Prime Minister’s financial difficulties. Robinson had been a keen supporter of North, and North held Robinson in particular regard, securing for him a pension of £1000 a year. However Robinson’s support began to wane, and in January 1784 he abstained from a vote against Pitt’s East India Bill. As a result North broke off their friendship and on the fall of the administration Robinson lost his appointment to the treasury.

In 1786 Pitt secured Robinson the post of Surveyor of Woods and Forests, a role which he actively pursued planting over 20,000 oak trees in Windsor Forest alone. In this Robinson sought to improve Britain’s timber resources and as a result the nation’s naval strength.

Robinson was considered industrious and in 1780 The English Chronicle described him as:

‘a man of clear understanding, consummate knowledge in the general line of commercial information, and of indefatigable attention to every subject that comes under his consideration’

He was heavily satirised in the cartoons of the day and also featured in The Rolliad. Robinson also gained a reputation for bribery. When Richard Brinsley Sheridan led his campaign against the practice and its prevalence within the House of Commons he was asked to name those involved to which he responded ‘Yes, I could name him as soon as I could say Jack Robinson.’

Robinson died on 23 December 1802, succumbing to a stroke and was buried on 2 January 1803 in Isleworth. His wife Mary died at Wyke House two years later and was buried alongside her husband. Robinson’s will records his estates at Wyke and Winder, alongside lands held in Isleworth, Heston and Egham. He left a legacy to be donated to the poor of Isleworth alongside a request that the vicar of All Saints Church, Isleworth preach an annual sermon on charity in his memory. Robinson was also a benefactor of the Green and Blue schools in Isleworth. By his will the majority of his estates passed to his son-in-law Henry Nevil, Earl of Abergavenny.

The Adam scheme for Robinson’s seaside villa at Harwich is ‘eccentric’ in style, a v-shaped castle villa which King considers a ‘tamer’ version of the Bewley scheme designed in 1777, the year before the Harwich drawings were produced. The v-shaped form also compares to Adam’s design for Barnton Castle.

The Harwich scheme was principally comprised of three main storeys, with two rectangular wings terminating in corner turrets and joined to a central round tower. King notes the additional turret supported by the central tower which provided a further storey and compares this to the towers designed for Sherborne, Lowther and Kimbolton Castles and Luton Park.

SM Adam volume 37/87 provides an estate plan with stable offices, a walled garden and a series of tenement houses positioned along West Street. The Adam designs for Harwich were unexecuted.

See also: Wyke House, Syon Hill, Isleworth (SM Adam volume 37/88-92, 45/94-108)

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Index, pp. 17, 18, 85; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 22, 138, 157, 162, 191, 230, 228, 245, 229, 230; ‘ Robinson, John (1727-1802), of Isleworth, Mdx.’, www.historyofparliamentonline.org; J. Cannon ‘Robinson, John (1727-1802)’, www.oxforddnb.com ; ‘History of The Green School’, www.tgsgirls.com; ‘Copy will of John Robinson of Wyke House, Syon Hill, Isleworth, Middlesex, esq (father of Mary, wife of Henry Nevill, Earl of Abergavenny)’, ABE/ 20X, discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk (accessed February 2020)

Anna McAlaney, February 2020
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