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Hill Street, number 31 (later 17), London, designs for a rear elevation, interiors and furniture, for Sir Abraham Hume, 1778-1780 (64)

Sir Abraham Hume, 2nd Baronet, was born on 20th February 1749 at the Hume family’s London townhouse, 31 (later 17) Hill Street, Berkeley Square. The eldest son of Sir Abraham Hume, 1st Baronet (d. 1772) and his wife Hannah, 6th daughter of Sir Thomas Frederick. Hume was educated at Eton and from 1766 attended Trinity College, Cambridge.

Upon his father’s death in October 1772, Hume succeeded to the baronetcy, inheriting the family estate at Wormleybury, Hertfordshire and the London town house at Hill Street. Subsequently, upon the death of his cousin Elizabeth Robertson, Hume also inherited the family ancestral estate, Fernyside in Berwickshire.

Following his time at Cambridge, Hume briefly served in the Royal Navy, before standing as MP for Petersfield (1774-1780), and Hastings (1807-1818).

On the 25th April 1771 Hume married Amelia (1751-1809), the daughter of John Egerton, Bishop of Durham. They had two daughters, Amelia (1772-1837), who proved to be a gifted watercolourist, and Sophia (1787-1814).

Hume developed an exceptional art collection, which he began in the early 1770s. His acquisitions continued in earnest following a belated Grand Tour made in 1788, with his wife and eldest daughter. Whilst in Italy, Hume formed an acquaintance with the art dealer Giovanni Maria Sasso through whom, along with the dealer Giovanni Antonio Armano, he purchased many of his Italian pieces. Hume also had a keen interest in the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Flemish School, collecting a number of works by Rubens and Van Dyck. A catalogue of Hume’s collection published in 1829 lists a total of 171 paintings, largely Italian and Flemish, and with relatively few English and French pieces. The collection was eventually dispersed at Christies throughout the twentieth century. Two works from Hume’s collection, Van Dyck’s ‘Portrait of a woman and child’ and Titan’s ‘The death of Actaeon’, are now held by the National Gallery.

Hume also made a significant contribution to the field of natural history, and amassed a notable collection of minerals and precious stones. He was a founding member of the Geological Society, serving as vice-president from 1809-1813, and for his significant contributions to the field he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in December 1775, going on to become its senior fellow.

Hume died at Wormleybury on 24th March 1838. He was buried at the church of St Laurence, Wormley, alongside his wife Amelia, where there is dedicated a monument and portrait bust.

31 Hill Street, (now 17), formed part of Benjamin Timbrell’s development along the south side of Hill Street, (numbers 29-39). Built in 1748-49, the house retains traces of the original Timbrell interiors, including a chimneypiece and cornice in the front ground floor room. Upon inheriting the family’s country seat at Wormleybury, alongside his father’s London townhouse in Hill Street, Hume proceeded to commission Adam for alterations to both properties. As the two projects are executed almost concurrently, with work at Wormleybury undertaken from 1777-1780, and at Hill Street from 1778–1780, it is difficult to ascertain the intended location for some of the designs. In particular there are several drawings for ornamental panels which are simply assigned to Sir Abraham Hume. As a number of these designs appear to have been intended for the drawing rooms at Hill Street, they have been catalogued under the Hill Street scheme. It is possible however, that some of the designs may have been for Wormleybury. Similarly there are a number of designs for table slabs, with SM Adam volumes 17/39- 17/42 quite likely intended for Hill Street. However SM Adam volumes 17/36-17/38 equally may have been designed for either property.

At 31 Hill Street Adam is commissioned to make alterations for the interiors and for furnishings, alongside the construction of a three-storey, four-bay rear wing, which was to provide an additional third room at each level. At first floor this additional rear room was to house Hume’s great drawing room (Adam volume 50/25), the interiors for which survive intact and in situ. At the rear ground floor, both Bolton and King note surviving interiors Adam in design, but for which no extent drawings. The room contains screens articulated by columns at each end, and wall decorations which incorporate pilasters, friezes, arabesques and grotesques. Bolton also notes for this room a ceiling and chimneypiece both Adam in style. Bolton suggests the room may have been originally intended as a library. The second ground floor room retains a further ceiling, also likely Adam in design, ornamented with a simple composition of foliage and vine leaves which Bolton compares to a design for Shardeloes.

31 Hill Street retains a number of its Adam interiors, including ceilings, chimneypieces, friezes and wall ornamentation. Alterations to the property were made c1906, when it was remodelled for Charles Rube, and with a number of Adam-style additions introduced by the firm Hindley and Wilkinson. Alterations to the principal façade included a new entrance porch and bowed wrought iron balustrades at first floor. Inside extensive alterations were made to the hall and stairwell, with a new staircase replacing Adam’s. Adam’s staircase ceiling, (Adam volumes 52/89 and 14/48) however was retained. Hindley and Wilkinson are also thought to have executed the Adam-style ceiling visible in the first floor front room. The house, now 17 Hill Street, is currently used as offices.

See also: Wormleybury, Hertfordshire

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, ‘Town Houses of the late XVIII century, No. 17 Hill Street, W.’, Country Life, March 17 1917, pp. 2-6; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 40-41, 76; E. Harris, The Furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp.12, 25, 53, 85, 95-98; E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam: His interiors, 2001, pp. 9, 177, 177 n107; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 17, 24 303-304; S. Bradley & N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England, London 6: Westminster, 2005, pp.537-538; ‘Fairs News’ Antiques Magazine, 5 March, 2005, p. 30; F. Sands, Robert Adam's London, 2016, pp. 73-75; ‘Hume, Sir Abraham, ‘2nd Bt. (1749-1838), of Wormleybury, Herts.’ historyofparlimentonline.org; C. Lloyd ‘Sir Abraham Hume, 2nd Bt’ 2004, oxforddnb.com; ‘17 Hill Street, W.1’, historicengland.org.uk; nationaltrustcollections.org.uk / object / 436057; www.nationalgallery.org.uk / archive / record / NGA8 – Sir Abraham Hume correspondence, accessed May 2018

Anna McAlaney, 2018
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