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Grosvenor Square, number 23 (number 26 from 1862), London: designs for interior decoration and furnishings for Lord Edward Stanley, (later 12th Earl of Derby), 1773-75 (94)

1773-75
Edward Smith-Stanley (1752-1834) succeeded his grandfather as 12th Earl of Derby in 1776. Prior to this he had served as MP (Whig) for Lancashire in 1774-76. Derby’s succession brought him the family estate of Knowsley, Lancashire, and in the same year he inherited a lease on The Oaks, Surrey, from his aunt, Lady Charlotte Burgoyne. As Earl of Derby he maintained his ancestors' tradition of becoming Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire in 1776, a position he held until his death in 1834, and he also served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1783 and 1806. Derby is best remembered as a supporter of horse racing, but also for his troubled marriage. In 1774 he married Lady Elizabeth Hamilton (1753-97), daughter of the 6th Duke of Hamilton and the famous beauty, Elizabeth Gunning. After five years, the Countess had an affair with a notorious rake, John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset. The couple separated, but the Earl refused his wife a divorce – preventing her from marrying the Duke – and refused her access to their three children. One week after the Countess’s death in 1797, Derby married again, his companion, Miss Elizabeth Farren (c1759-1829) an actress, by whom he had another three children.

The first Countess of Derby held considerable sway over Robert Adam’s works for Lord Derby. To celebrate his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Hamilton in 1774, Derby commissioned Adam to make designs for a temporary pavilion in the park at The Oaks, for a magnificent fête champêtre hosted by his uncle and aunt, General John Burgoyne and Lady Charlotte. Derby later inherited Knowsley and The Oaks, and commissioned Adam to make designs for alterations and improvements to both houses in 1776 and 1777 respectively. It was presumably through his uncle and aunt Burgoyne, that Derby came to be acquainted with Adam, as they were his patrons at 10 Hertford Street, London, from 1769. There is also a slight possibility that Derby came to know Adam through his wife's maternal uncle, the 6th Earl of Coventry, who had married the other Gunning sister, and who was Adam’s patron at Croome Court, Worcestershire, and Coventry House, Piccadilly. Few of Adam’s designs for Knowsley and The Oaks were executed however, as Derby lost all interest in his building projects following the Countess’s affair and abandonment of the marriage, and his subsequent efforts were focused on sporting activities – principally horse racing – he was responsible for instituting the Epsom Oaks, and the Derby Stakes.

Prior to inheriting from his grandfather in 1776, Derby (then still Lord Stanley) resided at his London townhouse on Grosvenor Square, affording him a convenient location for his political career. Grosvenor Square is the second largest square in London, and at the centre of the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair. It was developed piecemeal as fifty-one plots, in 1725-31 on land belonging to Sir Richard Grosvenor. Only two of the original houses now survive, but there was never any great architectural uniformity in the overall scheme. It was an affluent residential square, and remained as such until the Second World War, when it was largely requisitioned for the American military. By the 1760s and 1770s there was wide-spread renovation work taking place in Grosvenor Square, and Robert and James Adam are known to have worked on five of the houses, including remodelling the interior of number 23 (number 26 from 1862) for Lord Stanley.

A five-storey, three-bay house, number 23 was built on the west side of the square in c1728 under a 100-year lease belonging to Charles Griffith, a carpenter. Griffith sold the lease three years later to Sir Robert Sutton for £6,500, and the interiors were subsequently fitted up with a hall, dining room, drawing room, parlour, library and closet on the ground floor, and three drawing rooms, a back room, bedroom and dressing room on the first floor. The lease was acquired from Sir Robert Sutton in 1750 by James Stanley-Smith, Lord Strange, and inherited in 1771 by his son, Lord Stanley, then only nineteen years old. Two years later in 1773, Stanley approached Adam to ready the house for his coming of age ball, and according to Harris, this ball was ‘the genesis – the fons et origo – of Adam’s recasting of the house’. The idea was to enable and enliven entertainment, and Adam was commissioned to redecorate the existing rooms: those on the first floor were designed in 1773, and those on the ground floor, and various furnishings were designed in 1774. Adam also built a new Doric portico over the front door, and a new extension containing closets, toilets and powdering rooms on the end of the wing at the rear of the house. The executed works were closely monitored and supervised by Lord Stanley’s uncle, Adam’s patron at 10 Hertford Street, General John Burgoyne.

According to Stillman, Adam’s work at 23 Grosvenor Square – particularly in the great third drawing room – was some of his finest. Many of the craftsmen who worked on the house are unknown. The only artist associated with the interior decoration, and mentioned by name in the Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam is Antonio Zucchi (1726–1795), who painted various inlaid decorative panels, but his wife, Angelica Kauffman (1741–1807) also produced paintings for the house. Thomas Carter the younger (d1795) is thought to have been responsible for various chimneypieces; the ceiling plasterwork was by Joseph Rose (1744-99); and the japanned door panels have been attributed to Henry Clay (d1812). Irrespective of the splendour and complexity of the scheme, Adam’s office and associated craftsmen were under considerable pressure to complete as much as possible of the new interior decorative scheme before Derby’s wedding in 1774, and the work was finally completed a year later in 1775.

Immediately on his succession in 1851, the 14th Earl of Derby sold the lease of 23 Grosvenor Square to the Dowager Duchess of Cleveland. The 14th Earl removed two chimneypieces, a mirror and two Kauffmann overdoors to his house in Stratford Place. Following the Dowager Duchess of Cleveland’s death the house was demolished for rebuilding, and the plot renumbered as number 26 in 1862. The house was rebuilt by the developer Sir Charles Freake (1814-84), possibly to designs by Francis William Tasker (d1904). This was demolished in 1957 to make way for the American Embassy, which spans the entire west side of the square, and was built in 1957-60 to designs by Eero Saarinen (1910-61).

Included in the second volume of The works in architecture of Robert and James Adam (1777) are various illustrations of Derby House, comprising plans of the ground and first storeys, a wall elevation from the anteroom on the first floor, the chimneypieces and overmantels from the first, second and third drawing rooms and Lady Derby’s Etruscan dressing room on the first floor, two wall elevations from the second drawing room, a view of the third drawing room, the ceiling for the Etruscan dressing room, and various items of furniture.

See also: Knowsley Park, Lancashire; The Oaks, Surrey.

Literature:
R. and J. Adam, The works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1777, Volume II, part I, pl. i-viii; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam , 1922, Volume II, pp. 65-71, and Index pp. 38, 68; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 55, 75, 83, 84, 88, 95, 98, 104; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, pp. 74, 85, 110; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, pp. 49, 64; F.H.W. Sheppard (ed.)., Survey of London, 1980, Volume 40, pp. 112-117, 142-144; B. Weinreb, and C. Hibbert, The London encyclopaedia, 1983, p. 350; Y. Jones, ‘Japanner to His Majesty’, The antiques dealer and collectors guide, January 1996, pp. 46-49; ‘British drawings and watercolours’, Christie’s auction catalogue, 9 July 1996, p. 49; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors , 2001, chapter 17; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 296, 298-303, Volume II, p. 221; S. Bradley, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: London 6: Westminster, 2003, p. 529; Antiques trade gazette, 25 February 2012, p. 18; ‘Stanley, Edward Smith, twelfth earl of Derby (1752-1834)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography online; ‘Stanley, Edward, Lord Stanley (1752-1834)’, History of Parliament online

Frances Sands, 2014
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