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Wynnstay House, Ruabon, Denbighshire: unexecuted designs for the house, unexecuted designs for a monument to David Garrick for the park, and an executed design for a font for St Mary's Church, Ruabon, for Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet, 1770-79 (13)

1770-79
Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 4th Baronet, of Wynnstay (1749-89), succeeded his father in 1749 when he was only five months old. In 1769 he married Lady Henrietta Somerset, the fifth daughter of Charles, 4th Duke of Beaufort, who died the same year, and then in 1771 he married Charlotte Grenville (d 1832), the daughter of the Hon. George Grenville, sister of the Marquess of Buckingham, and aunt of the 1st Duke of Buckingham. Although he served as MP for Shropshire in 1772-74, and Denbighshire in 1774-89, he was not the powerful and determined politician that his father had been, and was instead interested in art, music and theatre. He even had a private theatre built at Wynnstay in 1771-82 to designs by James Gandon (1742-1823). This was demolished in 1858.

The Wynnstay estate came into the possession of Sir John Wynn, 5th Baronet, of Rhiwgoch (1628-1719), in the seventeenth century, through his marriage to Jane Evans. Sir John was succeeded by his distant cousin, Sir William Williams, 2nd Baronet, of Llanforda (c1665-1740) (who had also married Jane Thelwall, the great-granddaughter of Sir John Wynn, 1st Baronet, of Rhiwgoch). On his inheritance Sir William took the name of Wynn. His son, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 3rd Baronet (1692-1749) built Wynnstay House in the 1730s to designs by Francis Smith (1672-1738). It was for this house that Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 4th Baronet, commissioned Robert Adam to make designs, first for an entirely new house, and then for decorative alterations to the original house.

None of Adam's designs for Wynnstay were executed as Sir Watkin's attention had been diverted in 1771 to his town house, 20 St James's Square. Robert Adam was not, however, the only architect who had been commissioned by Sir Watkin to make designs for improving Wynnstay, as James Byres (1734-1817) also made unexecuted designs for the house in 1770 (the majority of these drawings were purchased by the National Library of Wales in 2001); Thomas Farnolls Pritchard (1723-77) did work to the interior, including the great room, in 1768-73; and James Wyatt (1746-1813) made alterations to the south front in c1785-89, although this work was not completed owing to Sir Watkin's ill health.

One of Adam's designs listed here was executed, although this was not for the house, but rather for a font for the nearby St Mary's Church in Ruabon. This was a gift from Sir Watkin to the church in 1772 on the occasion of his son's christening (the future 5th Baronet). The marble bowl was carved by John Hinchcliffe (d 1796) at a cost of £13.13.0, and the wooden stand was carved by Sefferin Nelson (1739-97) at a cost of £31.2.9.

Following Sir Watkin's death, his son, also Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 5th Baronet (1772-1840) employed Benjamin Gummow to make alterations and reface the house in c1825, and Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863) made alterations to the great room in 1827-28. In 1858 Wynnstay House was destroyed by fire, and was rebuilt to designs by Benjamin Ferrey (1810-80). The house was sold by the Williams-Wynn family in 1950, whereupon it became Lindisfarne College. When the college went bankrupt in 1994 the house was redeveloped as flats.

There is one Adam office drawing for Wynnstay, showing an unexecuted monument to the actor David Garrick, within the collection at the British Museum (ref. 1948,0214.1) donated by the Williams-Wynn family in 1948.

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 32, 92; P. Howell, and T.W. Pritchard, 'Wynnstay, Denbighshire', Country Life, 23, 30 March, 6 April 1972, pp. 686-89, 782-86, 850-53; B. Ford, 'Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn: a Welsh Maecenas', Apollo, June 1974, pp. 435-39; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy: 1701-1800, 1997, p. 1029; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, pp. 257-58; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 90, 135, 181, 261, 264, 267; History of Parliament online: 'Wynn, Sir Watkin Williams, 4th Bt. (1748-89), of Wynnstay, Denb.'

Frances Sands, 2013
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