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Saltram Park, Devon: designs for the house and estate, for John Parker, 1768-82 (31)

1768-82
Saltram Park is situated between the towns of Plympton to the north and Plymstock to the south, with an estuary to the west. At its height during the early nineteenth century, it comprised more than 4000 acres. Before it was drained to form Chelson Meadows a tidal creek formed the southern boundary, and was harvested for the salt from which the estate derived its name.

In 1712 George Parker bought the estate with its fourteenth-century house (enlarged in the 16th century to four storeys), but he continued to live at the estate of Boringdon to the north. On his death in 1743 his son and daughter-in-law, John and Catherine, made it their chief seat and attempted to adapt it to current taste with symmetrical facades and Rococo interiors. John Parker died in April 1768 and was succeeded by his eldest son John.

John Parker the younger (c1735-88) was MP for Bodmin in 1761-62, and Devon in 1762-84, after which he was created Baron Boringdon in 1784. These positions were acquired through the influence of the Earl of Shelburne whom Parker had met at Oxford, and he married Shelburne's cousin, Frances, in 1764 (she died the same year). Shelburne must also have brought Parker into contact with his political ally Thomas Robinson, 2nd Baron Grantham. Grantham's sister Theresa was married to Parker in 1769, he was a guardian during their son's eventual minority, and was in regular correspondence with the Parkers about aesthetic matters, even designing an unexecuted tower for the estate (illustrated by Cornforth). Theresa, named after her godmother Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, was almost certainly the driving force of the improvements, Parker himself being generally described as the lowest stereotype of country squire.

Shelburne and Grantham must have been responsible for putting Parker into contact with Robert Adam, initially for the redecoration of a drawing room and library, which was begun the year of Parker's succession. In September 1769 Thomas Robinson described 'two new Rooms' as 'very forward, they are highly finished'. There was sporadic subsequent work by Adam up until 1782, including furniture, an unexecuted extension of the house, contributions for conversion of the library into a dining room, unexecuted farm buildings, a gateway and an ornamental triumphal arch.

Later owners were less prolific than John and Theresa Parker. A Doric porch and library were added by John Foulston (1772-1841) for the 1st Earl of Morley in 1818. By the late nineteenth century the family were forced to let the house and sell many of the paintings. Saltram suffered in the bombing of Plymouth, and was given to the treasury in lieu of death-duties in 1951. Since 1957 the National Trust has been restoring the house and garden buildings, as well as planting to screen the house from the bypass which now passes through the estate.

Only two drawings survive for Adam's work further to those in the Soane Museum: a complete version of an alternative design for the drawing room ceiling, and laid out wall elevations for the same room, both of which are on display at Saltram.

See also: Sackville Street, number 29

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, pp. 157-162, Index p. 27; D. Stillman, The Decorative Work of Robert Adam, 1966, p. 80-1; J. Cornforth, 'Saltram, Devon I, II and III' and 'The Making of the Saltram Landscape', Country Life, 27 April, 4 May, 11 May and 14 September 1967, pp. 998-1001, 1064-8, 1160-4 and 594-7; G. Beard, The Work of Robert Adam, 1978, p. 13; B. Cherry, and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Devon, 1989, pp. 710-714; National Trust, Saltram, 1998, pp. 4-5, 40-64; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp.248, 353, Volume II, pp.252, 259

Max Bryant, 2012
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