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Mansfield Street, London: designs for interior decoration of eight houses, built as a speculation by Robert and James Adam, 1772-75 (35)

1772-75
Mansfield Street was built on the site of the Marylebone Basin: the York Buildings Company reservoir, which had been intended to supply houses on the Cavendish-Harley estate from 1725. These houses were not executed, and the basin was filled in during the 1760s. The Adam brothers leased this parcel of land from the 2nd Duke of Portland in 1769, and work began a year later to build a street of ten four-storey speculative terraced houses. They were relatively plain, built in brick, without extraneous ornamentation, but with elegant doorways flanked by Ionic columns, and surmounted by fan lights. Moreover, Robert Adam provided designs for their interior decoration, including ceilings, chimneypieces, and wall ornamentation.

Numbers 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15 (previously numbers 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6) were built along the west side of the street, and are each three bays wide. These were originally equipped with an dining room or front parlour at the front on the ground floor, with a back parlour behind, and with two drawing rooms and a small rear ante room on the first floor. Numbers 16, 18, 20 and 22 (previously numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5) were built along the east side of the street, and are each four bays wide. These houses take the same form as their counterparts on the west side of the street, but owing to their extra bay they have large entrance halls, and include an additional ante room on the first floor, adjacent to the front drawing room. Each had a courtyard and stables at the back.

The leases of numbers 15 and 22, at the northern end of the street were retained by Robert and James Adam as speculative developments for their personal profit. The other leases, however, were taken by the craftsmen and builders involved in the construction project, as an investment in recompense for their labour. The houses were largely complete, or nearing completion, by the banking crisis of 1772 and their leases began to be sold for profit in 1773. According to Thom (currently writing the Mansfield Street entry for the Survey of London) the only houses which were incomplete in 1772 where number 16, which was not leased until 1776, and number 15, which was added to the Adelphi lottery of 1774.

There are no surviving Adam drawings for the fabric of these houses. There is, however, an early nineteenth-century Soane office lecture drawing showing an elevation of the fronts of numbers 11, 13 and 15 in the collection at Sir John Soane's Museum (SM 18/2/14). The surviving drawings for the interior decorative works at Mansfield Street are far from comprehensive, but they do include various ceiling designs, many of which were executed, as well as chimneypieces and a handful of designs for furniture. Unfortunately, only eight of the Adam brothers' houses on Mansfield Street are represented within the Adam drawings collection, and there are no surviving drawings for numbers 11 or 16, the initial leases of which were taken by John Winstanley, a bricklayer, and William Phillips, a builder, both of whom worked on the Mansfield Street houses.

Adam's Mansfield Street survives largely intact. During the nineteenth century many of the houses had their first-floor windows cut down to floor level, and ironwork balconettes were added. In addition, the ground stories of all the houses except for number 20 were rusticated during the nineteenth century, and the rear stables of numbers 5, 15, 16, 18, 20 and 22 have been demolished. On the west side of the street numbers 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13 survive, but number 15 was severely damaged by damp, dry rot and requisitioning during the Second World War, and was rebuilt as a facsimile of Adam's house in the 1960s. On the east side of the street numbers 18, 20 and 22 survive, but number 16 was largely rebuilt during the nineteenth century. Within the remaining houses, the original Adam interiors survive in part.

Literature:
A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, chapter 22, and Index pp. 41-42, 66, 68, 73, 75, 82, 86; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, Index p. 56; G. Beard, Georgian Craftsmen and their work, 1966, chapter II, and pp. 76, 177; D. Yarwood, Robert Adam, 1970, pp. 152, 194; B. Weinreb, and C. Hibbert, The London encyclopaedia, 1983, p. 508; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy: 1701-1800, 1997, pp. 293, 822; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 77, 82-86; 'Burdett, Sir Robert, 4th Bt. (1716-97), of Bramcote, nr. Nuneaton, Warws. and Foremark, nr. Repton, Derbys.'; 'Dering, Edward (1732-98), of Surrenden Dering, nr. Ashford, Kent'; 'Montagu, John, Visct. Hinchingbrooke (1744-1814)', History of Parliament online: 'City of Westminster, Mansfield Street', British listed buildings online

I am grateful to Colin Thom, of the Survey of London, for so generously sharing his research.

Frances Sands, 2013
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