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Compton Verney, Warwickshire: executed designs for alterations and interior decoration to the house, and an unexecuted design for the brewhouse, for the 14th Lord Willoughby de Broke, 1760-63 (10)

1760-63
The Compton Verney estate was purchased by the Verney family in 1435. Little is known of the original 1440s house but it was extended in the sixteenth century. The 12th Lord Willoughby de Broke (1661-1728) inherited in 1714, and largely rebuilt the house around a courtyard, and created a formal garden. The 12th Lord's son, the Hon, John Verney commissioned James Gibbs (1682-1754) to design a stable court, which was built in 1735-40 to the north of the house by Francis Smith (1672-1738) and William Smith (1661-1724). Francis Smith also completed the entrance front to the house. There is no firm evidence to suggest who the architect of the other early eighteenth-century additions was, but they have been attributed to either Francis Smith or John Vanbrugh on account of style.

John Peyto-Verney, 14th Lord Willoughby de Broke (1738-1816), succeeded in 1752 and married Lady Louisa North, sister to Lord North, in 1761, which doubtless prompted him to make alterations to the house. We do not know why the 14th Baron chose Adam as his architect, though it was Adam's first substantial commission following his return from the Grand Tour. According to Bearman this connection may have been made through Lord North, then a junior Lord of the Treasury under the Earl of Bute, who was later to become one of Adam's major patrons. Adam's proposals constituted extensive work, demolishing three of the four ranges (north, south and east), and rebuilding the north and south ranges to form a U-shaped house, and adding a Corinthian colonnade to the east elevation of the west range. The west elevation of the west range is the only area of the early eighteenth-century house not to have been altered by Adam. According to Pevsner this is ‘the architecturally most successful part'. We can see from the preface to Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam (1773) that Adam admired Vanbrugh, and evidence of this can be seen in the south-east front of the south wing.

Adam was also responsible for the interiors of the hall and great parlour at Compton Verney, as well as an orangery, and possibly also the chapel and bridge, although these last two have also been attributed to Lancelot Brown (1716-83). Besides the internal works in the hall and great parlour (with plasterwork by Joseph Rose), for which drawings survive, it is difficult to detect any other decorative works undertaken by Adam as the interior has been extensively remodelled. The dining room - created when the original staircase and private drawing room were knocked together - was given apsidal, screened ends by Adam (as seen in Adam volume 41/19 and in Vitruvius Britannicus), but these were removed in 1824 by Henry Hakewill (1771-1830) for the 16th Baron (Hakewill's plan is to be found in the V&A). Similarly Adam had created his hall at Compton Verney by knocking together the original hall and private dining room. These alterations are best illustrated in a plan by Bolton, 1922, Volume I, p. 218. During the 1850s John Gibson (1795-1860) undertook large-scale redecoration, providing the house with modern conveniences for the 18th Baron. Adam did install an octagonal study, or boudoir, at the end of the south wing, and the fabric of this room survives, though other areas of the house, especially on the first floor, suffered dry rot during the twentieth century.

The estate suffered during the agricultural depression, was let from 1887, and finally sold by the 19th Baron in 1921. By the 1980s the house was semi-derelict and placed on the English Heritage buildings at risk register. Much of the contents were sold in 1985. In 1993 the house was purchased by the Peter Moores Foundation for the Compton Verney Trust, conserved, and since March 2004 has been open as an art gallery. The service court was demolished when Stanton Williams built the modern gallery to the north side of the house in 1993.

As well as the Adam drawings for Compton Verney held at Sir John Soane’s Museum there are also two drawings in the V&A: a sectional elevation of the entrance court, portico and staircase; and a plan and laid out wall elevations for the hall, almost exactly as executed.

See also: Compton Verney chapel, Warwickshire: monument to the Hon. John Verney

Literature:
J. Woolfe, and J. Gandon, Vitruvius Britannicus V, 1771, pls. 43-44; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, pp. 216-226, Volume II, Index p. 7; A. Rowan, Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Robert Adam, 1988, p. 49; R. Bearman, (ed.). Compton Verney: a history of the house and its owners, 2000, pp. 105, 108, 110, 116, 120, 121, 123; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 189-192, 401, Volume II, pp. 183, 261; N. Pevsner, and A. Wedgwood, The buildings of England: Warwickshire, 2003, p. 239; A. Gomme, 'Compton Scarsdale or Sutton Verney?', English Heritage Review, Volume 2, 2007, pp. 61-69

Frances Sands, 2011
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