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Wyreside Hall, Nether Wyresdale, Dolphinholme, Lancashire: alternative designs for alterations to the house for John Fenton Cawthorne, 1786-92 (6)

Signed and dated

  • 1786-92


John Fenton Cawthorne (1753-1831) was the son of James Fenton, but on inheriting Wyreside Hall from his maternal uncle, John Cawthorne, in 1781, he took the name Cawthorne. He served as MP for Lincoln in 1783-96 and Lancaster in 1806-7, 1812-18 and 1820-31. He may have had commercial interests in the slaving port of Lancaster, and was an inflexible opponent of abolition or regulation of the slave trade. In 1778 Fenton Cawthorne married Frances Delaval, daughter and co-heir of Sir John Hussey Delaval (later Baron Delaval). Delaval was one of Adam’s patrons, commissioning alterations for Milburn at Claremont, Surrey in 1786, and it was doubtless through Delaval that the connection between Fenton Cawthorne and Adam was made.

Little is known of the original house at Wyreside, which was purchased by John Cawthorne in the decade preceding his death. In the late 1780s, John Fenton Cawthorne commissioned Adam to make designs for alterations to the house. Alternative neo-classical and castle-style schemes were produced, and we can see from the extant plans (Adam volumes 36/100 and 46/110) that Adam proposed an L-shaped scheme with the addition of new blocks to the south of the existing house. The neo-classical scheme was preferred, but work was halted in 1796 when Fenton Cawthorne was found to be embezzling money and was expelled from parliament. Fenton Cawthorne’s political career was revived ten years later, but the building work was never resumed. According to an etching of the house made in 1821 for the Lonsdale Magazine, work to reface the entrance front of the original building (the west front) had been completed almost in accordance with Adam’s designs, albeit with a shield rather than an oculus in the tympanum of the pediment, without the sphinx and urn sculptural elements, and lacking the new domed pavilion at the southern end. Indeed, the new southern range was not built, and the older house remained visible. It has been suggested that Adam also provided interior decorative schemes for the house, but this is speculation as there are no known extant drawings and the rooms do not survive.

John Fenton Cawthorne died without children, and the house was sold by his trustees in 1836 to Robert Garnett (1780-1852). Little of Adam’s work at Wyreside survives because in 1843-44 the house was remodelled by Garnett to designs by Edmund Sharpe (1809-77), including the demolition of Adam’s west front. At the same time, the interior was completely changed and redecorated. Further nineteenth- and twentieth-century alterations followed. The house was sold in 1936 and divided into apartments, and in 2012 it was converted into a hotel.

There are three further drawings for Adam’s neo-classical scheme at Wyreside within the collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 53, 65; A. Rowan, Designs for castles and country villas by Robert & James Adam, 1985, pp. 82-83; A. Rowan, Robert Adam: catalogue of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1988, pp. 99-101; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, p. 179, Volume II, p. 165; C. Hartwell, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Lancashire: north, 2009, pp. 276-77; ‘Fenton Cawthorne, John (1753-1831), of Wyreside, Lancs.’, History of Parliament online; ‘Wyreside Hall, Coach House, and Ice House, Nether Wyresdale’, British Listed Buildings online

Frances Sands, 2015



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Contents of Wyreside Hall, Nether Wyresdale, Dolphinholme, Lancashire: alternative designs for alterations to the house for John Fenton Cawthorne, 1786-92 (6)