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Great Saxham House, Suffolk: designs for alterations, rebuilding and decorating for Hutchinson Mure, 1775-9 (32)

Signed and dated

  • 1775-79


At the Dissolution, the Great Saxham estate, which had belonged to Bury St Edmund's Abbey, was sold. From 1582 the estate was in the possession of a nutmeg trader, John Edlred, who built Nutmeg Hall, a three-storey, five-gabled house. In 1745 the estate was purchased by Hutchinson Mure (1710-93), the third of eighteen children of James Mure of Roddens, Ireland, and a wealthy London merchant.

There is evidence of Mure’s desire to rebuild from 1762, when Robert Adam made his earliest, unexecuted designs for Great Saxham, comprising a five-block house comparable to Witham Park. Doubtless Mure chose Adam as his architect owing to the connection between Mure's uncle, William Mure of Caldwell, Baron of the Exchequer in Scotland, and two of Adam's major patrons, Lord Bute and the Earl of Argyll.

Later, in 1774, Mure approached Adam again, but this time to alter Nutmeg Hall rather than to rebuild it. As a result, the house was enlarged in a fashion comparable to Caldwell House in Ayrshire, which Adam had designed a year earlier for William Mure. The only surviving drawings from this period of Adam's involvement at Great Saxham are for the interiors. There is no evidence that he was responsible for the exterior remodelling of the Elizabethan house, but owing to his previous involvement in 1762, and the similarity to Caldwell, it seems highly likely.

The newly altered house was destroyed by a disastrous fire five years later, in 1779, upon which Mure again commissioned Adam to design a new house. At this time Adam made alternative designs: a grandiose D-shaped house, and a three-block house, both for a sloping site with a subterranean basement on the principal front, and at ground level on the garden front. Although very different in arrangement, both houses would have provided similar accommodation, with a central oval, or circular staircase, similar to that at Culzean Castle. Neither design was executed as by this date Mure was suffering financial difficulties, and it was not until 1783 that he was able to convert the old stables on the Great Saxham estate into a new house, instead of rebuilding altogether. This was done to designs by Mure himself, after the designs which Adam had made in 1779. Indeed, Mure made use of Adam-style Spalatro capitals. Robert and James planned to produce a book on Great Saxham House, illustrating the novel D-shaped scheme designed in 1779, although it was never published.

Mure was finally declared bankrupt in 1793, and he died shortly thereafter. Two years later, in 1795, the estate was purchased by the High Sherriff of Suffolk, Thomas Mills (d1834) for £32,000. Mills employed Joseph Patience Jnr (c1767-1825) to complete the conversion of the stables into a new house, and Patience's drawings - which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1797 - are now held at the house.

John Harris lists ten of Adam's drawings for Great Saxham House (corresponding with drawings 23-28) within the holdings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. These include north and south front elevations; ground, principal, bedchamber and garret storey plans; a section through the house; a section for a room; and a ceiling design.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 15, 81; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, Index p. 50; J. Harris, A catalogue of British drawings for architecture, decoration, sculpture and landscape gardening 1550-1900 in American collections, 1971, p. 6; N. Pevsner, and E. Radcliffe, The buildings of England: Suffolk, 1974, p. 238; A. Rowan, Designs for castles and country villas by Robert and James Adam, 1985, p. 48; J. Abel Smith, 'Great Saxham Hall, Suffolk: the home of Lady Stirling', Country Life, 27 November 1986, pp. 1698-1700; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, p. 387-89, Volume II, pp. 100-102, 126, 170, 179, 275; A Rowan, 'Bob the Roman': heroic antiquity & the architecture of Robert Adam, 2003, p. 46

Frances Sands, 2012



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Contents of Great Saxham House, Suffolk: designs for alterations, rebuilding and decorating for Hutchinson Mure, 1775-9 (32)