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Appleby, Cumbria: unexecuted designs for the town hall, county court and gaol, commissioned by Sir James Lowther, 5th Baronet, 1766-67 (7)

Signed and dated

  • 1766-67


Sir James Lowther, 5th Baronet (1736-1802), succeeded to his father's estates in 1745, his great uncle's estates in 1751, and his cousin's estates in 1756: as a result he is described as having been the wealthiest commoner in the country. He used his wealth to further a career as a politician, controlling numerous seats, and himself serving as MP for Cumberland in 1757-61, 1762-68 and 1774-84, Westmorland in 1761-62, and Cockermouth in 1769-74. Moreover, he was Lord Lieutenant of Westmorland in 1758-1802, and Cumberland in 1759-1802, and he was made Brigadier-General of the Cumberland and Westmorland militia in 1761, and Vice-Admiral of Cumberland and Westmorland in 1765. In 1784 he was created 1st Earl of Lonsdale, and Viscount and Baron Lowther of Whitehaven in 1797.

In 1761 Sir James married Lady Mary Stuart (1740-1824), the daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bute. This was a politically advantageous marriage, but not a happy one. They had no children, and they separated after fifteen years. It may have been through his father-in-law, Lord Bute - Adam's patron at Luton Park (later Luton Hoo), Eyton House and Berkeley Square - that Robert Adam came to Sir James's attention. By 1766 Adam had already been employed by Sir James to make designs for Whitehaven Castle, and James Adam had made various unexecuted designs for Lowther Hall. Then in 1766 and 1767 Robert Adam was commissioned to make various designs for a new town hall, county court and gaol building for Appleby, a town which was local to Sir James's seat of power. The intention was to replace a cramped earlier gaol of unknown origin, but none of Adam's schemes was executed.

The Appleby county gaol was built in 1770-71 to designs by Robert Fothergill (c1693-1779), an estate surveyor in the employ of Sir James Lowther, and the adjacent court house was built in 1776-78 by Daniel Benn (n.d.), Sir James Lowther's agent at Whitehaven. Various additions were made to both buildings during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The county gaol was converted into the Appleby police station in 1971, and the court house is now the shire hall.

The University of Pennsylvania is in possession of twelve Adam drawings showing unexecuted schemes for Appleby county court. These are the presentation drawings which Adam sent to Sir James Lowther. They were sold in a folio of 18 drawings in 1961 at a sale of the contents of 6 Great Russell Mansions. The drawings were given by G. Homes Perkins (1904-2004) to the University of Pennsylvania. Catalogued by John Harris in 1971, many of them relate to the drawings at the Soane Museum, but they also include a fourth scheme for the building which is not represented in the Soane collection.

See also: Lowther Hall, and Whitehaven Castle.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 2, 78; B. Weinreb, '6 Great Russell Mansions sale catalogue', 1961, p. 5; J. Harris, A catalogue of British drawings for architecture, decoration, sculpture and landscape gardening 1550-1900 in American collections, 1971, pp. 3-4; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 29, 53; M. Hyde, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Cumbria: Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness, 2010, p. 109; J. Brooke, 'Lowther, Sir James, 5th Bt. (1736-1802), of Lowther, nr. Penrith, Westmld.', History of Parliament online

I am grateful to William Whitaker, Collection Manager, The Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania, for providing information regarding the G. Homes Perkins collection.

Frances Sands, 2012



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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Contents of Appleby, Cumbria: unexecuted designs for the town hall, county court and gaol, commissioned by Sir James Lowther, 5th Baronet, 1766-67 (7)