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Gunton Park, Suffield, Norfolk: executed designs for St Andrew's Church, and unexecuted designs for the house for Sir William and Sir Harbord Harbord, 1767-72 (10)

Signed and dated

  • 1767-72


Sir Harbord Harbord, 2nd Baronet (1734-1810), was the eldest son of William Morden of Gunton (later Sir William Harbord, 1st Baronet), whom he succeeded in 1770. Sir William had taken the name of Harbord on succeeding to the fortune of his great uncle Harbord Harbord in 1741. Sir Harbord served as MP for Norwich in 1756-86, whereupon he was created Baron Suffield of Suffield. In 1760 Sir Harbord had married Mary (d 1823), the daughter and co-heir of Sir Ralph Assheton, 3rd Baronet, of Middleton, Lancashire.

Gunton Park (now Gunton Hall) had been built by Sir William after 1742, to designs by Matthew Brettingham (1699-1769), and had replaced the seventeenth-century house which had been acquired by his ancestor John Harbord in 1676. The village no longer exists, but in 1766 Sir William was granted a licence by the Bishop of Norwich to rebuild the small and ruinous medieval parish church. The architect commissioned to make designs for this work was Robert Adam. Knox has suggested that Adam was consulted by Harbord Harbord rather than his father, Sir William, despite his not having yet inherited the estate. Owing to Harbord Harbord's political career necessitating time in London, he would have been familiar with Adam's fashionable reputation. 'Thus, although Sir William was officially the patron of the new church, it was his son who seems to have commissioned Adam'; indeed these drawings are inscribed as such with the name 'Harbord Harbord'.

St Andrew's Church was designed by Adam in 1767-68, and completed in 1769. It stands 183 metres from the front door of Gunton Park. It is relatively simple in its design, bearing no external religious iconography, and appears rather more like a garden temple than a church. Robert Adam did very little church building, and this is the only example that he built in its entirety. His other church work was at Mistley, where he rebuilt, and at Croome, where he added an interior to Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's (1716-83) fabric. Further churches were designed by James Adam. St Andrew's Church, Gunton was declared redundant in 1976, and was vested in The Churches Conservation Trust, who have undertaken a programme of restoration.

Following his work on St Andrew's, Adam them proposed alterations to the house itself, providing designs which echoed the executed church exterior. Adam's designs for the house were not executed, but in 1772 he did make alterations to Sir Harbord's townhouse on Albermarle Street (for which no drawings survive). Sir Harbord did execute alterations and enlargements to Gunton Park in 1785, but this was done to designs by James Wyatt (1746-1813). Later, various nineteenth-century alterations were made, including a northern extension, probably to designs by William Wilkins the younger (1778-1839). The house was gutted by fire in 1882, and not reconstructed until 1981, and remains partially ruinous. The estate remained in the ownership of the Harbord family until 1980, when it was sold, and is now divided into 20 private residences.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 15, 74; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, pp. 9, 48; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 68-69, Volume II, pp. 58, 126; T. Knox, The Churches Conservation Trust, St Andrew’s Church, Gunton, 2005, pp. 1-16; J. Musson, 'The genius of Gunton Park', Country Life, 14 June 2007, pp. 122-24; History of Parliament online: 'Harbord, Harbord (1734-1810), of Gunton Hall and Suffield, Norf.'

Frances Sands, 2013



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Contents of Gunton Park, Suffield, Norfolk: executed designs for St Andrew's Church, and unexecuted designs for the house for Sir William and Sir Harbord Harbord, 1767-72 (10)