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Nostell Priory, Wakefield, West Yorkshire: designs for interior decoration, alterations to the house, and buildings in the park for Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet, 1765-85 (39)

Signed and dated

  • 1765-85


The twelfth-century Augustinian Priory of St Oswald at Nostell remained wealthy and powerful until its suppression at the Dissolution, and in 1540 was given to Dr Thomas Leigh, one of King Henry VIII’s commissioners. From Leigh the property passed through several hands, and the park was enclosed in 1604. The estate was purchased in 1654 by Rowland Winn, a wine merchant from London, who transferred the property to his older brother George in the same year. George was created 1st Baronet at the Restoration in 1660, having contributed 2,000 guilders to the Royalist cause. The medieval priory building remained the Winn family’s home at Nostell for three generations.

Despite considerable alterations made to the prior building, in around 1730 the 4th Baronet decided to rebuild on an adjacent site. The older building continued to be used as servants’ quarters until its demolition in c1765. The extant house was constructed during three phases of work: first by Sir Rowland Winn, 4th Baronet (1706-65) in 1733-65 to designs by Colonel James Moyser (c1688-1751) and James Paine (1717-89); second by Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet (1739-85) in 1765-85 to designs by Robert and James Adam; and third by Charles Winn (1795-1874) and Rowland Winn (1820-93) during the nineteenth century to various designs.

The 4th Baronet inherited at the age of 16 in 1722. His only public office was that of High Sherriff of Yorkshire in 1731-32. In 1729 he married Susannah Henshaw (d 1742) with whom he had eight children, perhaps necessitating the rebuilding works at Nostell. Alternatively, the 4th Baronet’s unrealised political ambitions may have prompted his rebuilding works, having stood as one of two Whig candidates for Yorkshire in 1734. Moyser and Paine’s designs for the house resulted in a rectangular central block with Rococo interior decoration, flanked by two service pavilions on the south-east and south-west corners, with two more pavilions intended for the north-east and north-west corners but left unbuilt on the 4th Baronet’s death in 1765.

At the age of 17 the 5th Baronet was sent to Lausanne, Switzerland for the benefit of his education. While there he fell in love with French Governor Jacques-Philippe d’Hervert, Baron de Saint-Légier’s daughter, Sabine Louise. Despite objections from the 4th Baronet, the couple married in 1761, returned to England, and succeeded to Nostell in 1765. Paine was immediately dismissed, and the more fashionable Adam brothers were employed to continue work at Nostell. Like his father, the 5th Baronet’s building activities may have been spurred on by his political aspirations. He stood as Whig and then a Tory candidate for Pontefract in 1768, 1774 and 1784 without any success.

Sabine remained largely at Nostell as she found conversation with non-French speakers difficult, while her husband travelled widely across Britain, either for business or on errands for his wife. As such the majority of correspondence between the Adam office in London and Nostell, was addressed to the Clerk of Works, Benjamin Ware, who was selected by Adam in 1766. Work continued until the 5th Baronet’s unexpected death in a coach accident in 1785, with the fitting up of various rooms in a neo-classical style (the library, the family apartment in the north-eastern corner of the house, the saloon, the drawing room (later the tapestry room), the top hall, the state apartment, a new loggia, a wine cellar, the muniment room, and various attic rooms), and employing the finest craftsmen of the age: Joseph Rose the plasterer, Thomas Chippendale the cabinetmaker, and Antonio Zucchi the decorative painter. Adam also produced designs for various buildings in the park; and a lavish scheme to redesign the house, with four entirely new wings rather than Paine’s pavilions. Only one of these wings was ever built, the family wing on the north-east corner of the house, but it remained a shell on the 5th Baronet’s death, and was not fitted up until the late nineteenth century by the 1st Lord St Oswald, the 5th Baronet’s great-grandson.

Fifty years of constant building, and the 5th Baronet having spent £20,000 on electioneering, left the Winn family in some financial distress following his death, and further building work was not possible. In 1805 the 6th Baronet died unmarried, and still with a debt of £2,406.12s.2d. The baronetcy then passed to a cousin, Edmund Mark Winn of Acton, but Nostell was inherited by the 6th Baronet’s 12-year-old nephew John Williamson, the child of the 6th Baronet’s sister, Esther who had been disinherited after she eloped with the local baker. All three of Esther’s children changed their surname from William to Winn, and when John died young in Rome, he was succeeded by his brother Charles. It was Charles Winn who made substantial alterations to the house during the nineteenth century, and his son Rowland regained the family’s fortune through coal mining and a successful political career, being created 1st Lord St Oswald in 1885. The Nostell estate remained in the ownership of the Lords St Oswald until it was given to the National Trust in 1953. The surrounding parkland and stables were purchased in 2002.

There is an unusually large number of extant eighteenth-century drawings for Nostell Priory. A selection of drawings are contained within the family archives at the West Yorkshire Archive Service; further drawings remain within the private collection of Lord St Oswald – some at Nostell and some elsewhere; and a selection of drawings previously in the ownership of Lord St Oswald were accepted in lieu of inheritance tax in 1994, and are now within the ownership of the National Trust at Nostell Priory. In addition, there is a large surviving family archive at the West Yorkshire Archive Service from which it is possible to date the majority of the drawings.

See also: 11 St James’s Square, London

Brockwell, M.W. Catalogue of the pictures and other works of art in the collection of Lord St. Oswald at Nostell Priory, 1915, pp. 1-60; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922. Volume II, chapter 23, Index pp. 24, 91; J. Lees-Milne, The age of Adam, 1947, pp. 64, 113-114; Hussey, C. ‘Nostell Priory, Yorkshire – I and II: The Property of the Trustees of the Late Lord St Oswald’, Country Life, (16 and 23 May 1952), 1492-95, 1572-75; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 51, 71; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, pp. 88, 92; N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Yorkshire West Riding, 1967, pp. 380-382; D. Yarwood, Robert Adam, 1970, p. 205; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, pp. 46, 60-61; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, chapter 12; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 51-52, 179, 199-204, 347-350, Volume II, pp. 183, 223; S. Raikes, and T. Knox, Nostell Priory and Parkland, 2001, pp. 1-64; C. Gallagher, ‘Restoration of the park at Nostell Priory’, National Trust magazine, winter 2004, pp. 65; Larsen, R.M. (ed.). Maids & mistresses: celebrating 300 years of women and the Yorkshire country house, 2004; Todd, C. ‘A Swiss milady in Yorkshire: Sabine Winn of Nostell Priory’, Yorkshire Archaeological Journal, 77, 2005, pp. 205-224; G.J.L. Williams, ‘Beyond the needle’s eye: Robert Adam’s Huntwick Lodge at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire’, Apollo, April 2006, pp. 49-53; E. Harris, The country houses of Robert Adam: from the archives of Country Life, 2007, pp. 92-97; A. Peers, ‘The architectural evolution of the stables at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire’, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, Volume 52, 2008, pp. 9-48; F. Sands, ‘Nostell Priory: History of a House, 1730-85’, unpublished PhD thesis, 2012, Volume 1, pp. 80-138, Volume II, pp. 84-230; ‘Winn, Sir Rowland, 5th Bt. (1739-85), of Nostell Priory, nr. Pontefract, Yorks.’, History of Parliament online

Frances Sands, 2015



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Contents of Nostell Priory, Wakefield, West Yorkshire: designs for interior decoration, alterations to the house, and buildings in the park for Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet, 1765-85 (39)