Explore Collections Explore The Collections
You are here: CollectionsOnline  /  Whitehaven Castle, Lowther Street, Whitehaven, Cumberland: designs for alterations to the house for Sir James Lowther, 5th Baronet (later 1st Earl of Lonsdale), 1766-c1770 (12)



Whitehaven Castle, Lowther Street, Whitehaven, Cumberland: designs for alterations to the house for Sir James Lowther, 5th Baronet (later 1st Earl of Lonsdale), 1766-c1770 (12)

Signed and dated

  • 1766-c1770


James Lowther (1736-1802), was the eldest surviving son of Robert Lowther, of Maulds Meaburn, Westmorland, and a landowner in Barbados, whom he succeeded, aged nine, in 1745. Because various senior branches of the Lowther family had died out, by the time that James Lowther came of age in 1757, he was one of the wealthiest men in England, with an annual income of around £45,000. In 1751 he had inherited the Baronetcy of Lonsdale from his great uncle, the 3rd Viscount Lonsdale.

Sir James served as MP for Cumberland in 1757-61, 1762-68 and 1774-84, Westmorland in 1761-62, and Cockermouth in 1769-74. He also served as Lord Lieutenant of Westmorland from 1758, and Cumberland from 1759, and took various local, military and ecclesiastical offices. In 1784 he was created Baron Lowther of Lowther, Kendal and Burgh, Viscount of Lonsdale and Lowther, and Earl of Lonsdale.

Aged only 19, Sir James had boosted his wealth and political influence on his marriage in 1755 to Lady Mary Stuart (1740-1824), the daughter of the prime minister, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Bute was Robert Adam's earlier patron at Lansdowne House and Luton Hoo, this doubtless explaining how he became acquainted with Lonsdale. The marriage was turbulent, and no children were born. By 1770 the couple were separated, and on his death in 1802, Lonsdale's wealth, estates and Viscountcy passed by special remainder to his cousin, Sir William Lowther, 2nd Baronet, of Swillington, Yorkshire.

Throughout his life Lonsdale was keen to influence politics and used his wealth to purchase burgage boroughs, and influence seats. This did not make him popular. Once a candidate had been supported by Lonsdale, he expected them to follow his instructions, and in 1763 his own brother was required to resign his seat for Westmorland, having voted incorrectly. Furthermore, Lonsdale had a reputation as a miser, particularly when it came to his tenants and retainers, and this was to be problematic for Robert Adam at Whitehaven Castle.

Granted a market in 1654, Whitehaven is one of Britain's earliest post-medieval planned towns, and was developed by the Lowther family as a coal mining settlement on a natural harbor. Adjacent, to the east of the town was of one of the Lowthers' major seats, Flatt Hall. Flatt Hall was built by an earlier Sir James Lowther in 1676-84 as a quadrangular building to designs by William Thackeray (ND). In 1766 Sir James employed Robert Adam to turn the principal façade of the house - by then known as Whitehaven Castle - towards the sea, add a bow, towers, and crenellations, all in the castle style, and to refit various interiors. Typically of Lonsdale, however, Adam was never paid for these designs.

Adam's alterations to the fabric of the house were carried out in 1766-c1770, but it is not known if his interior decorative schemes for the drawing and dining rooms were brought to fruition. The north and west fronts of Thackeray's original house survive, as do the exterior alterations by Adam, although a small twentieth-century entrance loggia was added to the north front. The eighteenth-century interiors, however, have been lost. Whitehaven Castle was sold by the 5th Earl of Lonsdale in 1924, and it was converted into a hospital. The hospital closed in 1986, and it has since been converted into flats.

In the Cumbria Record Office at Carlisle, there are various plans, elevations and sections by Adam office draughtsmen showing designs for enlarging and remodelling Whitehaven Castle.

See also: Appleby, and Lowther Hall

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, p. 65, Volume II, Index pp. 31, 78; B. Tyson, 'Some aspects of Whitehaven's development before 1700', Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, 1986, pp. 149-185; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, p. 366; M. Hyde, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Cumbria: Cumberland, Westmorland and Furness, 2010, pp. 670, 675; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 156, 159-60, Volume II, pp. 228, 230, 246; Cumbria archive service online catalogue; 'Lowther, James, Earl of Lonsdale (1736-1802)', Oxford dictionary of national biography online; online; 'Lowther, Sir James, 5th Bt. (1736-11802), of Lowther, nr. Penrith, Westmld.', History of parliament online

Frances Sands, 2013



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

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: drawings@soane.org.uk

Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).  

Contents of Whitehaven Castle, Lowther Street, Whitehaven, Cumberland: designs for alterations to the house for Sir James Lowther, 5th Baronet (later 1st Earl of Lonsdale), 1766-c1770 (12)