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Burton Constable, East Riding of Yorkshire: unexecuted design for a ceiling, for William Constable, 1766 (1)

Signed and dated

  • 1766


Burton Constable was originally a medieval defence tower (now the north tower), strategically located near to the North Sea. This was converted by the Constable family in the 1570s into a single-range red-brick Elizabethan house with a second tower at the far end, and then two projecting Jacobean ranges were added. A plan of the house is illustrated in Pevsner. The estate was inherited by Cuthbert Tunstall on the death of William Constable, 4th Viscount of Dunbar, who had died without a male heir in 1718 Cuthbert changed his name to Constable, deepened the central range of the house to designs by William Thornton (c1670-1721), and left the house to his only son William.

William Constable (1721-91), was the son of Cuthbert Tunstall and Amy Clifford, the cousin of Lady Anne Clifford. As a Roman Catholic, Constable was barred from pursing a profession, and he directed his energies, therefore, on remodelling the interior of Burton Constable, as well as his scientific studies and collecting. Constable commissioned designs from various prominent architects, including, as is evident from this single surviving drawing, Robert Adam in 1766. Adam, however, was not responsible for any of the alterations to the house. The principal work was undertaken to designs by Timothy Lightoler (1727-69) who redecorated the hall, staircase and dining room. This work was complete by 1768. Further interiors were installed to designs by James Wyatt (1746-1813), who was responsible for the drawing room in 1776, and Thomas Atkinson (c1729-98), who created the billiard room in c1773 (this was converted into a private chapel in 1830), and the blue drawing room in 1776.

William Constable died without children, and the estate passed first to his sister Cecily’s sons, Edward and Francis Sheldon, and then to the Clifford branch of the family. Various financial difficulties caused the estate to be temporarily abandoned in 1870. The house is now in the possession of the Burton Constable Foundation, who have undertaken a programme of restoration, and the house is open to the public.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index p. 53; B. Ford, ‘William Constable: an enlightened Yorkshire patron’, Apollo, June 1974, pp. 408-15; I. and E. Hall, Burton Constable Hall: a century of patronage, 1991, pp. 16-24; N. Pevsner, and D. Neave, The buildings of England: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding, 1995, pp. 371-76

Frances Sands, 2012



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Contents of Burton Constable, East Riding of Yorkshire: unexecuted design for a ceiling, for William Constable, 1766 (1)