Explore Collections Explore The Collections
You are here: CollectionsOnline  /  Alnwick Castle, Northumberland: designs for interior decoration and buildings in the park for the 1st Duke of Northumberland, 1769-83 (36)



Alnwick Castle, Northumberland: designs for interior decoration and buildings in the park for the 1st Duke of Northumberland, 1769-83 (36)

Signed and dated

  • 1769-83


Hugh Smithson (1712-86) succeeded his father, Sir Langdale Smithson, as the 4th Baronet in 1727, aged 17. The Smithson family had made a fortune in haberdashery on Cheapside, and bought the Stanwick estate near Catterick in 1638. The 1st Baronet had been created by Charles II in 1663 because he had supported Charles I during the Civil War. Smithson went on to inherit estates and wealth from his sister and cousin, and in 1740 he married Lady Elizabeth Percy (d1776), the daughter of the 7th Duke of Somerset (her maternal grandfather was the 11th Earl of Northumberland). As Elizabeth’s only sibling, George, died of smallpox during his Grand Tour in 1744, she inherited everything in 1750 from both the Dukedom of Somerset, and the Earldom of Northumberland. This not only brought Sir Hugh the estates of Syon, Alnwick Castle and Northumberland House on the Strand, but also the Earldom, elevating him to the 12th Earl of Northumberland.

In 1766 the Earl was created 1st Duke of Northumberland (of the third creation). His incredible rise was partly thanks to his marriage, party thanks to a friendship with Lord Bute (his son married Bute’s daughter in 1764), and partly thanks to his various public offices. He had served as MP for Middlesex in 1740-50, until his elevation to the Earldom when he became active in the House of Lords. He was also Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1738-39; a trustee of the British Museum in 1753-86; a Lord of the Bedchamber in 1753-63; Lord Lieutenant of Northumberland in 1753-86; Lord Lieutenant of Middlesex in 1763-65; Vice-Admiral of North America in 1764; and Master of the Horse in 1778-80. Moreover, he was a skilled land manager, exploiting coal reserves, and vastly increasing the financial yields of his estates, which enabled him to undertake large-scale rebuilding works across the country. By these means, Northumberland became one of the greatest patrons of the arts, and his Duchess was a renowned connoisseur, undertaking numerous tours of other great country houses, in an effort to observe and record the works undertaken by her contemporaries.

Alnwick had been home to the Barons of Alnwick, where there was a castle from the twelfth century. Pevsner suggests that this probably began as a motte and bailey with wooden buildings, but that it was walled in stone by 1157. The Alnwick Barony was sold to Henry de Percy in 1309. A leading figure in Edward I’s Scottish campaigns, Percy was awarded a stipend by Edward II to assist in repelling the Scots, which he used to extend and rework the castle at Alnwick. However, by 1750, when the 1st Duke of Northumberland first visited Alnwick, no Percy had lived in Northumberland for two hundred years, and Henry de Percy’s castle was a ruin. The Duke was keen to reassert Percy power in Northumberland, and his Duchess was keen to restore the castle. The first architect was probably Henry Keene (1726-76) in c1750-c1754, who started work to revive the ruin; followed by James Paine (1717-89) in c1754-68 who made the ruins habitable, and installed interiors including the state bedrooms; and finally Robert Adam was employed in 1769-83. The landscape surrounding Alnwick was created by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-83) from c1765.

Conforming with the Duchess’s requirements, Adam’s work at Alnwick does not comfortably fall within his ‘castle-style’ – so prevalent in his later Scottish work – but should more accurately be described as ‘Adam Gothic revival’, being closer to his work in the circular drawing room at Strawberry Hill for Horace Walpole in 1766-67. His interior decorative work encompassed the saloon, drawing room, dining room, breakfast room, library, chapel and the circular banqueting room. The only room among these which is not represented within the surviving drawings is the breakfast room. Furniture was provided for these rooms in 1763-72 by William and John Linnell, who also provided the furniture for Syon at a total cost of over £1,000. In the park at Alnwick, Adam was commissioned to work on the ruinous Carmelite priory, Hulne Abbey, which became a hunting lodge; a new bridge to cross the River Aln; to make designs for an unexecuted gateway and an unexecuted screen or gazebo; and to build Briesley Tower, an elegant Gothic viewing tower. The Lion Bridge and Briesley Tower survive, but the eighteenth-century interiors at Alnwick were removed by the 4th Duke in 1854-65, who remodelled and modernised the castle to designs by Anthony Salvin (1799-1881). There are almost no illustrations of Adam’s executed interiors, although written accounts make it clear that his work was executed. Alnwick Castle remains in the possession of the Dukes of Northumberland, and is open to the public.

There are other Adam office drawings for Alnwick Castle and its park within the collection of the Duke of Northumberland.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, p. 292, Index pp. 1, 82; J. Fleming, ‘Adam Gothic’, Connoisseur, 142, 1958, pp. 75-79; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam , 1963, pp. 88, 101, Index p. 47; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, pp. 110-112; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, pp. 51-52; H. Hayward, and P. Kirkham, William and John Linnell: eighteenth-century London furniture makers, 1980, pp. 120-123; G. Worlsey, ‘Alnwick Castle, Northumberland II’, Country Life, 8 December 1988, pp. 74-78; D. Hart-Davis, ‘Heroic panorama’, Country Life, 22 February 1990, pp. 84-87; N. Pevsner, I. Richmond, J. Grundy, G. McCrombie, P. Ryder, and H. Welfare, The buildings of England: Northumberland, 1992, pp. 135-139; J. Ingamells, A dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy: 1701-1800, 1997, p. 873; A. Rowan, ‘The Duke of Northumberland’s garden house at Hulne Priory’, Architectural History, Volume 41, 1998, pp. 265-73; E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, 2001, pp. 84-93; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 225, 242-244, 320, 381, 391-392, Volume II, p. 243; A. Rowan, ‘Bob the Roman’, heroic antiquity & the architecture of Robert Adam, 2003, p. 49; J. Goodall, ‘The Lion of the North, Alnwick Castle, Northumberland’, Country Life, 4 March 2009, pp. 44-53; World of Interiors, December 2009, p. 142; A. Aymonino, 'Decorum and celebration of the family line: Robert Adam's monuments to the first Duchess of Northumberland', Burlington Magazine, CLII (May 2010), pp. 288-96; ‘Percy [formerly Smithson], Hugh, first duke of Northumberland (bap. 1712, d. 1786)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography online

Frances Sands, 2015



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 Alnwick Castle, Northumberland: designs for interior decoration and buildings in the park for the 1st Duke of Northumberland, 1769-83 (36)