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Knowsley Park, Lancashire: unexecuted designs for a lodge, and alterations and additions to the house, and executed designs for a dairy, for the 12th Earl of Derby, 1776-77 (9)

Signed and dated

  • 1776-77


Edward Smith-Stanley (1752-1834) succeeded his grandfather as 12th Earl of Derby in 1776, bringing him the family estate of Knowsley, Lancashire. Prior to this he had served as MP (Whig) for Lancashire in 1774-76. As an Earl of Derby he maintained his ancestors’ tradition of becoming Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire in 1776, a position he held until his death in 1834, and he also served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1783 and 1806. Derby is best remembered as a supporter of horse racing, but also for his troubled marriage. In 1774 he married Lady Elizabeth Hamilton (1753-97), daughter of the 6th Duke of Hamiltonand the famous beauty, Elizabeth Gunning. After five years, the Countess had an affair with a notorious rake, John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset. The couple separated, but the Earl refused his wife a divorce – preventing her from marrying the Duke – and refused her access to their three children. One week after the Countess’s death in 1797, Derby married again, his companion, Miss Elizabeth Farren (c1759-1829) an actress, by whom he had another three children.

The first Countess of Derby held considerable sway over Robert Adam’s works for Lord Derby. From 1773-75 Adam made considerable alterations to Lord Derby’s (then Lord Stanley) townhouse at 23 Grosvenor Square in preparation for his marriage to Lady Elizabeth. Furthermore, to celebrate his marriage in 1774, Derby commissioned designs for a temporary pavilion for the park at The Oaks, the country home of his uncle and aunt, General John and Lady Charlotte Burgoyne. Derby was later to inherit this estate and commission Adam to make designs for alterations to the house. It was presumably through his aunt, Lady Charlotte Burgoyne, that Derby came to be acquainted with Adam as she was his patron at 10 Hertford Street, London, from 1769. It is also vaguely feasible that Derby came to know Adam through his wife's maternal uncle, the 6th Earl of Coventry, whom had married the other Gunning sister, and who was Adam’s patron at Croome Court, Worcestershire, and Coventry House, Piccadilly

Prior to inheriting from his grandfather in 1776, Derby had already started to remodel the park at Knowsley to designs by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-83). The Knowsley estate had come into the possession of the Stanley family through marriage in 1385, and has been their principal estate since 1702. The older of two ranges comprising the extant house was built in 1731-37 for the 10th Earl of Derby to designs by Henry Stephen (c1686-1756). On his succession, Derby commissioned Adam to make designs for lodges, a dairy for Lady Charlotte, and to enlarge and improve the house, with the intention of using it for large-scale entertaining. Adam’s scheme for the house comprised a U-shaped building: making use of the pre-existing range, with the addition of a mirroring range, and a new central block between the two. Lady Charlotte’s dairy was executed in 1776-77, but then demolished. The lodges were not executed, and nor was that for the house, both because it was far too ambitious and expensive for Lord Derby, but also because when Lady Charlotte deserted him in 1778, he lost all interest in building projects, and his subsequent efforts were focused on sporting activities – principally horse racing – instituting the Epsom Oaks, and the Derby Stakes.

Derby did not make alterations to Knowsley until 1810-22 – long after Adam’s death – to designs by John Foster junior (c1787-1846). The old wing (running east to west) was retained, and a second wing was built (running north to south), resulting in an L-shaped building. Later, there were various nineteenth- and twentieth-century alterations to the house, including neo-Georgian improvements in 1908-12 to designs by W.H. Romaine-Walker (1854-1940), and reductions in 1953-54 to designs by Claud Phillimore (1911-94). Knowsley remains in the possession of the 19th Earl of Derby. The estate contains a safari park founded by the 13th Earl, and part of the house is leased for events.

See also: 23 Grosvenor Square, London; The Oaks, Surrey.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 20, 68; J.M. Robinson, ‘Knowsley Hall, Lancashire – II’, Country Life, 24 June 1999, pp. 130-133; S. Astley, Robert Adam’s castles, 2000, p. 7; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, p. 295; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 342-345, Volume II, pp. 157, 163, 210, 221, 245; R. Pollard, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Lancashire: Liverpool and the south west, 2006, p. 217; ‘Stanley, Edward Smith, twelfth earl of Derby (1752-1834)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography online; ‘Stanley, Edward, Lord Stanley (1752-1834)’, History of Parliament online

Frances Sands, 2014



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Contents of Knowsley Park, Lancashire: unexecuted designs for a lodge, and alterations and additions to the house, and executed designs for a dairy, for the 12th Earl of Derby, 1776-77 (9)