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Kenwood, Hampstead, London: designs for the house and park for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, 1764-83 (55)

Signed and dated

  • 1764-83


Kenwood (originally Caen Wood) was a Jacobean house built by John Bill (1576-1630), the printer to King Charles I in c1616. In 1690 the Bill family sold Kenwood to Brook Brydges, whose heir, William Brydges, Surveyor General of the Ordnance, is thought to have been responsible for demolishing part, or all, of the Jacobean house in favour of a two-storey, seven-bay, brick villa. The house then passed through various hands (detailed in Summerson, 1975, p. 5), including the 3rd Earl of Bute who is thought to have been responsible for an orangery wing built to one side of the house in c1750, and was finally purchased by the Hon. William Murray in 1754.

William Murray (1705-93), was the eleventh of fourteen children of the 5th Viscount Stormont (d1731). At the age of fourteen he moved to London for the benefit of his education, and became a lawyer. He served as Solicitor General in 1742-52, as MP (Whig) for Boroughbridge in 1742-56, as Attorney General in 1754-56, was created Baron of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice in 1756, and was elevated to an Earldom in 1776. Throughout his career Mansfield was interested in social issues and contributed heavily to the reform of British law; he was instrumental in the abolition of the trade of enslaved people in Britain, an early contributor to women's rights, committed to free trade, and supported tolerance of Dissenters. This caused him to become unpopular and he suffered in the Gordon Riots of 1780, when his rented house in Bloomsbury Square, containing his library and papers, was burnt down. Summerson reports that 'Kenwood survived as the landlord of the Spaniard's Inn had the presence of mind to serve the rioters so liberally that they were not able to raise another fire.' In 1738 Mansfield married Lady Elizabeth Finch (d1784), the sixth daughter of the 7th Earl of Winchelsea, but they had no children, and his estate was inherited by a nephew, the 7th Viscount Stormont. Mansfield is buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey, with a monument by Flaxman.

Harris has suggested that Mansfield chose to purchase a house outside London on account of the baseless charges brought against him in 1753 for Jacobitism - his father and brother had Jacobite sympathies - despite there being little evidence of this. The Hampstead location allowed him access to the courts, but kept him far enough out of London to avoid political intrigue.

In the 1760s Mansfield decided to regularise the house, by the addition of a library to balance Bute's orangery, and in 1764 he approached the Adam brothers to do this. Robert Adam had become acquainted with Mansfield through their mutual friend, and fellow Scot, the 2nd Earl of Hopetoun, who had been one of Adam's patrons since 1758. James Adam returned to England from his Grand Tour in 1763, and launched his career as Robert's partner with designs for Mansfield's library at Kenwood in 1764, alongside exterior elevation designs for the south front by Robert himself. This unexecuted scheme would have resulted in a large, screened staircase hall, providing access to the new library which doubled as the principal reception room within the house.

The library was executed later, from 1767, to designs by Robert Adam himself, and is one of his finest rooms. It has plasterwork by Joseph Rose - who was responsible for all the plasterwork at Kenwood - and painted panels by Antonio Zucchi. As well as the library Adam produced a new ante room, and a staircase hall, and he added a portico to the north front. His design for the south front was altered owing to a request from Mansfield for more bedchambers. In 1766 the 7th Viscount Stormont, Mansfield's nephew and heir, and then Ambassador in Vienna, lost his wife, and decided that his six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, should live at Kenwood with her paternal aunt, the Hon. Anne Murray, as her companion. Along too came Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of Sir John Lindsay, another of Mansfield's nephews, and thus an attic storey was required to house the three young ladies. The addition of an attic storey to the central block, however, necessitated a new design for the south front, which needed to be refaced to hide the two different adjoining areas of brickwork, and Adam ornamented this front with arabesque panels in his patented Liardet's composition.

The only known extant drawings for Kenwood are held in the Soane Museum. Harris has suggested that any drawings in Mansfield's possession might have been destroyed in the fire in Bloomsbury Square during the Gordon Riots. However, Kenwood is illustrated in the second part of the first volume of The works in architecture of Robert and James Adam (1774), and perhaps this is unsurprising owing to the diverse range of works undertaken at the house. Moreover, Mansfield was a prominent patron, whom The Works describes as 'the friend of every elegant art and useful science'.

Adam's Liardet stuccowork ornamentation to the south front of the house was found to be faulty, and was removed in 1793 when Robert Nasmith (d1793) carried out alterations to the house for the 2nd Earl. These alterations were continued after Nasmith's death by George Saunders (1762-1839) who added a two-storey service wing to the east of the house, completed in 1796. The house was little changed following the death of the 2nd Earl, but repairs were necessitated by dry rot in 1815-17, and the interior was refurbished for the 3rd Earl, all to designs by William Atkinson (c1774-1839).

The house and its contents were sold by the 6th Earl of Mansfield in 1922. The contents were auctioned, and it is apparent from the 1922 sale catalogue that Adam had been responsible for the design of more furniture for the house than the surviving drawings would suggest. The house itself was purchased for £107,900 by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847-1927) in 1924, who bequeathed it to the nation in 1927. Owing to the sale of the majority of the contents of the house in 1922, Iveagh installed his own furniture and picture collection, allowing the house to be opened to the public only a year later, in 1928. The London County Council managed the house from 1949-85, and in 1975 they reinstituted Adam's ornament to the south front in fibreglass. Since April 1986 the house has been in the stewardship of English Heritage who are currently undertaking a large-scale restoration of the property with the financial assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I am grateful to Dr Susan Jenkins and Laura Houliston of English Heritage, and Dr Julius Bryant of the V&A Museum for their help and advice.

R. & J. Adam, The works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1774, p. 5, and part II, pl. i-viii; A.T Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, chapter XVI, and Volume II, Index pp. 19, 80; C.B. King Ltd., Catalogue of choice & valuable furnishings [...] within Kenwood mansion Hampstead, 6-9 November 1922, pp. 1-55; J. Lees-Milne, The age of Adam, 1947, pp. 117-18; C. Hussey, 'The reopening of Kenwood', Country Life, 26 May 1950, pp. 1550-51; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 50, 69, 79, 80, 87; E. Harris,'Adam furniture in an Adam house', Country Life, 18 June 1964, p. 1573; D. Stillman, The decorative work of Robert Adam, 1966, pp. 71, 84-5; D. Yarwood, Robert Adam, 1970, pp. 131, 193-94; J. Summerson, The Iveagh bequest: Kenwood. A short account of its history and architecture, 1975, pp. 5-20; G. Beard, The work of Robert Adam, 1978, p. 47; F. Kelsall, 'Liardet versus Adam', Architectural History 27, 1984, pp. 118-126; J. Bryant, The Iveagh Bequest: Kenwood, 1990, pp. 1-77; L.B. Podos, 'Catalogue of the Adam drawings for Kenwood in Sir John Soane's Museum', unpublished and within the Soane Museum archive, 1992; A.A. Tait, Robert Adam: drawings and imagination, 1993, p. 119; B. Cherry, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: London 4: north, 1998, pp. 368-72; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam: his interiors, 2001, chapter 11; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 115-19, 161, Volume II, pp. 127, 220; E. Harris, The country houses of Robert Adam: from the archives of Country Life, 2007, pp. 99-102; R.R. Sedgwick, 'Murray, Hon. William (1705-93) of Ken Wood, Mdx.', History of Parliament online

Frances Sands, 2012



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Contents of Kenwood, Hampstead, London: designs for the house and park for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, 1764-83 (55)