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Sherborne Castle, Dorset: unexecuted designs for alterations to the house, interior, a new gateway and bridge for 7th Lord Digby, 1760-67 (16)

Signed and dated

  • 1760-67


Sherborne Castle, a sixteenth-century lodge built by Simon Basil (d.1615) for Sir Walter Raleigh (1553-1618), was granted to Sir John Digby (1580-1653), Ambassador to Spain, in 1617 for £10,000, and it has remained in that family ever since. Digby added wings to the lodge during the reign of Charles I. On the death of the 5th Lord Digby (1661-1752), his grandson Edward 6th Lord Digby (1730-57), succeeded, and immediately began making improvements. This included employing Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to landscape the park from 1753. Work was not halted by Edward's sudden death in 1757, and the succession of his younger brother Henry 7th Lord Digby (1731-93), (created 1st Earl Digby in 1790). The 7th Lord Digby was also intent upon improving the east front of the castle, consulting William Chambers (1723-96) and Robert Adam.

Digby served as MP (Whig) for Ludgershall (1755-61), and Wells (1761-65), Under Secretary for the Southern Department (1755-65), and Lord of the Admiralty (1763-65). He would have been familiar with Adam's Admiralty Screen, and had served as a Groom of the Bedchamber to Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1751-3, and it may have been through these connections that he consulted Adam. Alternatively, Brown may have recommended Adam, having worked with him at Croome Court. Chambers's designs for an unexecuted lodge and gateway for Sherborne Castle are now in the RIBA drawings collection.

Adam made designs for altering the east front of the castle, including a magnificent new octagonal dining room, along with some further designs for the interior, and designs for the Crackmore Gate and Pinford Bridge on the new approach across Brown's lake. Though none of Adam's designs for which we have drawings were executed it is possible that Adam was responsible for the orangery built at Sherborne Castle in 1781, but there is no evidence to prove this. Digby finally made an alternative extension to the west front of Sherborne Castle in 1787-9, with the help of a master builder, Evan Owen (d.1824). In 1859-60 the interior was redecorated in a Jacobean style by P.C. Hardwick.

In addition to the Adam drawings for Sherborne Castle held at Sir John Soane's Museum, there are also those within the Sherborne Castle archive: a plan and a separate elevation for the Crackmore Gate (1761); a plan and elevation for Pinford Bridge (1767); and undated designs for a chimneypiece, and an orangery.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index p. 28; J. Newman, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Dorset, 1972, pp. 388-390; A. Smith, 'Pinford Bridge in Sherborne Park', Proceedings of Dorset natural history and archaeology society, Volume 17, 1995, pp. 15-17; M. Hall, and A. Smith, 'Sherborne Castle, Dorset I and II', Country Life, 10 and 17 August 2000, pp. 39-41 and 45-46; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 165, 204, 230

With grateful thanks to Ann Smith (Archivist, Sherborne Castle) for information regarding their Adam drawings collection.

Frances Sands, 2011



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.

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Contents of Sherborne Castle, Dorset: unexecuted designs for alterations to the house, interior, a new gateway and bridge for 7th Lord Digby, 1760-67 (16)