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West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire: design for the west portico for Sir Francis Dashwood (later 11th Baron Le Despencer), unexecuted, c1761-62, (1)

Signed and dated

  • 1761-62


Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet (1708-81), was the founder of the Hellfire Club, and a founder member of the Society of Dilettanti. He also had a political career as MP for New Romney (1741-63); was a very poor chancellor of the Exchequer (1762-63); and an excellent joint post-master general (1766-81). Moreover, Dashwood was philanthropic, being the vice-president of the Foundling Hospital and the General Medical Asylum. In 1762 the barony of Le Despencer fell into abeyance on the death of his maternal uncle, the 4th Earl of Westmorland, and in 1763 this situation was terminated in favour of Dashwood.

Dashwood inherited his father's estates in 1724, but it was not until shortly after his marriage to Sarah Ellis, the widow of Sir Richard Ellis, in 1745, that he started to make alterations to the house and park at West Wycombe. He had a great interest in recent discoveries of ancient Greek architecture and commissioned designs from Nicholas Revett (1721-1804). However, John Donowell (d.1793) was responsible for much of the executed work, and a plan and elevation by Donowell are included in the fifth volume of Vitruvius Britannicus (1771). The earlier house had been built by the 1st Baronet (c1658-1724), shortly after he received his baronetcy from Queen Anne (1707). This replaced a seventeenth-century house on a nearby site. There is a plan of West Wycombe Park and a full account of the history of the building in the National Trust guidebook.

Robert Adam had been working in the area local to West Wycombe: at Shardeloes from 1759, and on the High Wycombe Shambles and Butter Market in 1761. It is assumed that this is how he came into contact with Dashwood. Adam was to make an unexecuted design for the stables, for which no drawings survive in the Soane Museum, and the west portico of the house itself, for which there is one drawing at the Soane, and a more finished version at the house. The west portico was built, but to a different design by Nicholad Revett, but using Adam's idea of a giant Ionic portico. Dashwood rebuilt the church in 1763 and Bolton suggests that Adam's association with West Wycombe had come to an end by that date. As such the likely timeframe for his involvement there is c1761-62.

See also: Hanover Square, number 18

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, pp. 52, 57-59, Volume II, Index p. 17; G. Worsley, 'West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire', Country Life, 6 September 1990; N. Pevsner, and E. Williamson, The buildings of England: Buckinghamshire, 1994, pp. 727-28; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp. 183, 226; The National Trust, West Wycombe Park: Buckinghamshire, 2001, pp. 6-63

Frances Sands, 2011



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Contents of West Wycombe Park, Buckinghamshire: design for the west portico for Sir Francis Dashwood (later 11th Baron Le Despencer), unexecuted, c1761-62, (1)