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Ray House or Ray Lodge, Woodford, Redbridge, designs for a conservatory, farm and stable offices, and for alterations to a house for Sir James Wright, Bt., c1773-1782 (17)

Sir James Wright, Bt. was baptised on 18 January 1717, the son of Thomas Wright of Coventry. He was educated at a school in Warwick before attending Winchester College from 1730. In September 1734 he matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, but left the following year without a degree.

In 1754 he married Catherine (1732-1802), the daughter and heiress of Sir William Stapleton, 4th Bt. Catherine’s inheritance was estimated at £30,000, with the Stapleton family fortune principally made from their interests in Caribbean plantations. Catherine’s great-grandfather Sir William Stapleton, 1st Bt. severed as Governor of the Leeward Islands from 1671. Through his marriage to Catherine, Wright came to own an interest in the Fountain Plantation estate, St Kitts. For £4,800 Wright offered to sell their interest back to the Stapleton family, but the negotiations broke down. A portion of an interest in the Fountain plantation remained within the Wright family until 1840, when it was sold to Lord Combermere for £3,500.

After their marriage the couple travelled widely across Europe and spent time in Florence with Sir Horace Mann. Whilst travelling Wright acquired a significant number of paintings, a collection he continued to expand throughout his lifetime. By 1800 Wright’s catalogue of his collection detailed over one hundred pieces.

In 1762 Wright was appointed Groom of the Bedchamber and on the 3 July 1766 he was knighted and simultaneously appointed of British Minister to Venice. Sir James arrived in Venice in October 1766 and he remained in the post until June 1773.

In 1790 the couple took a further tour of Italy along with their son George who was suffering from poor health at the time. Their travelling companions also included Maria Cosway and her brother George Hadfield who had received the Royal Academy’s travelling scholarship.

Sir James Wright was known for his passion for gardening and he developed a relationship with Sir Joseph Banks. He also maintained a keen interest in architecture, something he shared with Lord Bute as is evident from their correspondence. Wright also developed a successful company manufacturing artificial slate on his estate in Woodford. The company operated from c1775-1811, with large quantities of the slate produced exported to the Caribbean.

By the time of Sir James’s death, 8 March 1804, the family were residing in Bath. Sir James was succeeded by his son Sir George Wright, his wife Catherine having passed away in January 1802.

From the thirteenth century the lands of Woodford were held by the atte Ree family, with William atte Ree in possession of a virgate from 1235-70. As late as 1451 the land remained within the family when John atte Ree held the messuage Ray House along with 30 acres of land. In the early eighteenth century the Clealand family took over the estate, but in 1732 it was surrendered to Alvar Lopez Suasso of the Dutch banking family. In 1736 the estate was transferred to James Hannot and his heir Bennert Hannot sold it to Sir James Wright in around 1770.

Significantly three of Robert Adam’s schemes for Sir James are thought to date to around 1773, at which time the client began making payments to the architect. Between 1773 and 1777 Sir James paid the Adam brothers £369. 9s. 4d, which coincided with several payments made to numerous craftsmen indicating significant alterations. Julia King highlights payments made by Wright between 1773 and 1774 to the builder Thomas Dorchester amounting to £2,150, with a further £588 paid to the builder John Jordan in 1775. Further sums were issued to Mr Nasmith who frequently worked for the Adam’s as their foreman, alongside payments to Joseph Rose and Thomas Carter. It is therefore evident that between 1773 and 1777 the Adam office undertook a significant project at Sir James’s estate in Woodford. Julia King notes a letter from Symonds to Lord Bute dated to 1 September 1770 in which Symonds discusses Wright’s intentions for the estate:‘He is quite turned a Country Gentleman, has got a Plan both for a House and Paddock, & Plantations which he seems resolved one day to execute.’ As a result it is likely that Adam’s undated schemes for alterations to a house and the construction of a new stable and farm offices date to this earlier period of activity.

As very little remains of Sir James Wright’s Woodford estates it is difficult to ascertain what was executed. As David King highlights this is further complicated by Sir James’s acquisition of two adjacent estates, one named Ray House and the other Ray Lodge. David King notes an early nineteenth-century sale notice which records Ray Lodge as a villa constructed by the Adam brothers and yet Ray Lodge is widely reputed to be an early work by John Papworth. A perspective drawing in the RIBA collection records Papworth’s Lodge, c1797. The architect was commissioned in 1796 to create a new lodge for Sir James’s son George. The perspective view indicates that Papworth made alterations to an earlier house, which may have perhaps been the site of the Adam project twenty years earlier. However David King proposes that the sales particulars may be incorrect, with Adam producing schemes for Sir James’s Ray House instead.

David King suggests that it is unlikely that the surviving Adam scheme for alterations to a house were carried out, however it is evident that some work did take place. Julia King notes the details of Sir James’s ‘dwelling House’ as recorded in the Sun Fire insurance policy of 25 April 1781, where it is recorded as of a considerable size. This suggests significant alteration to the two-storey, five-bay house in which Wright is recorded as residing when he first relocated to Woodford in 1770. Equally in Symonds’s letter to Lord Bute he goes on to discuss Wright’s extensive collection of paintings which he had no intention of selling: ‘on the contrary he shewed me the Plan of a large Gallery in his intended House for the Reception of them’. Bolton notes the impressive picture gallery included in Adam’s plan for the house, 24ft wide and 65ft in length.

Possibly contemporary with the scheme for Sir James’s house are the designs for a H-shaped stable block and farm offices. David King notes that the stable block was not carried out, with an ‘un-Adamesque’ design executed instead. It is possible that the farm offices were carried out and David King notes that a similar building was recorded on a map of 1815-1816.

The final scheme produced for Sir James’s estate is a later design for a conservatory which incorporated an aviary and tearoom. Dated to 1782 the scheme coincides with a further payment made to the Adam office for £24.2s, which likely relates to the conservatory designs. The design is not known to have been executed, however Julia King notes that in 1995 outlines of estate buildings came to light which possibly indicated the conservatory’s execution.

Following the death of Wright in 1804 the Woodford estate passed to his son Sir George Wright, Bt. who promptly sold it to Benjamin Hanson Inglish. Ingilsh’s purchase included both Ray House and Ray Lodge, with 133 acres of land. In 1838 Ray House was largely destroyed by fire, but the surrounding office buildings were preserved. In 1924 the estate was sold to Bryant and May Ltd who demolished several of the remaining buildings to establish a country club and sports ground. In 1958 the land was sold to the local council and the area became a public park.

All that survives of Sir James’s Woodford estates is an eighteenth-century octagonal walled garden which is situated at the north end of Ray Park, where remains of Wright’s famed fruit trees have been noted.

‘Accredited Diplomatic Agents in Venice’, Calendar of State Papers Relating to English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume I, 1202-1509, 1894, pp. cxliii-cl; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 26, 92; W.R. Powell (ed.), ‘Woodford Manors’, A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, 1973, pp. 344-348; J. King, ‘An Ambassadors House in Essex’, The Georgian Group Journal, Vol VII, 1997, pp. 117-129; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, p. 422; Volume II, pp. 121, 182, 183, 224; ‘London Borough of Redbridge: Archaeological Priority Areas Appraisal’, Historic England, July 2016; ‘Design for Woodford Bridge Lodge (usually known as Ray Lodge), Woodford Bridge, Redbridge, London, for Sir James Wright Bt.: perspective’, www.architecture.com; ‘Sir James Wright bart’, www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs (accessed February 2021)

Anna McAlaney, 2021
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