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Brasted Place, Kent, a house and interiors for Doctor John Turton, c1784-88 (44)

John Turton was born 15 November 1735, the son of J.T. Turton (1700-54), a physician of Wolverhampton and London, and Dorothy née Hickman, to whom Doctor Johnson’s verses ‘To Miss Hickman, Playing the Spinet’ are addressed.

From October 1752 John Turton studied at Queen’s College, Oxford, where he received his BA in 1756, and a further degree in 1759. In September 1761 he was awarded the Radcliffe Travelling Fellowship, and subsequently went to Leyden to pursue his studies in medicine. In February 1767 he took his M.D., joining the College of Physicians later that year, and was subsequently made a fellow 30th September 1768.

Turton had an incredibly successful career and a number of prominent clients. In 1771 he was appointed Physician to the Queen’s Household, and later in 1782, became Physician in Ordinary to Queen Charlotte. The Royal family’s trust in Turton was underlined in 1797, when he was further made Physician in Ordinary to the King and the Prince of Wales.

Other notable patients included the Garricks, with Turton particularly appointed to treat Mrs Garrick and her sciatica. David Garrick’s friendship with Turton is evident from the actor’s letters, through which we gain glimpses of the physician. A letter from the Mansfields, dated May 19th 1768, begs Turton’s attendance at dinner to which the Garricks were invited, and a letter from the Reverend Thomas Kennedy gives an amusing insight into suspicions surrounded Turton’s ‘physic’ practices:

‘the only fault I find in him is that he hath too much faith in physic, and there by I am afraid he will ruin the remainder of his health by making too much use of it… I make no use of it, and choose rather to die a natural death then be killed by art’

Turton was married to Mary Kitchingham (d. 1810), the daughter and co-heir of Joseph Kitchenham of Balk Hall, Thirsk. As they had no children, a relative, Edmund Peters (later Turton), was appointed heir to their estate.

Brasted Place can be traced back to the thirteenth century, at which time it was in the hands of the Clare family. By the seventeenth century the property was acquired by the lawyer Robert Heath, Recorder of London, and Solicitor and Attorney General. Heath was a Royalist and supporter of King Charles I, and as a result was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench. However, following the outbreak of the English Civil War, Heath was impeached and all his personal property seized. He escaped to France in 1644, where he died in 1649. Following The Restoration, Robert Heath’s eldest son Edward was reinstated with his property, including Brasted Place. As Edward Heath died without issue, the estate passed to his younger brother John. Upon John Heath's death in 1701, Brasted Place passed into the Verney family, following the marriage of his daughter Margaret to the Reverend George Verney in 1688. In 1782 John Verney, Lord Willoughby de Broke sold Brasted Place to Lord Frederick Campbell, who in turn sold the house and its surrounding 311 acres in 1784 to Turton.

Turton’s successful career had allowed him to amass a private fortune, and when he retired from the College of Physicians in 1784, he purchased the Brasted Estate with the view to building a country retreat. This same year he employed the Adam office with the remit for designing a new house, which was to cost no more the £5000. Turton’s choice of architect for the project is unsurprising, as the Doctor was a close friend of the Adams' and already held apartments at the Adelphi, having taken up a river fronted property upon its completion in 1771. A number of his patients and friends were part of the Adam circle, including David Garrick, the Earl and Countess of Mansfield and Lord Frederick Campbell.

The construction of Adam’s Brasted Place, began in the summer of 1784, when the older house was pulled down. An alternate site for the new building was selected, positioning the house on the slopes of the surrounding hills, with an idyllic footpath to the south. To preserve the romanticism of the new location, Turton obtained an Act of Parliament, closing off a sunken lane, which had previously formed part of an ancient public road. A new highway for public use was constructed as a result, 200 yards to the east.

For the project the Adam office produced a total of three schemes, with the third and more economic design faithfully executed. The first scheme is considerably more elaborate, with the second scheme serving as a more refined version of the first. Rowan highlights that it is this second scheme that was Adam’s preferred design, with its balanced garden façade incorporating a well-proportioned Ionic portico.

It seems the existence of the earlier schemes led to a local tradition which held that Turton abandoned a more elaborate design with flanking wings when the King became interested in the project. Tradition maintains that, fearing future royal visits, the Doctor abandoned his plans for a larger house, in order that he might claim his home too humble to host a royal retinue. Bolton links this tradition to these earlier Adam schemes, albeit neither of which include wings. Doctor Turton’s surviving correspondence records that the principal motivation for the physician’s rejection of the more elaborate designs was cost, with his absolute resolution not to spend above £5000.

The King, however, clearly did take a keen interest in Turton’s new project, as he presented him with the old turret clock from Horse Guards Parade for use on his new estate. The clock tower included in a design of the second scheme for the elaborate entrance to the domestic offices (SM Adam volume 42/86) may have intended to incorporate this clock. Subsequently it was inserted into the stable block, and the bell hanger recorded in the accounts may be linked to its insertion. Queen Charlotte also presented her favourite physician with gifts for his new house, including silk tapestries presented by the Emperor of China, which illustrates the nation's arts and manufacturing feats, including the production of tea and porcelain.

There is a surviving letter from Turton to Adam, dated July 14th 1788, when the Brasted project was all but complete, and all that remained was to settle the accounts. The letter takes issue with the total sum, with Turton declaring the eventual cost to be almost double that which was originally quoted:

‘I cannot help saying, that I am cruelly disappointed, as well as much surprised at Exceedings, under any Explanation, so very considerable; as to amount with the Estimate to a Sum Total of £9461 – 3s – 5d-… I was determined, as you will know, not to undertake the Building of Any House, including Fixtures; that might exceed at the utmost Five Thousand Pounds.’

Turton proceeds to analyse the given accounts, highlighting instances where they appear to deviate from the original quote, and also references their many mutual friends, including the Earl of Mansfield, inferring general disapproval of Adam’s overspending. Turton goes on to state:

‘I have ever admired you as an (sic) ingenious, I have ever esteemed you as an honest man. You have been woefully mistaken in your calculations. You have led me into difficulties, but I never hath, or I trust will shake my good opinion of you.’

Turton concludes the letter, confirming his intentions to ‘tie up the Accounts’, and makes and attempt towards reconciliation, ‘recollecting only the Anxiety under wch. you have labour’d’. He states finally:

‘Everything I really believe is well done- may that Friendship that hath subsisted so long between us, continue thr’o Life!’

As a result Turton’s letter is often cited as an example of Adam’s tendency to overspend, with its inference that the accounts for Brasted had been mismanaged. However Rowan urges caution, and uses the accounts and estimates of comparable projects to highlight the possibility that Turton’s expectations were unreasonable. When compared to an estimate given for the 4900 sq. ft. house on the Airthrey estate (which came in at £11,000), £5000 for Brasted’s 4020 sq. ft. house would have been a seemingly impossible sum.

Dr John Turton resided at Brasted Place until his death 14th April 1806. He was buried in the local parish church, where he was commemorated with a marble sarcophagus. Following the death of his widow in January 1810, Turton’s estate was inherited by his relative Edmund Peters, who then assumed the name Turton. Alongside Brasted, the Turtons estate amounted to £9000 a year in landed property, with an extra £60,000 in funds.

From 1839-40 Brasted Place served as a retreat for Prince Louis Napoleon, later Emperor Napoleon III. In August 1840, Louis Napoleon left Brasted with his retinue and sailed from Gravesend to Boulogne in the company of 56 armed men. However this initial coup failed, when he was arrested and taken prisoner on the beach at Boulogne.

In 1853 the house was sold along with the surrounding estate to William Tipping for £20,000. Tipping undertook many alterations and improvements to the house, estate and Brasted village. He rebuilt nearby cottages and roads, and also made repairs to the somewhat neglected house. In around 1871 he constructed a new wing, built in the French chateau style to the designs of Alfred Waterhouse.

In the twentieth century, the house became a training centre for the Anglican Ministry, and then later served as the head office for Glen Lion PLC. In the 1990s it was converted into seven private apartments, which sympathetically maintained the original Adam design, avoiding the sub-division of rooms and with the great hall and central staircase maintained.

In the nineteenth and twentieth century Brasted Place underwent several alterations. The roof of the principal block was raised and dormer windows inserted to the south, and the domestic office wing was built up. An additional wing was introduced in around 1871, creating additional bedrooms and dressing rooms. King also notes a number of alterations to the exterior, with the balustraded parapet for the portico removed, along with the glazing bars for the windows.

Currently Brasted Place is divided in to private apartments, and minor element of eighteenth-century interiors remain in situ.

Letter from John Turton to Robert Adam, Adelphi 14th July 1788, Guildhall Library, MS. 3070; J. Cave-Browne, History of Brasted, its manor, parish and church, 1874, pp. 6, 16, 17; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, pp. 167-172; Index, pp. 4, 90; F.D. Ibbett & Co., Mosely, Card & Co., W. Levens & Son, ‘Catalogue for auction at The White Hart Hotel, Brasted- Brasted Place Near Sevenoaks Kent’, 20th September 1933; A. Rowan, Designs for Castles and Country Villas by Robert and James Adam, 1985, pp. 14-15, 38-42, 153, 155, pl. 8-10; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 5, 106, 131, 325, 425; Volume II, pp. 80, 106, 120, 122, 215, 257; Hillgrove, Homes and Savills, ‘Listings- Brasted Place’; ‘UK Market Review: London Country & Coastal Property’, Number 36, 2015; N. Moore, ‘Turton, John (1735-1806)’, oxforddnb.com; history.rcplondon.ac.uk (accessed January 2020)

With thanks to Dr. Imogen Wedd for her information relating to the Heath family.

Anna McAlaney 2022
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