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Wyke House, Syon Hill, Isleworth, designs for a house for John Robinson, unexecuted (23)

John Robinson was born at Appleby, Westmorland on 15 July 1727, the eldest son of merchant Charles Robinson (d. 1728) and Hannah (nee Deane). He was educated at Appleby Grammar School and later, at the age of 17, he was apprenticed to his uncle, Richard Wordsworth (the grandfather of the poet William Wordsworth). Wordsworth was an attorney based in Westmorland, and Steward of the Lowther Estate. In 1751 Robinson was made joint Steward alongside his uncle and by 1760 he was appointed sole Steward, acting as Sir James Lowther’s principal agent.

In April 1758 Robinson married Mary Crowe (1733-1805), the daughter of the Caribbean merchant Nathaniel Crowe. The following year their only child, Mary, was born. She would subsequently marry Henry Nevil, Earl of Abergavenny.

Robinson began his political career supporting Lowther’s interests for Westmorland, where he was elected MP in January 1764. In February 1770 he was appointed Secretary to the Treasury on Lowther’s recommendation and until 1772 Robinson continued to support Lowther politically. In 1773 a bitter feud arose between the two men which almost resulted in a duel. Following this Robinson abandoned his Westmorland constituency and in 1774 he was returned as MP for Harwich. In the years following Robinson sold off his northern properties, with the exception of his estate at Winder, to Lord Thanet. He would remain MP for Harwich until his death in 1802.

Robinson’s role within the Treasury, which he held until 1782, involved the development of the administration surrounding the East India Company. During the American War of Independence and the failing of the North administration, Robinson found himself in the role as adviser to the King. The King increasing relied on reports from Robinson regarding North’s behaviour with particular information supplied concerning the extent of the Prime Minister’s financial difficulties. Robinson had been a keen supporter of North, and North held Robinson in particular regard, securing for him a pension of £1,000 a year. However Robinson’s support was waning and in January 1784 he abstained from a vote against Pitt’s East India Bill. As a result North broke off their friendship and on the fall of the administration Robinson lost his appointment to the Treasury.

In 1786 Pitt secured Robinson the post of Surveyor of Woods and Forests, a role which he actively pursued planting over 20,000 oak trees in Windsor Forest alone. In this Robinson sought to improve Britain’s timber resources and as a result expand its naval prospects.

Robinson was considered industrious and in 1780 The English Chronicle described him as:

‘a man of clear understanding, consummate knowledge in the general line of commercial information, and of indefatigable attention to every subject that comes under his consideration’

He was heavily satirised in the cartoons of the day and also featured in The Rolliad. Robinson also gained a reputation for bribery. When Richard Brinsley Sheridan led his campaign against the practice and its prevalence within the House of Commons he was asked to name those involved to which he responded ‘Yes, I could name him as soon as I could say Jack Robinson.’

Robinson died on 23 December 1802, succumbing to a stroke and was buried on 2 January 1803 in Isleworth. His wife Mary died at Wyke House two years later and was buried alongside her husband. Robinson’s will, dating to April 1802, records his estates at Wyke and Winder, alongside lands held in Isleworth, Heston and Egham. He left a legacy to be donated to the poor of Isleworth alongside a request that the vicar of All Saints Church, Isleworth preach a sermon on charity in his memory. Robinson was also a benefactor of the Green and Blue schools in Isleworth. The will passed the majority of his estates on to his son-in-law Henry Nevil, Earl of Abergavenny.

The estate of Wyke is first recorded in 1444 and by 1537 it was linked to the lands surrounding Syon Abbey. Ten years later, in 1547, ‘Wyke Farm’ is recorded as consisting of 104 acres of land to either side of Wyke Lane (now Syon Lane). By 1570 the estate was in the hands of Sir Thomas Gresham and it is possible he acquired the land around the time he also took up Osterley. In the seventeenth century the estate passed into the Wynn family who sold it to Joshua Fletcher in 1724. Subsequently, in 1755, it was purchased by William Baker, at which time it is recorded as 140 acres of land. In 1778 Robinson purchased the estate from Baker but was called upon in the House of Commons to explain his new acquisition. It was established that the Wyke estate was bought following the sale of Robinson’s northern estates for £23,000. The incident caused much embarrassment as it became apparent that the accusations made against Robinson were wholly unfounded and the matter was dropped.

Adam’s proposed schemes for Wyke date to 1778-79, coinciding with Robinson’s new acquisition and contemporary with the Adam designs produced for Robinson’s villa at Harwich. It is possible that the Adam office was known to Robinson through the schemes produced for Sir James Lowther’s estates and Robert Adam would have been known to Robinson when the architect was MP for Kinross-shire.

None of the schemes to which the surviving drawings relate were executed, however a two-storey brick extension was constructed to the north of the existing house which is considered a possible Adam addition. No drawings for this scheme survive. The new block of buildings principally concerned additional domestic offices arranged around courtyards, but also included a dining room. King notes that the dining room contained an ornamental ceiling and a Corinthian screen ornamented with ram head volutes. King compares the composition to that of the eating room at 20 St James’s Square and Rowan considers the addition as part of a fifth Adam scheme for which no drawings survive. King, however, notes a number of uncharacteristic features including the arrangement of the domestic offices and suggests the possibility that the extension was carried out at a later date to earlier designs. However an account dating to 1795 indicates that significant alterations had been executed at an earlier date by Robinson:

‘the present proprietor, who resides upon the estate in a handsome villa, modernised and improved since his purchase of the manor.’

Following the death of Robinson’s widow Mary, Wyke Manor was sold to the Earl of Jersey. By 1827 the house was converted into a school, but by the mid-nineteenth century it was taken over by an asylum. The house was eventually demolished in 1977 following an earlier fire.

See also: Harwich House, Essex (SM Adam volume 37/81-87)

D. Lysons, The Environs of London: Volume 3, County of Middlesex, 1795, pp. 79-122; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Index, pp. 17, 18, 85; S. Reynolds (ed.) Heston and Isleworth Manors- A history of the County of Middlesex, Volume 3: Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell, Sunbury, Teddington, Heston and Isleworth, Twickenham etc., 1962, pp. 103-111; A. Rowan, Designs for Castles and Country Villas by Robert and James Adam, 1985, pp. 15, 16, 20, 54, 130, pl. 16; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 381, 391; Volume II, pp. 23-24, 80-81, 134, 183-84, 210, 226, pls. 28-29, 224; ‘ Robinson, John (1727-1802), of Isleworth, Mdx.’, www.historyofparliamentonline.org; J. Cannon ‘Robinson, John (1727-1802)’, www.oxforddnb.com ; ‘History of The Green School’, www.tgsgirls.com; ‘Copy will of John Robinson of Wyke House, Syon Hill, Isleworth, Middlesex, esq (father of Mary, wife of Henry Nevill, Earl of Abergavenny)’, ABE/ 20X, discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk (accessed February 2020)

Anna McAlaney, February 2020
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