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Luton Park, designs for a house and interiors including an organ case for John Crichton Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, c1763-72 (56)

John Crichton Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute was born in Edinburgh on 25 May 1713, the eldest son of James, 2nd Earl of Bute (1690-1723) and his wife Lady Anne Campbell, the only daughter of Archibald, 1st Duke of Argyll. Following the premature death of his father, John Stuart succeeded to the title and family estates at nine years of age. Young Bute was entrusted to the guardianship of his maternal uncles, the Duke of Argyll and Earl of Islay from whom Bute gained his pro-Hanoverian stance. In 1724 Bute was sent to Eton and then went on to study law at the University of Leiden, where he received his degree in 1732. Four years later on 24 August 1736 he married Mary Wortley Montagu (1718-1794) the only daughter of Edward and Mary Wortley Montagu, the writer and ardent campaigner for the development of the smallpox vaccination. The marriage combined the Wortley and Bute estates, ultimately raising the Earl to one of the wealthiest men in Britain. Their marriage was seen to be a successful and happy one and they went on to have five sons and six daughters. Their eldest daughter Lady Mary was married to Sir James Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale. That marriage was a famously volatile and unhappy affair, eventually resulting in the couple’s separation.

Bute began his political career in August 1737. Following his return from Leiden University he was elected a Scottish representative peer and on 10 July 1738 he was presented with the Order of the Thistle. Initially this new found interest in politics looked to be short-lived when his failure to gain re-election in 1741 led to his premature retirement. Bute withdrew to his ancestral home on the Isle of Bute, where he continued to pursue his studies and personal interests. However, following the Jacobite rising of 1745, Bute made the decision to relocate to London.

Following an introduction at the Egham races in 1747, Bute became a firm favourite of Frederick, Prince of Wales. The two men possessed a great shared passion for architecture, music, scientific innovation and botany. With Bute’s assistance Prince Frederick began the cultivation of plants in the grounds at Kew, including the introduction of a number of exotics, laying the foundations for the botanical gardens. Bute became a central figure in the Leicester House circle, where the Prince had formed his alternative court and a home for opposition politics. In October 1750 Bute was appointed Lord of the Bedchamber, but the Prince died the following March.

Following Prince Frederick’s death Bute was to prove instrumental as an adviser and confidant to the Prince’s widow, the Dowager Princess Augusta. Their relationship was much satirised, but together Augusta and Bute continued the cultivation of the gardens at Kew, commissioning Sir William Chambers for the design and execution of numerous buildings including the orangery, pagoda and several temples. In 1755 the Earl leased a house on Kew Green from which he could oversee the ongoing works.

Perhaps most significantly Bute would perform a vital role in the education of the Princess’s young family, in particular serving as a tutor to the young Prince of Wales, the future George III. In this role Bute developed the future monarch’s interests, instilling a passion for the collecting of books, scientific instruments and paintings, alongside a deep interest in agricultural development. Bute significantly influenced the young Prince’s political stance, educating him in several of the principles of the Leicester House circle and when George III became King, he initially relied heavily on Bute, deferring to him in all matters.

With his young charges accession, Bute was seen to rise rapidly and was appointed to the Privy Council just two days into the new reign. Five months later, on 25 March 1761, the Earl was appointed Secretary of State, with Lady Bute made Baroness Mount Stuart of Wortley less than a fortnight later. This sudden elevation caused much concern and alarm, and was seen as a clear indication of Bute’s excessive influence over the young King. In protest to Bute’s rise, Pitt the Elder resigned in October 1761. However, in his new role Bute would prove competent and in particular he played a key part in the Anglo-French peace negotiations of 1761. Bute’s peace treaty, which sought to end the Seven Years War (1756-63), proved unpopular as he was seen to abandon Britain’s alliance with Prussia. As a result the Duke of Newcastle resigned in May 1762.

Following this resignation Bute became First Lord of the Treasury and at the head of government he was able to steer his treaty through both Houses of Parliament. Bute’s tenure as Prime Minister lasted less than a year, with the Earl resigning from government in April 1763. At the time he was suffering from ill-health and found himself undermined by his increasing unpopularity, which had grown considerably following the controversial cider tax. The King was reluctant to accept his resignation and continued to seek Bute’s advice in the immediate years following his retirement. However Bute’s relationship with the King was significantly damaged in 1766 when George III formed an alliance with Pitt the Elder, allowing for Pitt’s return to office.

Bute was a keen patron of the arts, architecture and sciences. He was seen to promote both Sir William Chambers and Robert Adam, alongside writers Samuel Jonhson and Thomas Sheridan, and the painter Allan Ramsay. He was a patron of both Edinburgh and Glasgow universities and played an active role in the establishment of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens. He made significant donations to Aberdeen University which included 1,300 scientific volumes, additions for their museum at Marischal College, and money and instruments for the development of the university’s observatory.

Following complications arising from a fall Bute died at his London home in South Audley Street on 10 March 1792. He was buried at the family estate at Rothesay, Isle of Bute on 2 April.

Following his retirement from politics in 1763 Bute sought a new home outside of London, but he was intent on remaining close by. On the recommendation of Lord Harcourt, Bute considered the estate at Wittenham in Berkshire, but settled on Luton Park which he purchased from Francis Herne MP for £84,500. The estate at Luton Park predates the Norman Conquest, with the Hoo family recorded as the earliest landowners. In 1601 the property was purchased by Sir Robert Napier and a seventeenth-century brick manor house was built by the Napier family. It was this house which Bute purchased from Mr Herne in 1762. The older building and its surrounding parkland are recorded in the 1765 watercolours of Paul Sandby, which predates the substantial alterations made by Robert Adam and Capability Brown.

Bute commissioned Adam to design a house for his new estate which would ultimately replace the earlier seventeenth-century manor. The project was begun in 1764 when Adam produced for the earl a castle-style scheme intended to adapt and alter the pre-existing manor house (SM Adam 21/24, 37/41-46). Russell argues that this initial scheme was likely rejected as inadequate. It is the smallest of Adam’s Luton schemes and only contained two book rooms which proved insufficient for the earl’s extensive library.

Thus began a complex design history for the Luton estate, with several successive schemes produced, with Adam’s final scheme provisionally approved but ultimately, only part-executed.

Following on from the early castle-style design Adam produced two classical schemes dating to 1766 and 1767 (SM Adam volume 39/31-3 and 39/24-6). The two schemes are closely related, forming a five-block house with quadrant link blocks. King compares the designs to those proposed for Lowther Hall, although on a reduced scale.

The next scheme produced was for a square house designed around a large courtyard (SM Adam volume 39/27-30). King considers this scheme to be flawed as it positions all domestic quarters overlooking the internal court, with the principal rooms running the length of the building’s exterior and as a result provided with only one aspect.

The final and part-executed scheme consisted of two main storeys for the principal fronts, with an attic storey introduced in the north and south end façades. The entrance façade was to be positioned to the west and the scheme incorporated an extensive suite of book-rooms for the Earl’s library. Russell argues that one of the attractions of this particular scheme may have been the possibilities for constructing in phases, with sections of the seventeenth-century manor house retained in the earlier stages.

Construction began in 1767 and Bute’s accounts at Coutts records a steady flow of payments made from 1769 until the summer of 1773. As well as payments to the Adam office the records note a number of the craftsmen involved in the project, including the plasterer Joseph Rose, the carver Sefferin Nelson and Thomas Carter and Mrs Coade for the production of statuary.

Bute himself was heavily involved in the design process it seems, taking an interest in minute details such as the capitals employed in the saloon screens, and the number and functionality of the water closets.

Bute may have intended to carry out Adam’s scheme in its entirety, but following the first phase of construction he lost interest in the project and, after spending upwards of £100,000 on improving Luton Park, was left with an unfinished house. Adam was only able to oversee the construction of the south front through to its completion. Three southern bays of the western wing were also completed, but the north wing was abandoned entirely.

To ascertain what was executed of the Adam scheme we must look to contemporary accounts of the house, and in particular a letter written by Mrs Delany dating to 1774 which proves vital to our understanding of the layout of Bute’s incomplete house. Here she recorded that to enter the building visitors approached through the western entrance of the old manor house, in which the parlour and large dining room remained. From here the route continued into the wing of the new house with its large drawing room and fine saloon containing large bow windows. From this Bolton ascertains that only the garden front and the south wing containing the library were built by 1774. The account indicates that the old house occupied the site of Adam’s intended hall and that the northern wing which Adam designed for the dining room and drawing room had been completely omitted. The house itself was not completed until 1830.

Our understanding of Adam’s work at Luton Park is limited by its part-execution and this is further hindered by the lack of surviving material relating to its interiors, as most were destroyed in the fire of November 1843. Once again the best evidence comes from contemporary accounts alongside the plates produced for The Works.

Most significant of Adam’s work at Luton was the library designed for the Earl’s extensive collection of 30,000 books. The library occupied the entire ground floor of the south wing, the only section to be fully completed. The library was 144ft in length and 20ft high, which was to prove the largest permanent room designed by Adam. This was only exceeded by the 200ft supper room produced for the temporary pavilion at The Oaks, Carshalton in 1774. No drawings for the library wall scheme survive, but we do have a detailed account of the space recorded by Mrs Delany:

‘It is in effect, three or five rooms, one very large one well-proportioned in the middle, each end divided off by pillars… a large square room at each end, which when the doors are open, make it appear one large room or gallery…. I never saw so magnificent and so pleasant a library extremely well lighted and nobly furnished’.

There do survive two variant drawings for the library ceiling (SM Adam volume 12/20-21), both five-part designs which King compares to the three-part ceiling design for the library at Mellerstain. Although we cannot know if SM Adam volume 12/21 was executed, Mrs Delany’s account describing the suite being divided into five parts would suggest this, or another variant ceiling design was carried out.

Adam’s design for the saloon included the incorporation of two colonnaded screens. King highlights this as unusual for such a space, with screens often reserved for halls, staircases and dining rooms. The saloon is recorded as having a fine ceiling and Plate VI in The Works gives a detail from the Corinthian screen capital. Here we once again see the Earl’s influence over the design process, as it is based on a drawing of an antique capital which Bute acquired travelling in Italy.

Mrs Delany’s account also records a coved ceiling in the large drawing room, a room for which pl. VIII of The Works informs us several pedestals were designed to support candelabra of the modern style, also purchased by the Earl in Italy.

Adam also installed a staircase which King presumes was set within the southern wing. Pl. VI of The Works records the use of columnar screens for the staircase with a new form of capital designed. The plate highlights how their original capital design has been imitated by others, with particular reference to the Pantheon in Oxford Street.

Mrs Delany also makes reference to five complete apartments in the upper level, for which visitors must ascend 42 stone steps. She records one apartment for the use of Lord and Lady Bute, with four others reserved for the use of visitors. Above this, at the attic storey level, she states there were further completed apartments, with some reserved for the use of servants. Pl. VII of The Works also records the ceiling executed in Lady Bute’s dressing room, with the stucco work undertaken by Joseph Rose and the paintings completed by Antonio Zucchi. In her account Mrs Delany makes particular reference to the ceilings, describing them as ‘elegant and not loaded with ornament’. She also refers to the chimneypieces as ‘in good taste’.

One of the most significant pieces of furniture designed by Adam for Bute was a case for a remarkable clockwork organ. The 1763 designs for the case (SM Adam volume 25/4-5) predate Adam’s numerous schemes for the new house and are for an instrument that was begun in 1762. The two variant designs are closely related and as King states there is little doubt that a design by Adam was executed, with the piece completed in 1763. The instrument was a piece of some significance, a vast clockwork organ which was said to play for an hour and a half with one wind. The piece was built by Christopher Pinchbeck and John Snetzler with 58 barrels produced for the machine. John Langshaw was employed to pin the barrels and the music was selected and arranged by John Christopher Smith, including pieces by Handel, Corelli and Vivaldi. Sadly the instrument was destroyed in the fire at Luton Park in 1843. Initially installed in Bute's seventeenth-century manor house, several of Adam’s plans for the later building schemes give careful thought to the organ’s location in the new house. Interestingly, one drawing (SM Adam volume 39/29) records a room specifically for the storage of ‘Organ Barrills’. In a separate scheme narrow storage rooms behind the music/picture gallery are marked with circular barrels in pencil (SM Adam volume 39/32b). Cumming’s catalogue of the organ records the barrels to have each been 4ft in length and 18 inches in diameter.

From 1764 Bute also employed Capability Brown to improve the landscape at Luton Park, for which Brown was paid in excess of £11,000.

Two schemes by Adam for a new stable block survive (SM Adam volume 39/37, 39-40). King notes the survival of a two-storey, eighteenth-century stable block with a pediment and Tuscan pilasters. The central block is flanked by link blocks similar to the unexecuted schemes, but these are two storeys in height. King considers the additional storey for the link blocks may have been introduced in the nineteenth century and compares the design to an Adam scheme produced for another client (SM Adam volume 41/34). As a result it is likely that the surviving stable block was executed to a third, unknown Adam scheme. This is further suggested by the surviving five-bay building to the rear of the stable block, as a five bay block is included in both of the Adam plans.

Also within the Luton Park estate there were known to be two castle-style entrance arches, one of which was demolished in 1900 and the other in the 1950s. Photographic evidence for the former remains, recording a two-storey, three-bay building with an archway set in the central bay. Traditionally the arches were attributed to Adam and King considers the possibility that they may have been part of an early phase of works by the architect, relating to Adam’s first castle-style scheme for the house.

The complex history of Adam’s work at Luton Park continued into the nineteenth century when in c1825, the 2nd Marquess of Bute (great-grandson of the Earl) employed Robert Smirke to complete the project. What remained of the seventeenth-century house was demolished and new north and west wings were constructed. Smirke was particularly faithful to the earlier Adam designs, it seems, settling for an adaption of Adam’s penultimate scheme as the basis of his own work. The house was finally completed around 1830.

Following the disastrous fire of 1843 the Bute family sold the house and its surrounding estates. Luton Park was purchased by John Shaw Leigh, a lawyer from Liverpool who would employ Smirke’s younger brother Sydney to repair the house.

In 1903 Luton Park was sold to diamond merchant Julius Wernher who employed architects Charles Mewés and Arthur Davis for substantial alterations. At this time King notes that first floor rooms were introduced across the south porch and the house was given a new mansard roof. The house was opened to the public in 1950 and in 1981 the Luton Hoo Foundation Trust was established by Nicholas Phillips. Following the death of Phillips, the estate was put up for sale and in 1999 it was purchased by Elite Hotels. After extensive renovations Luton Park was converted into a hotel with a spa and golf course, which opened in 2007.

See also: Bute (Lansdowne) House, Berkeley Square (SM Adam volume 39/47-49, 21/82)

The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, 1862 (ed.), Volume II, p. 33; The works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Esquires, 1778, Vol I, Part III, pls. I-VIII; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, pp. 65-71, Volume II, Index pp. 21-22, 64; W. Malloch, ‘The Earl of Bute’s Machine Organ: A Touchstone of Taste’, Early Music, Vol. II, No. 2 (April 1983), pp. 172-183; F. Russell, ‘Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire – I’, Country Life, Jan 16, 1992, pp. 44-47; M. Hall, ‘Luton Hoo, Bedfordshire – II’, Country Life, Jan 23, 1992, pp. 50-53; Lutton Hoo: The Wernher Collection, 1996; Russell, Francis. ‘The prospect before him.’ Country Life, June 6th, 1996, pp. 70-71; ‘British Drawings and Watercolours at Christie’s London’, Christies publication, January-July 1996; ‘Views of Luton Park by Paul Sandby, R.A.’, British Watercolours from the Bute Collection - Christies, 3 July 1996, pp. 6-7; Mallalieu, Huon. ‘Around the Salesrooms.’ Country Life, Sept. 5, 1996, pp. 72-73; Whitworth, Damian, ‘Luton Hoo for sale at £25m to clear debts’, The Times, Sept. 13, 1997, p. 5; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 8, 9, 12,16, 18, 22, 105, 119-23, 122 n.20, 123, n.21, 161, 236, 262 n.12, 344, 379, 397, 402, 409, 411, pls. 17, 155-, 566, 491; Volume II, pp. 11, 18, 29, 79, 80, 85-88, 94, 100, 131, 132, 138, 163, 170, 183, 184, 222, 230, 272, 275, pls. 87-89; C. Aslet, ‘Review- John, 3rd Earl of Bute, Patron and Collector – Francis Russell’, Country Life, June 3, 2004, pp.168-69; S. Groom and L. Prosser, Kew Palace, 2006, pp. 52, 57; ‘Luton Hoo’s last effects go on sale’, Country Life, Jan 22, 2014, p. 25; ‘Lady Mary Lowther 1740-1824, self-portrait’ Lowell Libson catalogue, 2016, pp. 34-37; ‘Barometer and hygrometer/thermometer, c1787’, www.mallettantiques.com; K. Wolfgang Schweizer, ‘Stuart, John, third earl of Bute (1713-1792), 8 Oct 2009, www.oxforddnb.com; ‘Stuart, John, 3rd earl of Bute (1713-92)’, www.historyofparliamentonline.org; ‘John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute’, www.npg.org.uk; A. Thompson ‘John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute’, 28 Jan 2015, www.history.blog.gov.uk; www.lutonhoo.co.uk (accessed January 2021)

Anna McAlaney, 2021
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