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Aislabie House, 12 Grosvenor Square, record drawings for ceilings, for William Aislabie, pre 1781, possibly executed (2)

William Aislabie was born in 1700, possibly at the family estate of Studley Royal, near Ripon, Yorkshire. William was the son of John Aislabie (1670-1742), Chancellor of the Exchequer to George I (1718-21), and his first wife Anne (d.1700), the daughter of Sir William Rawlinson of Hendon.

In 1720 Aislabie took the Grand Tour, returning in 1721 to stand as MP for Ripon, a seat which he held for life. In May 1724 Aislabie married his first wife, Lady Elizabeth Cecil (d. 1733), the daughter of John Cecil, 6th Earl of Exeter. The couple had two sons and five daughters. Following the death of his first wife Aislabie was remarried in 1745 to Elizabeth Vernon (c1722-1780), the daughter of Sir Charles Vernon of Farnham, Surrey, with whom he had one son and one daughter.

The family came into difficulty following the infamous South Sea Bubble, in which Aislabie’s father John was implicated. John Aislabie was expelled from the House of Commons, charged with corruption and the implication that he had used the scheme to defraud the king of over £40,000. Later William attempted to redeem his father’s name, presenting evidence to George II, but he was unsuccessful.

Politically William Aislabie was seen to vote consistently against the Walpole administration. Later, from 1754, he gave his general support to the Duke of Newcastle’s administration, but he was always viewed as an independent. In 1738 he was appointed to the role of Auditor of Imprests, a position he held until his death in 1781. From 1768, as the longest serving member of the Commons, he was appointed Father of the House.

One of Aislabie’s true passions was landscape gardening, beginning with his first project at the Kirkby estate in Fleetham, which he acquired in 1724. His most significant work is considered to be the landscapes at Hackfall, the Aislabies' summer residence, seven miles from Studley. It was said of Aislabie that ‘the contemplation of the beauties of nature and rural occupations formed his chief and unceasing delight’.

He died 17 May 1781 at his townhouse 12 Grosvenor Square, with one of his daughters succeeding to his estates.

The development of Grosvenor Square, one of the largest squares in the west end of London, began in 1725 and was completed in around 1731. At least thirty builders were involved in the development of the fifty-one sites, with a number of plots subleased for development to carpenters, bricklayers, plasterers, and builders merchants. As a result there was a significant degree of variety in architecture, with the original price range for houses varying from £1,166 - £7,500.

Aislabie House at no. 12 Grosvenor Square was built in 1727-28, with the plot leased to timber merchant John Kitchingman. In 1729 the completed house was sold for £4,200 to John Aislabie and came to be known as Aislabie House. It was a Palladian structure with a façade reminiscent of Marble Hill, and may have been designed by Colen Campbell or Roger Morris, with both architects having been previously engaged at the Aislabie estate of Studley Royal in Yorkshire.

Within the collection there are two designs by Adam for ceilings at Aislabie House. Produced for William Aislabie, the drawings are undated but must predate the client’s death in 1781. The house was demolished in 1861, but two ceilings attributed to Adam were noted intact prior to demolition. Painted panels thought to be the work of Angelica Kaufmann were also noted. Pieces of the exterior ironwork and several of the painted ceiling panels from the first floor were preserved, but their current location is unknown.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 37, 60; F.H.W. Sheppard (ed.), ‘Grosvenor Square: Introduction’, Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair, Part 2, 1980, pp. 112-117; F.H.W. Sheppard (ed.), ‘Grosvenor Square: Individual Houses built before 1926’, Survey of London: Volume 40, the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair, Part 2, 1980, pp. 117-166; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume II, pp.180; M. Symes, ‘Aislabie, William (1699/1700-1781)’, May 2008, www.oxforddnb.com; J. Brooke, ‘Aislabie, William (?1699-1781), of Studley Royal, nr. Ripon, Yorks’, www.historyofparliamentonline.org (accessed February 2021)

Anna McAlaney, 2021
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