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Roxburghe House, Hanover Square, London, designs for a house and interiors for John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, c1775-79 (55)

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, of Floors Castle, Kelso and 8 Hanover Square, was born on 23 April 1740 at the family’s London residence. The eldest child of Robert Ker, 2nd Duke of Roxburghe and his wife Essex, neé Mostyn (d. 1764), John succeeded to the title in 1755 whilst still a schoolboy at Eton. Famed for his extraordinary book collection, the Duke was a close friend of George III, with whom he shared his great love of books.

Whilst travelling in his youth, Ker developed a close friendship with Christiana Sophia Albertina, the eldest daughter of the Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The young couple’s engagement was announced, however in September 1761, George III married Charlotte, Christiana’s younger sister. Due to political complications Ker’s intended marriage could no longer take place. Despite society recognising him as one of the most agreeable and handsome of men, he never married. Hillyard notes the Duke’s acquaintance with Sir Walter Scott, who stated of Ker that his ‘Youthful misfortunes… had cast an early shade of gloom over his prospects, and given to one so splendidly endowed with the means of enjoying society that degree of reserved melancholy which prefers retirement to the splendid scenes of gaiety’.

Ker spent time travelling in Italy, visiting Florence, Rome and Naples. The National Galleries of Scotland holds a splendid Batoni portrait of the Duke completed in Rome in 1761.

In 1768 Ker was created Knight of the Thistle and in 1801 Knight of the Garter.

In 1795 the Duke purchased a new London residence, 13 St. James’s Square, which held his extensive library.

At his townhouse, on 19 March 1804, Ker died and was later buried at Bowden. In 1812, across a total of 42 days, the sale of his extraordinary 30,000-strong book collection took place. The sale raised more than £23,000 and included the sale of his Valdarfer Boccacio which made £2,260 alone, a record at the time for the greatest sum raised for a single book. In recognition of the event the Roxburghe Club was formed in his memory.

Roxburghe House (later Harewood House) was built from c1720 for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe. Hanover Square, along with neighbouring Cavendish Square, was first laid out in 1718 for the purpose of creating fashionable new residences. The principal southern façade of the house overlooked Hanover Square and the western façade extended the whole length of what is now Harewood Place.

In 1776 the 3rd Duke employed Adam to make some exterior and interior alterations to the house. From photographic evidence we can ascertain some of the executed alterations. On the ground storey an arcade was introduced, setting the windows within relieving arches. Above, on the first and second stories, a uniform row of Ionic pilasters were applied. King notes that Adam’s façade designs rarely introduce uniformity in this way, a technique reserved solely for his townhouse schemes, as can also be seen at 20 St James’s Square. The building was surmounted by a balustrade, possibly another Adam alteration, and a guilloche string course was set between the first and second storeys. Curved, wrought iron balconies were also introduced and a curved bay window was added to the western façade. Although Godfrey notes the Adam design is for a two-storey bay window, and surviving photographs show the bow as three stories in height, it is possible that this was extended at a later date.

King notes that on execution the scheme for the exterior was somewhat simplified. The Corinthian pilasters intended for the façade were replaced with an Ionic order and the proposed rustication for the ground storey level is omitted. The design for the south front includes a more elaborate string course, but on execution the more modest string course designed for the western façade was applied to the whole scheme. The fanlight which Adam designed for the front door survives, and as King notes, it is an exquisite piece.

It is not known whether the proposed scheme for the offices, with a new courtyard and internal façade, was executed. Adam did, however, construct a stable block to the north.

A number of ceiling designs for the house are known to have been executed. These included the ceilings for the ground floor ante room, the dining room and the first, second and third drawing rooms. King notes that the ceiling for the first drawing room was modified on execution, and records the presence of a ‘pleasant’ hall ceiling, which was possibly another Adam design. King highlights evidence for additional plasterwork interiors which were possibly part of the Adam scheme, including ornamental wall panels for the dining room and staircase, with the dining room panels comparing to the office’s contemporary designs for Wormleybury.

Roxburghe House was demolished c1908.

W.H. Godfrey, ‘Harewood House, Hanover Square’, Architectural Review, 1915, pp. 113-115; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 39-40, 86; ‘Important Silver’, Sotheby’s, New York, 1997, p.118; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 10, 13, 264, 292-94, pl. 361, pl. 414; ‘Designs for alterations to Roxburghe House (later Harewood House), Hanover Square, London’, www.architecture.com; ‘Hanover Square and neighbourhood’, Old and New London: Volume 4, ed. E. Walford, 1878, pp.314-326, www.british-history.ac.uk; ‘Harewood House, 8 Hanover Square, London’, www.historicengland.org.uk; B. Hillyard, ‘Ker, John, third Duke of Roxburghe (1740-1804)’, 2004, www.oxforddnb.com; www.nationalgalleries.org; ‘John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe (1740-1804)’, www.npg.org.uk; ‘Elizabeth Home Countess of Home, formerly Lawes (nee Gibbons)’ www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs (accessed December 2020)

Anna McAlaney, 2020
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