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Stanage Park, Powys: designs for a house for Thomas Johnes, 1780, unexecuted (9)

Thomas Johnes (1748-1816) was an agriculturist and translator, known for his landscape work on his estate at Hafod and his many translations of medieval French chronicles. He was born of Welsh heritage, in Ludlow, the son of Thomas Johnes, of Llanfair Clydogau and Croft Castle, and Elizabeth, née Knight. Johnes was educated at Eton College before attending the University of Edinburgh from 1766-68 where he made friends with the leading literary figures of the time. Whilst studying at the University of Edinburgh, he lodged with Robert Adam's brother-in-law, Reverend Dr John Drysdale, and participated in a tour of the Highlands with Drysdale and Adam’s nephew, William Adam. It is possible that it is through these two close acquaintances that Johnes was introduced to Adam.

Johnes returned from his Grand Tour in which he was accompanied by Robert Liston, in 1771 and soon took a minor role in politics, sitting as MP for the borough of Cardigan in 1774. He was then elected for three terms in Radnorshire and five terms in Cardiganshire. Despite this, he generally avoided active political involvement, other than his support for Catholic emancipation and political reform. His offices included Lord Lieutenant of Cardiganshire, Colonel of the Cardigan Militia, Auditor of the Land Revenue in Wales; he was also elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1800.

In 1779 he married Maria, daughter of the Reverend Henry Burgh, of Park Lettice, Monmouthshire. A year later his father died, and he resigned from his seat in Cardiganshire. Johnes then bought an estate in Stanage, Powys with the intention of building a house there to designs by Robert Adam (SM Adam volumes 1/181 & 48/66-73) but this was never executed. Maria died without producing an heir in 1782. Johnes married his cousin, Jane, in 1783 and they moved to his estate at Hafod, Cardiganshire and embarked on a major restoration project following ‘picturesque’ principles, as influenced by his cousin, Richard Payne Knight, of Downton Castle. As part of this, he sought to improve the impoverished farming population and initiate a local society for the improvement of agriculture.

His many publications including A Cardiganshire Landlord's Advice to his Tenants (1800) and Froissart’s Chronicles (1803-5), were printed on his own press. In his later life and owing to his extensive expenditure, Johnes struggled financially and was forced to dispose of his properties over time, including Stanage and Croft Castle. He retired to his property in Devon, Langstone Cliff Cottage, and died there in 1816.

In 1780, Robert Adam was asked to make designs for a new house at Stanage Park for Johnes. The surviving Adam office designs comprise an attractive, two-storey, neo-classical house, over a basement, with a ramped carriage entrance and porte-cochere, a roof-lit central grand staircase, and a rear balustraded bow to the ground (basement) floor. It does not appear that these designs were executed, with Johnes focusing on his estate at Hafod instead.

Johnes sold the Stanage estate to Charles Rogers who built a castle-style house in 1803-7, and the extensive parkland was laid out to designs by Humphry Repton and his son John Repton. The new picturesque castle was specifically modelled on Payne Knight’s Downton Castle, Herefordshire, and the designs for the parkland survive in one of Repton’s ‘Red Books’.

It should be noted that Bolton refers to the drawings for Stanage House as numbered: SM Adam volume 48/66-74, however, there is no drawing numbered SM Adam volume 48/74. This appears to be a case of misnumbering as the historic stitching in the volume shows no evidence of change and Bolton describes there being only eight drawings (two elevations, three sections and three plans), all of which are included and numbered SM Adam volume 48/66-73.

The Adam office also made unexecuted designs for a parish church for Johnes, possibly for his estate at Stanage or Hafod (SM Adam volumes 10/65 & 34/91-95). See: Possibly Stanage Park, Powys or Hafod House, Cardiganshire.

‘The Life of Thomas Johnes, Esquire of Hafod’, The Annual Biography and Obituary, for the Year 1817, Volume I, 1817, pp. 538-40; A.T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Volume II, Index, 1922, pp. 29, 77; D. King, The Complete Works of Robert & James Adam and Unbuilt Adam, Volume 2, 2001, pp. 23-4, 27, 58, 63, 67, 80, 134; R. J. Moore-Colyer, ‘Johnes, Thomas (1748-1816)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online, 2015 [accessed 15 January 2024]

Louisa Catt, 2024
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