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Wormleybury, Hertfordshire, executed designs for interiors and furniture, and designs for garden buildings, for Sir Abraham Hume, 1777-80 (24)

Sir Abraham Hume, 2nd Baronet, was born on 20th February 1749 at the Hume family’s London townhouse, 31 (later 17) Hill Street, Berkeley Square. The eldest son of Sir Abraham Hume, 1st Baronet (d. 1772) and his wife Hannah, 6th daughter of Sir Thomas Frederick. Hume was educated at Eton and from 1766 attended Trinity College, Cambridge.

Upon his father’s death in October 1772, Hume succeeded to the baronetcy, inheriting the family estate at Wormleybury, Hertfordshire and the London town house at Hill Street. The Hume family fortune had been made by Sir Abraham's uncle, a Director of the East India Company, who had acquired Wormleybury in 1739. Subsequently, upon the death of his cousin Elizabeth Robertson, Hume also inherited the family ancestral estate, Fernyside in Berwickshire.

Following his time at Cambridge, Hume briefly served in the Royal Navy, before standing as MP for Petersfield (1774-1780), and Hastings (1807-1818).

On the 25th April 1771 Hume married Amelia (1751-1809), the daughter of John Egerton, Bishop of Durham. They had two daughters, Amelia (1772-1837), who proved to be a gifted watercolourist, and Sophia (1787-1814).

Hume developed an exceptional art collection, which he began in the early 1770s. His acquisitions continued in earnest following a belated Grand Tour made in 1788, with his wife and eldest daughter. Whilst in Italy, Hume formed an acquaintance with the art dealer Giovanni Maria Sasso through whom, along with the dealer Giovanni Antonio Armano, he purchased many of his Italian pieces. Hume also had a keen interest in the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Flemish School, collecting a number of works by Rubens and Van Dyck. A catalogue of Hume’s collection published in 1829 lists a total of 171 paintings, largely Italian and Flemish, and with relatively few English and French pieces. The collection was eventually dispersed at Christies throughout the twentieth century. Two works from Hume’s collection, Van Dyck’s ‘Portrait of a woman and child’ and Titan’s ‘The death of Actaeon’, are now held by the National Gallery.

Hume also made a significant contribution to the field of natural history, and amassed a notable collection of minerals and precious stones. He was a founding member of the Geological Society, serving as vice-president from 1809-1813, and for his significant contributions to the field he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in December 1775, going on to become its senior fellow.

Hume died at Wormleybury on 24th March 1838. He was buried at the church of St Laurence, Wormley, alongside his wife Amelia, where there is dedicated a monument and portrait bust.

The Hume family’s estates at Wormleybury and Fernyside were acquired by Alexander Hume, (d. 1766), the elder brother of Sir Abraham Hume, 1st Baronet. Alexander Hume greatly improved the family’s prospects, amassing wealth working for the East India Company, rising to the role of Director in Canton. Following his inheritance of the Wormleybury estate in 1766, Abraham Hume, 1st Baronet commissioned Scottish architect Robert Mylne to rebuild the house. Originally built in 1734, Mylne’s designs for its reconstruction date from 1767 and are currently held within the collections of the RIBA. Following the death of his father, Sir Abraham Hume, 2nd Baronet commissioned Robert Adam to make significant alterations to its interiors, alongside a commission for his town house in Hill Street. As the two projects were executed almost concurrently, with work at Wormleybury undertaken from 1777-80, and at Hill Street from 1778-80, it is difficult to ascertain the intended location for some of the designs. In particular there are several drawings for ornamental panels which are simply assigned to Sir Abraham Hume. As a number of these designs appear to have been intended for the drawing rooms at Hill Street, they have been catalogued under the Hill Street scheme. It is possible however, that some of the designs may have been for Wormleybury. Similarly there are a number of designs for table slabs, with SM Adam volumes 17/39-42 quite possibly intended for Hill Street. However SM Adam volumes 17/36-38 equally may have been designed for either property.

It is also worth noting Adam’s designs intended for the grounds at Wormleybury, where the gardens were celebrated for their exceptional collection of rare and exotic plants, with particular specimens from India and the East. Sir Abraham Hume and his wife Amelia were passionate gardeners, and Adam was commissioned to design a number of buildings for the grounds, including a garden seat, pavilion and interiors for a dressing room to an adjoining bath. King suggests that these designs were not carried out. However archaeological evidence noted by Historic England records the presence of stone work to the south-west of the house, adjacent to a spring, which is suggested would have provided a suitable site for the bath house and adjacent dressing room complex. It is therefore possible that at least one of Adam’s designs for the grounds at Wormleybury was indeed executed.

The house at Wormleybury now forms several private residences and a number of the interiors designed by Adam, including those for the hall and great staircase, survive intact and in situ.

See also: 31 (now 17) Hill Street, London

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index pp. 31, 76; E. Harris, The Furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, p. 52; A. Rowan, Robert Adam, 1988, no. 148; K. Powell ‘Property market’, Country Life, 8th July 1993, p. 71; E. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam: His interiors, 2001, p. 342 n77; D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 16, 23, 26-28, 127, 225, 250-251, 257-259, 294; Volume II, pp. 170, 177, 183-84, 210, 226; ‘Hume, Sir Abraham, ‘2nd Bt. (1749-1838), of Wormleybury, Herts.’ historyofparlimentonline.org; C. Lloyd ‘Sir Abraham Hume, 2nd Bt’ 2004, oxforddnb.com; ‘Wormleybury, Bronxbourne’, historicengland.org.uk; nationaltrustcollections.org.uk / object / 436057; www.nationalgallery.org.uk / archive / record / NGA8 – Sir Abraham Hume correspondence, accessed May 2018

Anna McAlaney, 2018
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