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Lowther Hall and village, Penrith, Cumberland: designs for a model village, and unexecuted designs for rebuilding Lowther Hall, a dairy, banqueting house, gateway and stables for Sir James Lowther, 5th Baronet, 1766-71 and 1785 (41)

James Lowther (1736-1802), was the eldest surviving son of Robert Lowther, of Maulds Meaburn, Westmorland, and a landowner in Barbados, whom he succeeded, aged nine, in 1745. Because various senior branches of the Lowther family had died out, by the time that James Lowther came of age in 1757, he was reputedly the wealthiest commoner in England, with an annual income of around £45,000. In 1751 he had inherited the Baronetcy of Lonsdale from his great uncle, the 3rd Viscount Lonsdale.

Sir James served as MP for Cumberland in 1757-61, 1762-68 and 1774-84, Westmorland in 1761-62, and Cockermouth in 1769-74. He also served as Lord Lieutenant of Westmorland from 1758, and Cumberland from 1759, and took various local, military and ecclesiastical offices. In 1784 he was created Baron Lowther of Lowther, Kendal and Burgh, Viscount of Lonsdale and Lowther, and Earl of Lonsdale.

Aged only 19, Sir James had boosted his wealth and political influence on his marriage in 1755 to Lady Mary Stuart (1740-1824), the daughter of the prime minister, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, and Mary Wortley Montagu. Bute was Robert Adam's earlier patron at Lansdowne House and Luton Hoo, doubtless explaining how he became acquainted with Lonsdale. The marriage was turbulent, and no children were born. By 1770 the couple were separated, and on his death in 1802, Lonsdale's wealth, estates and Viscountcy passed by special remainder to his cousin, Sir William Lowther, 2nd Baronet, of Swillington, Yorkshire.

Throughout his life Lonsdale was keen to influence politics and used his wealth to purchase burgage boroughs, and influence seats. This did not make him popular. Once a candidate had been supported by Lonsdale, he expected them to follow his instructions, and in 1763 his own brother was required to resign his seat for Westmorland, having voted incorrectly. Furthermore, Lonsdale had a reputation as a miser, particularly when it came to his tenants and retainers, and this was to be problematic for Robert Adam as he was never paid for the executed designs for Whitehaven Castle.

Despite this, Adam also made designs for Lonsdale at Lowther, both for the house, and the local village. Old Lowther village had been demolished in 1682 to open up the prospect from Lowther Hall. It was rebuilt as Lowther Newton on a nearby site from c1683 by another Sir James Lowther, and furnished with a carpet manufactory to provide employment for the residents. In 1766, Robert Adam was commissioned by Lonsdale - then still Sir James - to create a new design for Lowther village, adjacent to Lowther Newtown and the carpet manufactory. Sir James's motivations for this are unclear. The village does not appear to have served any financially beneficial purpose, and philanthropy was not in his nature. Adam's designs for the village provided a great many single-room cottages, with sleeping spaces in the lofts above, arranged into a circus flanked by Greek cross-shaped courts. It was partly built to a revised design in c1770-75, when around 90 cottages were executed, comprising around half of Adam's entire scheme.

Lowther village survives, although around 30 of the cottages were demolished at some time during the nineteenth century. It currently comprises a segmental circus, with two adjacent courts: one forming half of a Greek cross, and the other forming an open-ended rectangle. It has been suggested in a recent conservation area appraisal and management plan that the full circus had originally been built, but that one half of it - two quadrant ranges - have been demolished, and are now only represented by the tree line. The village was given to the local housing association in 1964, which conducted a programme of restoration, and amalgamated many of the cottages to form larger dwellings. It remains entirely residential.

One mile to the west of Lowther village is Lowther Hall (now Lother Castle). The house began as a twelfth-century pele tower, and was rebuilt in 1692-95, possibly to designs by William Talman (1650-1719). However, all but one wing was destroyed by fire in 1718. Unexecuted designs for rebuilding were made by Colen Campbell (1676-1729), and James Gibbs (1682-1754).

On Sir James's accession, various architects were commissioned to make designs for the long overdue rebuilding of Lowther Hall. These included unexecuted designs by Matthew Brettingham (1699-1769), George Dance the younger (1741-1825), and both Robert and James Adam. Various designs were produced by the Adam office between 1767 and 1771, even including a scheme to build a dairy, but nothing was executed. Moreover, in 1785 Robert Adam provided Lonsdale with designs for a banqueting house overlooking Ullswater, a gatehouse to the park and stables for Lowther Hall, but again, nothing was executed.

Work finally began on the burnt-out house in c1800, when an abortive scheme to rebuild began to designs by Francis Webster (1767-1827). Webster's work was unfinished on Lonsdale's death in 1802, and his cousin and heir, the 2nd Viscount - formerly Sir William Lowther, and later 1st Earl of Lonsdale, of the second creation - restarted the rebuilding programme to designs by Robert Smirke (1780-1867). The house - renamed Lowther Castle - was completed in 1811. Lowther Castle was abandoned following a sale of its contents on the death of the 5th Earl of Lonsdale in 1944, and in 1956 it was partly demolished. The Lowther estate remains in the possession of the 8th Earl of Lonsdale, although the substantial surviving portion of the house is now a ruin.

Within the Cumbria record office at Kendal there are two Adam office drawings for Lowther Village, both dated 1766, and at Carlisle there are various Adam office drawings for Lowther Hall. These include plans and elevations, designs by both Robert and James Adam for the house, and the dairy, all comparable with the drawings within the Soane Museum collection, and all dated or datable to 1767-70.

See also: Appleby, and Whitehaven Castle

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume I, p. 65, Volume II, Index pp. 21, 78; R.W. Brunskill, 'Lowther Village and Robert Adam', Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, 1967, pp. 57-73; S. Astley, Robert Adam's castles, 2000, pp. 18, 34; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 380, 383-85, Volume II, pp. 77, 90-94, 131, 138-45, 163, 222, 239-40, 245; Lowther conservation area appraisal and management plan, July 2013; Cumbria archive service online catalogue; 'Lowther, James, Earl of Lonsdale (1736-1802)', Oxford dictionary of national biography online; 'Lowther, Sir James, 5th Bt. (1736-11802), of Lowther, nr. Penrith, Westmld.', History of parliament online; 'Lowther Village, Lowther', British listed buildings online; Legacies of British Slavery database, UCL: www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs

Frances Sands, 2013
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