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Hampton Court Palace

Drawings for Hampton Court Palace, catalogued by Dr Gordon Higgott, with advice from Dr David Esterly on the drawings of Grinling Gibbons, and with photography by Hugh Kelly. The author also wishes to acknowledge advice received from Dr Anthony Geraghty in the writing of this section of the catalogue.


Sir John Soane's Museum holds the bulk of the surviving drawings from Sir Christopher Wren's office for the partial reconstruction of Hampton Court Palace and the laying out of its gardens and parks between 1689 and about 1716, comprising 77 sheets, all but 12 of which are in the Hampton Court Album (volume 110) (see below). A smaller collection of 28 drawings at All Souls College, Oxford, includes two early survey plans of 1689, and a significant number of designs for the garden and queen's apartments in the period 1699 to 1716 (Geraghty 2007, nos. 202-229). Most of the drawings in the Hampton Court Album belong to the first phase of the design, construction and fitting out of the new ranges at the palace from March 1689 until the death of Queen Mary in late December 1694, after which work all but ceased until early 1699 (sections 1-5). To this period can be assigned most if not all the 39 drawings in the hand of Grinling Gibbons for chimney-pieces, door surrounds, cornices and wall decoration (section 6/1-7). These drawings include designs for the wall elevations of Queen Mary's Closet at the south end of the east or Park range of the extended royal palace which can be placed earlier than a scheme of September 1694 for creating a bridge-link between the single window of the Closet on the Park side and the Privy Garden (section 5/1).

Most of the chimney-piece designs are closely analogous in their drawings methods and decorative vocabulary to these wall elevations and several bear the WM monogram, indicating a date before 1695. It is a reasonable assumption that they are unexecuted proposals for the principal rooms of the king's and queen's apartments in the south (Privy Garden) and east (Park) ranges of the new buildings (section 6). Some, however, were probably prepared for other locations, including the king and queen's new apartments at Kensington Palace, begun in 1689, altered for the queen in 1690-91, and enlarged for the king in 1695-96 (HKW, 5, pp. 186-90). Another possible location for several of Gibbons's grand chimney-piece designs was the queen's Water Gallery, or Thames Gallery at Hampton Court, a Tudor Water Gate converted into a maison de plaisir for the queen from 1689-91 and further beautified in 1694, when seven marble chimney-pieces were installed (HKW, 5, pp. 157-58). Several of the designs may have been conceived earlier, since Gibbons is known to have executed three major chimney-pieces at Whitehall Palace in 1686-88, including one in the great bedchamber of James II's queen, Mary of Modena, which was decorated with two large and two smaller pieces of drapery, a crown and a coat of arms (pp. 289, 295). All were destroyed in the fire of 1698.

A few chimney-piece designs by Gibbons may date to the resumption of work at Hampton Court Palace in 1699, but this is far from certain, as the dating of these drawings depends almost entirely on internal evidence of style, technique, and use of paper. A discussion of the sequence of the Gibbons designs is set out in the introduction to section 6.

Almost all the remaining drawings in the album are preparatory and finished designs in the hand of Nicholas Hawksmoor for the two main palace ranges and their adjoining courts. There are no drawings by Wren himself, who by 1689 had almost ceased to draw himself (see Geraghty 2007, pp. 11-13). Close examination of the handwriting and drawing methods, in both pen and graphite, indicates that Hawksmoor drew these designs on his own, without assistance from Wren in the preparatory stages (see for example, section 3, nos. 1 and 2; 110/22 and 5). This is not to say, however, that he did not work under Wren's direction, and that the designs themselves are not Wren's (see G. Higgott, 'The revised design for St Paul's Cathedral: Wren, Hawksmoor and Les Invalides, 1685-90', The Burlington Magazine, vol. 146 (August 2004), pp. 534-47).

Three drawings in the volume are for the Bowling Green Pavilion to the east of the Privy Garden in 1700 and are in the hand of Wren's draughtsman, William Dickinson (section 7). These drawings relate to several contemporary designs for the Privy Garden in the All Souls College collection by Dickinson and another draughtsman (Geraghty 2007, nos. 225-228).

Another 10 drawings in the Museum's collections have separate provenances to those in the Hampton Court Album, and belong to the later phases, from 1699 until 1724 (section 6/9; sections 8, 9). In the final phase after the accession of George I in 1714 the Clerk of Works and Master Joiner, Thomas Fort, prepared or oversaw the production of several sets of survey plans of the completed palace ranges (section 8, 9).

The chronology of design and construction in 1689

This catalogue identifies four main preparatory schemes before work began on the foundations of the king's apartments facing the Privy Garden, on the south side of the Cloister Court (later the Fountain Court) in June 1689 (sections 1 to 4). These initial designs must date between William and Mary's decision to make Hampton Court their principal residence in late February or early March 1689 and Wren's submission of an estimate for the rebuilding work at a meeting of the Treasury Board on 24 May, only days before work began on the foundations of the Privy Garden range. Wren's estimate would have been based on the final design (section 4), which though still subject to adjustment (e.g. 110/15), could not have been altered fundamentally from then on. The scheme that preceded this (section 3) can be dated between late March and early May 1689. The drawings in sections 1 and 2; for the complete rebuilding of the palace save for the Great Hall can be dated to March 1689.

William and Mary were declared king and queen on 13 February and first stayed at Hampton Court between 22 and 24 February. On 2 March they arrived by river from Whitehall to take up permanent residence. A newsletter reported on that day: 'The bed of state is removed from Windsor to Hampton Court, and Sir Christopher Wren hath received orders to beautify and add some new buildings to that fabric' (HKW, 5, p. 155). Writing in 1705, Bishop Gilbert Burnet recalled in Book V of his History of his own Time: 'The King found the air of Hampton Court agreed so well with him that he resolved to live the greatest part of the year there; but that palace was so very old built, and so irregular, that a design was formed of raising new buildings there for the King and the Queen's apartments.' An explanation for the abandonment of these two ambitious schemes could lie in the decision on 20 March by the Convention that had invited William and Mary to rule to restrict their annual revenue to £1,200,000, a reduction by about £280,000 on the average revenue that James II had enjoyed. Furthermore, Parliament stipulated that half the amount was to be used for civil administration and half for war. As a consequence, the revenue fell far short of the peacetime needs of the Crown.

The king attended a meeting of the Treasury Board on 4 May 1689, when it was agreed to summon Wren to present his estimate. By then, a decision must have been taken to limit new construction to the southern, eastern and central areas of the Cloister Court, for in April (when the building accounts opened) over £1100 had been spent on temporary apartments for the queen in the west or entrance range of the Cloister Court and on new barrack stables for the Dutch Guard (HKW, 5, pp. 156-57; Thurley 2003, 168). It is unlikely such work would have been put in hand had King William still been contemplating a complete rebuilding of the palace and its service ranges along the lines of the two earliest known schemes (sections 1 and 2).

The Hampton Court Album (volume 110)

This large folio volume (500 x 370mm), bound in quarter-calf with marbled end boards, is inscribed in ink on the verso of the first flyleaf in the hand of Sir John Soane: 'Geo: Dance / to John soane, Friday the 27th June 1817’. Soane recorded the gift in his diary for that day: '27 June Friday... Mr Dance called & gave me the book of Drawgs supposed to be Sir Cr: Wren's'. The volume can be traced to the sale by auction in April 1749 of sixteen lots of 'Drawings of Architecture by Sir Christopher Wren' within a larger sale of Christopher Wren junior's collections. It contains 66 drawings, all but one of which are for Hampton Court Palace [110/13; a sketch for a domed pavilion in one of the schemes drawn by Hawksmoor for the rebuilding of Whitehall Palace after the fire in January 1698]. The Soane Album is identical with Lot 35: 'Sixty-six Drawings of Hampton-Court, all pasted into a Book': the number of drawings in the volume, if we include the wayward but untitled sketch for part of Whitehall Palace . Moreover, they remain 'pasted' into the book, even though the book was rebound and the drawings remounted in 1850 (see below). The 'Cambridge'-style binding of the volume is consistent with an early eighteenth-century date and is probably the original binding from the sale in 1749. The absence of any drawings in the volume after the period of Hawksmoor's involvement at Hampton Court (1689-c.1700), and the presence of a single stray drawing from his hand for Whitehall Palace, may indicate this particular group of drawings had a provenance in his collections. This would imply, however, that Hawksmoor collected drawings by Gibbons.

The rebinding of the volume is recorded in two separate minutes of the Trustess of the Museum in 1850. On 29 August the Curator 'directed the attention of the Trustees to the Volume of original sketches &c. of Sir Christopher Wren's designs for Hampton Court Palace, presented to the late Sir John soane by the late George Dance Esq. R.A. in 1817, many of which exhibited marks of injury from damp in a remote period and in which the decay appeared to be progressing. The Curator was consequently instructed to apply to Mr. Tuckett, the bookbinder to the British Museum in order to have such of the sketches as it may be found requisite carefully inlaid, and the Volume &c. rebound, in order to preserve this interesting collection of sketches as much as possible from further decay.' By 30 October 1850, the drawings had been 'inlaid, where necessary and the defective portions sized and mounted'.All but two of the drawings bear the collection mark of George Dance the Younger, a Gd in pen and dark brown ink, with the shaft of the d encircling the G, followed by a number in consecutive sequence through the volume. This cypher is usually written near a side or corner of each sheet (except for the sketch for Whitehall Palace [110/13], where the binder added an asterisked number on the mount, presumably to replace an original trimmed away in the conservation and remounting of the drawing). In one case Dance repeated a number (39), and added an asterisk afterwards. This drawing is now catalogued as number 40 (the Soane catalogue numbers do not always coincide with Dance's numbers, since in several instances he numbered the designs rather than the sheets themselves).

It is not known when Dance acquired the volume but the shaky hand of the inscriptions suggest that he did not begin numbering the drawings until shortly before he gave the volume to Soane in 1817 (when he was 76). The drawings in the volume were already water-stained when he acquired them, for he avoided the stained areas of the sheets when he wrote numbered cyphers. It had suffered from water saturation at what is now the top of the book, either before or after the 1749 sale, causing staining to the binding and pinkish-brown staining on the tops or bottoms of most of the drawings. The volume was disbound and the drawings were regrouped within it before Dance wrote his inscriptions. He may have re-grouped them himself, since there is no sign of an earlier collector's hand. First are designs for the palace as a whole [110/1-15], then drawings for parts of the main building [17-22], followed by designs chimney-pieces and overmantels [23-52], doorways and entrances, together with a design for a large external door [53-57], entablatures and cornices [58-62], and finally schemes for interior decoration associated with Queen Mary's Closet [64-67]. The arrangement is unlikely to have been Wren's or Hawksmoor's, as several sheets from the same phases have been mounted separately and the compiler has not distinguished between internal and external features (e.g. 5, 22; 60, 61).

Pasted to the front flyleaf and front end board is a manuscript list of the drawings in the volume, written probably by George Bailey in the late 1830s. It describes the contents in the order in which they were numbered by Dance. The spine is tooled and inscribed Original / Sketches / of / Hampton / Court / - Palace 1694 in a style consistent with 1850. The date 1694 was taken from the only dated drawing in the volume, a design in Hawksmoor's hand for a bridge link from Queen Mary's Closet to the Privy Garden of September that year [110/19].

Bibliography and abbreviations

Downes 1966: Kerry Downes, English Baroque Architecture (London, 1966)
Downes 1971: Kerry Downes, Christopher Wren (London, 1971)
Downes 1982: Kerry Downes, The Architecture of Wren (Reading: Redhedge, 1988)
Esterly 1998: David Esterly, Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1998)
HKW, 5, pp. 153-82: The History of the King's Works, ed. H.M. Colvin, Volume V, 1660-1782, H.M. Colvin, J. Mordaunt Crook, Kerry Downes, John Newman (London, 1976)
Jacques 1995: David Jacques, 'The History of the Privy Garden', Apollo, 142 (1995), 23-42
Sekler 1956: Eduard F. Sekler, Wren and his place in European Architecture (London, 1956)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments England, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Middlesex, London 1937, pp. 30-49 and pls 90-103
Thurley 2003: Simon Thurley, Hampton Court: A Social and Architectural History (New Haven and London, 2003)
Whinney 1971: Margaret Whinney, Wren (London, 1971)
Wren Society, IV: The Fourth Volume of the Wren Society, 1927, Hampton Court Palace, 1689-1702: original Wren drawings from the Sir John Soane's Museum and All Souls Collections, eds Arthur T. Bolton and H. Duncan Hendry (Oxford, 1927)
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