History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

04 May 2009

The Architect of Kedleston Hall

Setting the Record Straight

It is entirely possible that no one cares about this subject except me, but that is the fun of this blog. I get to talk about subjects that you can choose to read. . . or not.

Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire is considered one of the finest “Great Houses” in England, largely because it of its unique design and exquisite interiors.

If the name, Kedleston, is not familiar maybe the picture at right will ring a bell. Kedleston is the only Great House I have ever seen that uses curving arcades to connect its two wings to the main block. As graceful as the exterior is, the interior is even more impressive. As one reviewer explains, it manages to be a comfortable home as well as an artistic masterpiece. The work is credited to Robert Adam. Today Adam is the best known late 18th century name in architecture and interior design.

Years ago, while doing research at the National Gallery of Art (DC) I was taking a break from going through their amazing collection of Rowlandson cartoons and asked to see the design books of James Paine, one of the most prominent architects of the very competitive late eighteenth century. To my surprised delight I found, in this primary source, the design for Kedleston dated significantly before Adam’s involvement in the projecet.

For years I have tried to solve this puzzle. Why is Adam credited with this masterwork when it was Paine’s design? The architects of the period had a very competitive streak and it is hard to believe that Paine would allow credit to go to someone else.

I found the answer, or enough of one to satisfy me, in a book edited by Robert Haring, then editor of HOUSE AND GARDEN magazine. The book, THE GREAT HOUSE AND FINEST ROOMS OF ENGLAND, was published in 1969 and found its way to me through my wonderful local second hand book store, Second Looks Books.

Kedleston had not one but three architects. The design that is so famous was the idea of Matthew Brettingham. According to Haring, Brettingham is “responsible for the essential structure we see today: a central block with two wings connected by curving corridors.”

The central block was completed under Brettingham’s direction before Paine took over and prepared “fresh designs” for the whole building. Haring is not specific on how Paine’s designs differed from Brettingham’s, but the next time I go to the National Gallery of Art (DC) I am going to ask if they have any of Brettingham’s work and do my own comparison.

Paine’s most famous contribution, besides the fresh design, is the North Front of the central block (the second photo above).

Adam may have gained the commission for the same reason that Paine had supplanted Brettingham: Robert Adam was the up and coming name in architecture and design. Indeed while Paine was still listed as the architect, Adam had already been commissioned to prepare designs for the interior decoration of the house. In the end Paine gave way to Adam and the two remained civil to each other despite Paine’s initial resistance and profound disappointment.

Adam is responsible for the South Front (at right below) of the central block and in a comparison of the two we see each architects interpretation of the Palladian style. The North Front by Paine is representative of the “correct” interpretation of the Palladian idea and the south front demonstrates the virtues of “movement” that gives energy to a static style.

What a relief to have that architectural question solved. By the way, the interior of Kedleston is even more impressive than the exterior. More on that next time.

If you have read all the way though you must care a little about such an esoteric question. Tell me, have you ever discovered a question in your research that has puzzled or confused you? Is there any subject you love, but is so obscure you are sure no one else is interested? I am.


Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

LOL -- try half the subjects I write about. I thought that Mary Robinson's life was so fascinating, colorful, and eventful (ditto for Lady Hamilton) that you could hardly make those events up!

I love this house, Mary, but confess I never heard of it by name (though I could swear I've seen it stand in for Pemberley or Gosford Park or places of that ilk), so thank you for the comprehensive introduction. I've seen other examples of Robert Adams's work, notably in one of the rooms of the present Landsdowne Club in London where the treaty putting an end to the War of 1812 was signed. And the library in Vizcaya in Coral Gables Florida, builtby James Deering, the eccentric Gatsby-esque millionaire and art collector, is designed after a room by Robert Adam.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a wonderful post, Mary! I've read about Kedleston (and like Amanda I'm sure I've been it in movies), but I didn't know the history of its building. The history of country houses is so fascinating. When one creates one for a book, one has to do a history of the family, often going back generations, and of the building of the house, deciding what was built when, when it was added to an embellished. That's one of the types of obscure details I get caught up in--I know way more about the houses in my books than makes it onto the page. I remember being paralyzed in the early stages of writing "Daughter of the Game/Secrets of a Lady" because I couldn't decide if the Berkeley Square house where Charles and Mel lived was Charles's parents' house or one they had acquired themselves, and I had to work out all sorts of family history before I had an answer I was comfortable with (which did stand me in good stead in "Beneath a Silent Moon").

11:53 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Tracy I get equally lost in the creation of the houses in my books -- the cover art came before I wrote LOVERS KISS in TRAITORS KISS/LOVERS KISS but the castle pictured was so exactly what I had been thinking about that I wondered if the artist read my mind.

I appreciate the open mind, Amanda and do always enjoy what you post about and don't consider them at all esoteric!

2:10 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you for this tour of England...and for including the architecture...I've always wanted to go there, and while I'm saving for my trip, I can live vicariously through you!

2:15 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm another one who has to *know* the houses in my books.

And I always assume my obsession with the minutia of clothing is lost on most people. Does anyone but me care that frilly nightgowns didn't exist during the Regency? That stays and shifts weren't adorned with lace? That lots of women's clothes were held together with little more than a few pins and a prayer?

3:38 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

My pleasure. Amanda! Next time (in about three weeks) I'll do a blog on the interior of Kedelston, to my mind even better than the elegant exterior.

Yes, Kalen, I love every single one of those bits of information and wish I could retain that sort of detail. My memory runs to the big picture and I appreciate anyone who knows the small things that make a story real.

The "few pins and a prayer" was not true of wealthy women was it?

7:30 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Hi Mary, I've actually heard of Kedelston because George Curzon, Baron Scarsdale, and the Marquess of Kedelston, that was his ancestral home. He married an American Mary Leiter, and I believe they are both buried at Kedelston, along with his second wife.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:53 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The "few pins and a prayer" was not true of wealthy women was it?

Sure was. I'll do a post about it.

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Mizanger said...

"My pleasure. Amanda! Next time (in about three weeks) I'll do a blog on the interior of Kedelston, to my mind even better than the elegant exterior.

Yes, Kalen, I love every single one of those bits of information and wish I could retain that sort of detail. My memory runs to the big picture and I appreciate anyone who knows the small things that make a story real. "


8:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kedleston Hall was widely used for "The Duchess" starring Keira Knightley. The film opens on the south front lawn, there are shots purporting to be Bath between the North Front and the lake, and the Marble Hall was the setting for the wonderful dining scene and ballroom scenes. The library, drawing room, saloon and dressing room were all used for filming. Robert Adam probably secured the commission to complete the original building because the owner Nathaniel Curzon was keen to display his grasp of art, architecture and the classical world. Adam was unusual in that he had actually visited ancient sites and drew things he had seen which he translated into his designs. Other architects of the time merely copied what they had read in books. The National Trust has worked hard since taking over the property in 1987 to restore the building to the appearance it would have had when the building first opened to visitors at the end of the 18th century.

7:44 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

Hi I run a re-enactment group in Derby based around the Curzons of Kedleston. Thank you for your blog - an interesting read, even if these people did clear the medieval village ;-)


9:10 AM  

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