Adam’s London: Then and Now - 11 St James’s Square

Over the coming months Dr Frances Sands will introduce you to various London townhouses designed by Robert and James Adam in 'Adam’s London: Then and Now'. The series will look at the history of the buildings, their patrons, and what the Adam brothers had envisaged for them as well as showing what has become of the buildings since.

Photo of Dr Frances Sands, Catalogue Editor (Adam drawings project)

Dr Frances Sands, Catalogue Editor (Adam drawings project)


11 St James’s Square

For this, the first in our series discussing Robert and James Adam’s works in London, I would like to introduce you to number 11 St James’s Square.

Across Pall Mall from St James’s Park, St James’s Square had been the brain child of Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, the great politician who served as Lord Chancellor to King Charles II following the Restoration in 1660. Owing to its proximity to St James’s Palace, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries St James’s Square became one of the most fashionable and aristocratic addresses in the city. Along the north side of the square numbers 9-11 were rebuilt as a speculative development by the builder Benjamin Timbrell in 1735-36, replacing the Earl of St Alban’s own house – a large seventeenth-century town house – which had been his principal London residence until 1682.

Preliminary design, in pencil, for the principal front of 11 St James’s Square, by Robert Adam

Preliminary design for the principal front of 11 St James’s Square, by Robert Adam (SM Adam volume 2/109)

Number 11 is a four-storey, five-bay, forty-four foot wide terraced townhouse. It was sold in 1766 by the Earl of Macclesfield’s widow to two merchants, Alexander Nesbitt and Hugh Hammersley, who passed it on within weeks to Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet of Nostell. Sir Rowland was the eldest son of the 4th Baronet, and had inherited the family estate of Nostell Priory near Wakefield on his father’s death in 1765. Sir Rowland was an unusual man. He married Sabine Louise, the daughter of Jacques Philippe, Baron d’Hervert, the Governor of Vevey, when he was only nineteen years old, having met and fallen in love with this older – and already married – lady while on his Grand Tour. He briefly served as MP for Pontefract during 1768, only to be unseated following a petition prompted by his supporters having prevented opposing voters from reaching the poll. Further to this, Sir Rowland’s other great achievement was his position as one of Robert Adam’s longest standing patrons.

Sir Rowland’s father had replaced the original monastic buildings at Nostell with a large neo-Palladian house from c.1736 to designs by Colonel James Moyser and James Paine. On the 4th Baronet’s death, Sir Rowland dismissed Paine in favour of the more fashionable Robert Adam, whom he employed there until his own death in a carriage accident twenty years later. He had purchased a smart London town house in St James’s Square within months of his succession. As at Nostell, Thomas Chippendale was employed to furnish the interior, but it was not until 1774 that Adam was commissioned to make alterations to the fabric of 11 St James’s Square.

Adam provided two alternative designs to reface the townhouse, but only the drawing for the executed scheme survives. It would be interesting to know what Adam’s unexecuted, alternative design would have looked like. Until recently only a finished drawing for the new elevation was known – a pen and wash drawing, possibly in the hand of the Adam office draughtsman Joseph Bonomi. It is inscribed with the words Elevation of Sir Rowland Winns House / in St James's Square in the hand of William Adam. During the work to catalogue the Adam drawings I have found another drawing for this scheme: the pencil-drawn preliminary design, made prior to the finished drawing, and drawn in Robert Adam’s own hand.


Finished drawing for the principal front of 11 St James’s Square, by an Adam office hand. It is inscribed with the words Elevation of Sir Rowland Winns House / in St James's Square in the hand of William Adam

Finished drawing for the principal front of 11 St James’s Square, Adam office hand (SM Adam volume 41/49)


The new façade to 11 St James’s Square was executed in accordance with the surviving drawings in 1774-76. As on the drawing the new façade did make use of Adam’s Spalatro order pilasters, but these – the most characteristically Adam-style element of the design – were unfortunately refitted with Corinthian capitals at some time during the nineteenth century. Also, according to Pevsner, here was the first known use of the Adam brothers’ patented Liardet’s composition.

A receipt within the Nostell archive at the West Yorkshire Archive Service for £6,930 paid to the widowed Lady Sabine Winn by Christie’s shows that 11 St James’s Square was sold within one month of Sir Rowland’s death in 1785. His son, the 6th Baronet, was still a child of nine, and the sale of 11 St James’s Square was hurried as a means of alleviating the financial difficulties caused by the family’s prolonged building works at Nostell. The house lay vacant for many years, until it was taken on in 1798 by Alexander Davison, the collector of British paintings, and Nelson’s prize agent. Davison remained there until 1817. Later, in the early twentieth century it was the London home of Lord Iveagh, who rescued Kenwood and bequeathed it to the nation.


Photograph of 11 St James’s Square taken in September 2013

Photograph of 11 St James’s Square taken in September 2013


Although Adam’s elevation at 11 St James’s Square survives, it did receive some minor alterations in 1877 by Messrs Trollope and Sons, but these do little to detract from Adam’s design. Timbrell’s other two houses in this block, numbers 9 and 10, now accommodate the Institute of Internal Affairs. Number 11 was restored in 1988-91 by the Thomas Saunders Partnership and now contains offices.

By the end of 2013, 4000 drawings from the Adam collection will be available to view online.  Dr Frances Sands continues her work to make the remaining drawings collection digitally available.

As part of the Museum’s programme of digitization and improved access to collections the Adam drawings will also be amongst the 50,000 – 60,000 works of art, books and drawings, plus the Soane Archive to be transferred into the Collections Index+ Collections Management System (CMS) that will for the first time ever allow the Museum to store and sort records of all the items in the Museum’s collection. This has been made possible with thanks to funding from the HLF and an additional year’s funding by the Arts Council England’s Designation Development Fund for the collections information to become available to the public, starting from late 2013.

Posted on 19 September 2013 in Looking at Drawings
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