Adam’s London: Then and Now – 19 Arlington Street

For the next in her series discussing Robert and James Adam’s work in London Dr Frances Sands will focus on number 19 Arlington Street.


To read about the other townhouses in this series, please see the 'Looking At Drawings' section of our blog.


A small cul-de-sac, accessed from the northern end by Piccadilly, and located between Green Park and St James’s Square, Arlington Street was developed by a Mr Pym in the late 1680s. This land – formerly part of Green Park – had been granted to Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, by King Charles II in 1681. During the eighteenth century it was home to numerous significant figures in British history, including Horace Walpole, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Lord North, William Pulteney and Lord and Lady Nelson. Walpole referred to Arlington Street as ‘the Ministerial Street’ as it was lived in by so many members of the government.

In 1763 number 19, on the west side of the southern end of Arlington Street, was purchased for £15,000 by Sir Lawrence Dundas (1712-81). Dundas was the second son of Thomas Dundas of Fingask, a moderately successful draper. He began his career behind the counter of his father’s shop, later becoming a wine merchant; but was to amass his great fortune working as Commissary-General and contractor of the army during the Seven Years War. The wealth that Dundas acquired in this role enabled him to purchase estates all over England, Scotland and Ireland, and to forge a political career by buying his way into the Whig elite. He served as MP for Linlithgow Burghs in 1747-48, Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1762-68, Edinburgh in 1768-80 and 1781, and Richmond in 1780-81. Moreover, he was governor of the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1764-77. And in addition to all of this he managed to successfully negotiate a baronetcy in 1762, having made a considerable loan to the Earl of Shelburne.


Survey drawing showing 19 Arlington Street in 1763
Survey drawing showing 19 Arlington Street in 1763 (SM Adam volume 32/52)


As at his country estate, Moor Park, Hertfordshire, Sir Lawrence employed Robert Adam in 1763-66 to make designs to alter and refit his townhouse at 19 Arlington Street. Adam made designs for an additional wing to be built at the rear of the townhouse, facing Green Park, and containing a new great room. Survey drawings of the house in 1763 to enable Adam to make designs for this extension survive, and these – importantly – are the only graphic record of the building prior to its demolition. Indeed, nothing came of Adam’s designs for structural alterations, and a plain extension was added to the rear at a later date. Adam did, however, make alterations to the interior of the house, and certainly refitted the stairwell which was known to have survived until as late as 1922.


Unexecuted design for an extension to the rear of 19 Arlington Street, c.1763-65
Unexecuted design for an extension to the rear of 19 Arlington Street, c.1763-65 (SM Adam volume 32/50)


Eleven drawings from the Adam office for 19 Arlington Street survive at the Soane Museum. These include the survey drawings of the house made in 1763; Adam’s unexecuted designs for the new wing to the rear; and various designs for furniture, including a tripod table and pier glasses for the gallery, both of 1765, executed in accordance with Adam’s designs, and sold at Sotheby’s in 1934; and there is also a beautiful design from the Linnell office – albeit signed off by Adam – of a sofa made for the saloon in 1764. Two sofas made to this design – along with four en suite armchairs – were provided for the front room on the first floor of the house. This room had previously been a dining room, but Adam treated it as the saloon, and hung it with crimson damask. Adam’s scheme was demolished in 1784 when the room was hung with a set of Gobelins Boucher-Neilson tapestries from the gallery at Moor Park, along with a matching set of furniture. As such, the original Linnell furniture from Adam’s scheme for the room was moved to the blue drawing room on the floor below.


Executed design for a sofa for the saloon, 1764
Executed design for a sofa for the saloon, 1764 (SM Adam volume 17/74)


According to Christopher Gilbert, the sofas and armchairs for the saloon at 19 Arlington Street were the most expensive that had ever been made in this style. They were sold by the Marquis of Zetland at Sotheby’s in 1947, and then again at Christie’s in 1997, and are now at Duff House, Banff. Within the same sale was a pair of matching armchairs which were acquired by the National Museum of Scotland in 2002. A third chair is in the collection at the V&A Museum, and is still upholstered in the original red damask of Adam’s scheme.

Following Sir Lawrence’s death, Moor Park was sold by his son Thomas in 1784. The contents were dispersed within 19 Arlington Street and another Dundas property, Aske Hall, Yorkshire. 19 Arlington Street remained the townhouse of the Dundas family – by then elevated to the Marquises of Zetland – until its demolition in 1936. Various items from Adam’s interiors at both Moor Park and 19 Arlington Street itself were then removed to Aske Hall, and others were sold at Sotheby’s. Numbers 17-20 Arlington Street were rebuilt in the same year to designs by Michael Rosenauer (1884-1971), and now form Arlington House, a block of mansion flats.


Photograph of Arlington House, taken in September 2013
Photograph of Arlington House, taken in September 2013


Dr Frances Sands, Catalogue Editor (Adam drawings project), has been working on a project to make 8,000 drawings from the Adam collection available to view online.

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.

Posted on 17 April 2014 in Looking at Drawings
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