Adam’s London: Then and Now – Carlton House, Pall Mall

For the next in her series discussing Robert and James Adam’s work in London Dr Frances Sands will focus on Carlton House on Pall Mall.

To read Fran's previous blog posts please follow the links; Cumberland House, Pall Mall; 11 St. James's Square; Portland House, New Cavendish Street; Buckingham House; Coventry House, 29 (now 106) Piccadilly

Pall Mall – or pell-mell – takes its name from the Italian ball game pallamaglio played by King Charles II in St James’s Park. In order to prevent clouds of dust from passing carriages obscuring the game, the nearby thoroughfare was moved to its current location in 1661. It was always a fashionable residential street, most likely owing to its proximity to St James’s Palace, and by the eighteenth century it was also the location of various clubs and shops. On the south side of the east end of Pall Mall, directly adjacent to St James’s Park, Carlton house was built in 1709 for Henry Boyle, 1st Lord Carlton. On Carlton’s death in 1725 the house was inherited by his nephew, the architect, the 3rd Earl of Burlington. It was later sold in 1732 by Burlington’s mother, the Dowager Countess, to Frederick, Prince of Wales. Alterations to the interior and gardens were designed by William Kent (1685-1748) in 1735. Following her son’s accession as King George III, Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales, commissioned Sir William Chambers (1722-96) to make further alterations and improvements to the house. These works were carried out in 1763-69, and included incorporating the neighbouring house, which had belonged to George Bubb Doddington – Robert Adam’s patron at La Trappe, Hammersmith.


Unexecuted design for a gateway and screen across Carlton House, 1676 (SM Adam volume 29/1) Unexecuted design for a gateway and screen across Carlton House, 1676 (SM Adam volume 29/1)

In 1767, during the tenure of Princess Augusta, James Adam was commissioned to make a design for an entrance screen and gateway ornamented with sculptures of past sovereigns. By these means the irregular front of Carlton House – much reworked over the years – was to be concealed, but the design was not executed. According to the Adam brothers’ preface to the first volume of the Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam (1773-78) this screen, as well as various alterations to the house for which no drawings survive, would have been made but for the Princess Augusta’s failing health:


Design of a Gateway for Carleton House in Pall-Mall, done for her Royal Highness the late Princess Dowager of Wales. As the present court wall to Carleton House is extremely mean and irregular, her Royal Highness was desirous of remedying those defects, in such a manner as might render the approach to her town residence more proper and elegant. With this view the following design was formed, and considerable alterations were likewise proposed to be made upon the plan of the house itself: all of which were so much approved of by her Royal Highness, that she had determined to have carried them into execution, if the declining state of her heath had not prevented any steps from being taken towards the completion of this favourite plan.


James Adam’s unexecuted design for Princess Augusta’s entrance screen is illustrated in the first volume of the Works, but can also be seen in one surviving drawing at Sir John Soane’s Museum. This is dated 1767, and inscribed as a Skreen for Carlton House in the hand of William Adam. It shows what would have been a magnificent triumphal arch gateway, flanked by links containing sculpture-filled niches, which are articulated by ornamented pilasters, and terminated at each end by a pedimented arched gate, and the whole is ornamented with lavish sculpture, including military trophies, portrait medallions and a frieze of festoons and arabesques.


Photograph of Carlton House Terrace taken in October 2013 Photograph of Carlton House Terrace taken in October 2013

King George III gave Carlton House to his son, the Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent) when he came of age in 1783. This precipitated a large-scale and vastly expensive series of works to designs by Henry Holland (1745-1806), who added a portico, an entrance screen, and remodelled the interior in 1783-96. The interior was further redecorated to designs by James Wyatt (1746-1813) in 1804-5, who also made the additions of another library and strong room in 1812-13. A conservatory was added in 1807 to designs by Thomas Hopper (1776-1856), and John Nash (1752-1835) made designs for remodelling the service quarters in the cellar, carried out in 1813-15. However, when the Prince Regent became King George IV in 1820 he no longer required Carlton House, and in 1827 it was demolished. A handful of chimneypieces were salvaged for Buckingham Palace, and the site was redeveloped as Carlton House Terrace, built in 1827-33 by James Pennethorne (1801-71), and to designs by Nash. The freehold of Carlton House Terrace remains the property of the Crown, and the first proceeds of the leases were put towards the redevelopment of Buckingham Palace. The terrace was badly damaged by bombing during the Second World War, and while Nash’s façades were restored, the interiors were largely altered.


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 February 2014 in Looking at Drawings
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