Newby Hall: a research trip to West & North Yorkshire

Dr Frances Sands, Catalogue Editor (Adam drawings project), discusses her work on Newby Hall and the Soane's 52 drawings of the building.


At present my efforts to catalogue the Adam drawings collection at Sir John Soane’s Museum are focused on the 52 drawings for Newby Hall near Ripon. Newby was built in c.1685-93 for a coal magnate, Sir Edward Blackett, and possibly to designs by Sir Christopher Wren. In 1748 the estate was purchased from the Blackett family for £9,530 by Richard Elcock Weddell, the son of a greengrocer who had inherited money from an uncle with the express purpose of buying land. Richard Weddell made various adjustments to the house, but it was his son William – after inheriting in 1762 – who made the most significant alterations.


•	Photograph of the entrance (east) front of Newby Hall, taken in June 2009.
Photograph of the entrance (east) front of Newby Hall, taken in June 2009

In 1764-65 William Weddell undertook a Grand Tour, during which he amassed a large collection of antique sculpture. The majority was acquired from the antiques dealer Thomas Jenkins, including the famous Barberini Venus. Weddell returned to Newby in 1765, and John Carr was commissioned to design two projecting wings on the east side of the house. One wing was for the kitchen, and the other was to provide a gallery space for Weddell’s collection. There is some disagreement between scholarly texts as to whether Carr’s wings were commissioned before or after Weddell’s Grand Tour. If they were commissioned before, the provision of a gallery space would have been deeply precocious as Weddell was not yet in possession of anything to fill it.

Carr’s proposal for the interior layout of the gallery was rejected by Weddell, and in 1766 he approached Robert Adam to make designs for this important room. Excitingly, one of the Adam drawings which I have newly attributed as being for Newby, is a rough preliminary design in Adam’s own hand for the layout of the gallery and the southern rooms of the principal block. To date, this may be the earliest known drawing in the process to design Weddell’s gallery. Following his work on the gallery, Adam also made designs to redecorate rooms in the rest of the house, including the tapestry room – the central drawing room in the house, which contains a set of beautiful Boucher-Neilson Gobelins tapestries; and the dining room (later the library), which was created by knocking together two older rooms on the south front of the house, and contains Adam’s earliest foray into the Etruscan decorative style.


Preliminary design for the internal layout of Newby Hall, c1766-67, executed with alterations. SM Adam volume 4/149

Further to the 52 Adam office drawings for Newby at the Soane Museum, there are 19 within the collection at the West Yorkshire Archive Service, Morely, along with five for Weddell’s townhouse at 6 Upper Brook Street, and 456 others for the house dating from c.1638-c.1900. Along with the estate, these drawings had passed by descent to the Compton family, and were acquired in 2000 by the Wakefield Metropolitan District Council for £135,000, with contributions from the Art Fund, the HLF, the Resources/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries, and a public appeal.

I had thought it important to familiarise myself with these drawings for Newby, so as to inform the work on our drawings at the Soane Museum, and on Monday 4 August I made a trip to West Yorkshire in order to spend time in the archives. Much of what I saw there is composed of presentation drawings or fine versions of the preliminary designs and office record drawings within the Soane Museum’s collection. Indeed, these would have been the elegant drawings sent to Weddell from the Adam office in order to persuade him to go ahead with various schemes. As such, these drawings tend to be extensively inscribed, giving vital clues to their intended purpose and location. Moreover, several are also dated, giving essential chronological context to the drawings at the Soane Museum.


Design for the internal layout of Newby Hall, c1766-67, executed with alterations. SM Adam volume 41/74

The following day I made my way over to Ripon, North Yorkshire in order to visit Newby Hall itself. Being conveniently located off the Great North Road – now the A1M – Newby is approached down a meandering drive through its beautiful park, with formal gardens and the River Ure to the south. I was kindly chaperoned around the house by Eric Nunns, a long-standing and extremely knowledgeable guide. Together, Eric and I perused my printouts of the Adam drawings for Newby, taking note of what had or had not been executed, what had or had not survived, and what had been moved to elsewhere in the house.

As I was allowed the privilege of visiting both the public and private Adam rooms at Newby, I was able to unpick a number of outstanding questions surrounding the drawings. One such concerns a design of 1780 for a bedroom chimneypiece. At the Soane Museum there is a design inscribed ‘Chimney Piece for the Bed Chamber for William Weddell Esqr’. It was previously unclear whether the design was intended for a bedchamber at Newby Hall or for Weddell’s town house at 6 Upper Brook Street, London. A grey-washed finished drawing duplicate of the design at the West Yorkshire Archive Service has previously been attributed as being for 6 Upper Brook Street. This would have been difficult to confirm as the current building on the Upper Brook Street plot is datable to 1936. However, it is incorrect. The chimneypiece design was executed, almost in accordance with the drawing – albeit with poppies instead of oval medallions in the capitals – and can be found in one of the private rooms at Newby, now known as Lady Grantham’s bedchamber. Certainly, chimneypieces are often moved from one location to another, but in this instance I think not, as the eighteenth-century frieze around the top of the room is identical to that of the chimneypiece.


Design for a chimneypiece for a bedchamber at Newby Hall, 1780, executed with alterations. SM Adam volume 23/140

My visit the West Yorkshire Archive Service and Newby Hall was not only a great pleasure, but also of considerable assistance in cataloguing the Soane Museum’s drawings. The catalogue of Adam’s drawings for Newby Hall at Sir John Soane’s Museum will go live with our new database in a few months’ time.


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 24 August 2014
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