Originally published in William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, edited by Susan Weber. Published for Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture, New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018. 247–269.

From the exhibition: William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain.

Of all the multifarious aspects of his career, William Kent’s Gothick oeuvre has perhaps attracted the most consistently negative response, at least until recent times.1 In Kent’s own lifetime—in fact shortly before his death in 1748—Thomas Barrett-Lennard wrote to another aspiring Goth, Sanderson Miller, that “you’ll soon eclipse Mr. Kent, especially in the Gothick way, in which to my mind he succeeds very ill.”2 Horace Walpole, who viewed Kent’s career with very mixed feelings, wrote after Kent’s death that “As Kent’s genius was not universal, he has succeeded … ill in Gothic.”3 Walpole had his own reasons for denigrating Kent’s prior contribution to a genre in which he was convinced he himself knew best. He did not like competition in his self-appointed role as supreme pundit of the Gothic Revival, yet his own first efforts (or rather, those of John Chute on his behalf) at Gothicizing the existing house at Strawberry Hill in 1753–54 have a definite Kentian look to them, with their quatrefoils and two-light windows under square drip-molds.4

Although much of Walpole’s work at Strawberry Hill strikes us nowadays as flimsy (both aesthetically and structurally) and very far from “authentic,” in the long run his key contribution to the Gothic Revival was to start a trend toward looking more closely at genuine medieval models. In this he differed from most of his contemporaries, including Kent. On the whole, there is little evidence that Kent made a close study of medieval models before launching into his own version of the idiom, and unlike Walpole he did not plunder the tombs of medieval knights and bishops for ideas for chimneypieces and bookcases. His first datable attempt, the Clock Court Gate at Hampton Court Palace, dates from 1732–34 and, therefore, came exactly half a century after Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower at Christ Church, Oxford, which for all its originality is clearly the result of just such a study.5 The same could be said of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Gothick work at All Souls, Oxford (begun 1716), and Westminster Abbey (west towers, designed 1734), both of which capture the tensile vertical thrust of much medieval ecclesiastical design in a way that Kent’s never does. This is partly because Kent’s models were more secular. At Hampton Court, he was apparently required by his client, Sir Robert Walpole, to look around him and respond to the Tudor complex that had been created by Cardinal Wolsey and augmented by Henry VIII. And yet, though at first glance his new gatehouse will have seemed Tudor enough, a closer examination of the windows tells a slightly different story: above the arch, a four-light affair looks to the thirteenth rather than sixteenth century, and above that is a Gothick Venetian window—probably the first in a long eighteenth-century line.6

What were the possible sources for Kent’s Gothick idiom? He was born in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, and would have known the remains of the medieval priory, but this was largely thirteenth-century Early English, not a style that on the face of it influenced him much. His interest was more in what is now known as Perpendicular Gothic, although Kent, in common with almost all his contemporaries, would not have differentiated (or indeed known how to do so) between the various phases of medieval architecture. In the first instance his designs responded to the context, whether Tudor (as at Hampton Court, Esher, and Laughton) or Jacobean (as at Honingham and Rousham). At Westminster Hall, York Minster, and Gloucester Cathedral, he was designing for a location within a great medieval building. In the case of Westminster, apart from the bare eleventh-century walls, the context was set by the magnificent hammer beam roof and great traceried Perpendicular windows of around 1400, while at York the choir, for which Kent designed fittings, is a fifteenth-century Perpendicular structure. At Gloucester the context was a starkly Romanesque nave with huge undecorated columns, a setting that would not have interested him or influenced his design for the choir screen—indeed he thought the columns should be improved by fluting—although his screen could be seen more as a prelude to the soaring Perpendicular choir.

After the first major essay at Hampton Court, the main components of his essentially simple Gothick vocabulary were introduced more definitively at Esher: two-or three-light windows, or quatrefoils, set under square drip-molds or label stops. His windows are rarely archaeologically correct, since although they often adopt a typically Perpendicular shape for the outer arch, the individual ogee-headed lights within this sit under a solid piece of masonry or tympanum rather than develop into tracery. At Esher the tympanum is solid in the three-light window over the east porch but pierced by a small quatrefoil in the two-light windows on the turrets. This latter feature, known as plate tracery, is characteristic of thirteenth-century Early English. As a good Yorkshireman, Kent no doubt noted the prominent examples in the transepts of York Minster.

Ogees, whether in windows or arches, were a favorite motif. Kent probably used them first on the tower of the Houghton Church, then in the Venetian window of the Hampton Court gatehouse, and at Esher Place, both without and within. In his second Honingham scheme of 1738, every window, arch, and niche on the entrance front (except for the quatrefoils in the gables) is given an ogee head, while the skyline is punctuated by ogee domes. Ogee domes were also originally a feature of Hampton Court and Esher. Kent’s partiality for ogees has recently been traced to the supposed impact on the juvenile Kent by Bridlington Priory, where the west door has an ogee hood to the main arch.7 Ogees, however, were common enough in churches of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,8 and ogee hoods of this kind were even more prominently displayed over the east window of York Minster (and many other places on that great building) and the west window of Beverley Minster (both buildings Perpendicular, constructed either side of 1400). Beverley additionally has the sumptuous mid fourteenth-century Percy Tomb, in which ogees run rampant. Ogees are the principal leitmotifs of Kent’s screens for Westminster and Gloucester and of his York choir fittings.

Kent’s Gothick is quite unlike the ornate Milanese variety proposed by John Talman for All Souls, Oxford in about 1708.9 Unlike Talman’s work, Kent’s much later Gothick essays appear to have been entirely uninfluenced by any authentic Gothic buildings he may have seen on his Continental travels. The only contemporary Gothic structures on the Continent, the “baroque-Gothic” churches of the Bohemian Johan Santini-Aichel, such as the abbeys of Kladruby and Sedlec, must have been unknown to Kent.10 From quite early in his career, however, he probably knew of the Gothick works of Wren and Hawksmoor—not just those in London, such as Saint Dunstan-in-the-East, but more especially Tom Tower and All Souls at Oxford. Tom Tower, with its ogee-hooded windows and ogee domes, is particularly relevant in this context,11 as is Hawksmoor’s ogee-domed screen at All Souls (probably begun late 1723, though not completed until 1734). By the 1740s, when interest in the Gothic was beginning to intensify, it would not have been fashionable for architects to admit to being influenced by two unfashionable baroque architects. Arguably, therefore, it may be primarily thanks to Kent that the ogee became the dominant shape of eighteenth-century Gothick, insofar as he bequeathed it to subsequent practitioners and polemicists such as Batty Langley, Horace Walpole, Sanderson Miller, and many others.

Some of those practitioners saw Gothick as a style with symbolic as well as aesthetic potential, but it seems unlikely that Kent, whose approach to design was instinctive rather than theoretical, would have intellectualized his schemes in this way. It is conceivable, however, that his imagination may have been fired in a generalized way by his reading of such literary works as Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. The poet William Mason wrote that “it is said that Mr. Kent frequently declared he caught his taste in gardening from reading the picturesque descriptions of Spenser.”12 “However this may be,” he continued, “the designs which he made for the works of that poet are an incontestable proof that they had no effect on his executive powers as a painter.”13 Certainly very little in the buildings that Kent drew for The Faerie Queene could be called accurately medieval or indeed accurately Elizabethan. The castles—those in Prince Arthur Slays the Giant Orgoglio (book 1, canto 7) or in Arthegal Fights the Sarazin Pollente (book 5, canto 2)—are as gimcrack and inauthentic as any Georgian gentleman’s hilltop folly, with their ogee arches, Tudor drip molds, and cardboard battlements. The Redcross Knight Introduced by Duessa to the House of Pride (book 1, canto 4) is one of his most elaborate Gothick confections. The fabulous Gothick throne baldachino topped by peacocks is set into a deep vaulted arch that strongly recalls the entrance hall at Esher Place, while the ogee-arched cloister running to the left of it relates to his Westminster and Gloucester screens. The edition in which the illustrations appear was not published until 1751, three years after Kent’s death, and it is not known when he drew them. It has been suggested that they could date from very early in his career, perhaps even predating his work at Hampton Court and Esher.14 On the one hand, it is perhaps improbable that Kent would have done the illustrations speculatively, some twenty years before they achieved publication. On the other hand, 1729–31 seem likely dates for his having painted three “medieval” canvases of scenes from the life of Henry V.15 These could well have been for Queen Caroline, whose interest in matters medieval is attested by the busts of English monarchs she commissioned,16 and by the curious garden building—Merlin’s Cave—which Kent designed for her at Richmond.

Later Goths saw Gothic in a very different light. At Stowe, for instance, James Gibbs’s Gothick Temple was commissioned by Lord Cobham in 1741 to embody the concept of “Saxon” liberty from tyrannical rule (a conscious dig at the Hanoverians and their current prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole), while at Edgehill in 1750 Sanderson Miller (an anti-Hanoverian Tory squire as well as an architect) erected a Gothick tower which in effect memorialized Charles I and the Divine Right of the Stuart kings. In practice the style was sufficiently imprecise, and its practitioners sufficiently ill-informed, to lend itself to whatever purpose and interpretation the client wished.

Houghton Church

Although historians have generally accepted Horace Walpole’s statement that Kent’s first attempt at Gothic was the Clock Court Gate at Hampton Court Palace, datable to 1732–34, there is a strong possibility that it was preceded by the tower of St. Martin’s Church at Houghton in Norfolk.17 The church now sits in isolation in the extensive parkland surrounding Sir Robert Walpole’s great mansion, Houghton Hall, but until the early eighteenth century it stood at the east end of the village street, which was cleared away and relocated outside the park gates in 1729. The church remained as a kind of park ornament, and it may have been with this in mind that the existing medieval tower was replaced. The structure cannot be precisely dated, but the old tower was described by a visitor in 1727 as “down”—meaning either collapsed or, perhaps more likely, demolished prior to replacement.18 With work proceeding apace on the mansion, from which the church was visible in the middle distance,19 it seems probable that the replacement tower was undertaken simultaneously, although this cannot be substantiated from the parish records.

Drawings survive in the Houghton archives for three alternative tower schemes,20 the chosen one having a taller top stage, presumably so that it provided more of a feature in the view from the house. The Houghton archivist David Yaxley considers that the designs are in the hand of Thomas Ripley,21 who had been appointed chief carpenter to the king’s Office of Works in 1721 and since that year had been supervising building works at Houghton. However, although Ripley could certainly have supervised the construction of the tower as well, there are no other recorded Gothic works in his fairly small oeuvre. Kent, on the other hand, was involved in the design of the Houghton interiors from 1725, and since his subsequent choice of Gothic at Hampton Court is said to have been instigated by Sir Robert Walpole, it seems logical to assume that the same client may have prompted him to design this Gothic exercise on his own estate. Ripley, as the man in charge on site, could have been given the job of drawing out initial sketches dashed off by Kent.

A Kent attribution is supported by the detail of the tower designs (drawing B7), which perhaps represents the architect’s first thoughts, showing the west elevation of a rather squat tower, pierced at the base by an ogee-headed arch of a type that was to be beloved of Kent – found, for example, in his 1739 designs for the Westminster Hall screen, Honingham Hall, and in several of the Faerie Queene illustrations. On the other designs, however, and as executed, the arch is of a four-centered Tudor type. One design (drawing B3) may represent the north elevation of drawing B7, since it shares the squat overall proportions, even though the window details differ. Another (drawing B6) is an intermediate design, the ground and first-floor stages of the tower matching the tower as built but lacking the present top stage. In three others (drawings B4, B5, and B10) the tower has reached its full height, the main discrepancy being the absence over the top window of the pointed drip mold ending in cross-shaped blocks (this is present, however, on B10, representing the north elevation of the tower). The crockets on the topmost windows are reminiscent of a Vitruvian scroll molding and virtually identical to those used on the arches of the Westminster Hall screen. The blank quatrefoils and square drip-molds that were to be commonplace in Kent’s Gothick schemes are found in all the variant designs.

Hampton Court Palace

Kent’s Gothick oeuvre, which is now seen to constitute such a key contribution to the early years of the Gothic Revival in England, is usually said to have begun against his will at Hampton Court Palace. Here in 1732–34, in his role as master carpenter in the Office of Works, he was responsible for rebuilding the east range of Clock Court as accommodation for the Duke of Cumberland, the favored younger son of George II.22 According to Horace Walpole, Kent’s intention was to use a classical idiom, but Sir Robert Walpole (who as First Lord of the Treasury had the final say in approving the estimates and therefore the design) insisted that a more contextual style be adopted.23 The necessity here of externally “keeping in keeping” may have introduced Kent to the potential of Gothic, specifically Tudor Gothic, as a design vocabulary. This was, indeed, probably the first neo-Tudor commission.24 The unfamiliarity of the idiom led quickly to the mason, Andrews Jelfe, demanding extra payment “for Portland molded work in the Gothic way.”25

Although there was already a doorway in the existing 1530s range, it was Kent’s idea to create a full-scale gatehouse as the central feature. He rebuilt or remodeled the whole range between the Great Hall and the stair turret. He also remodeled the interior of the section immediately to the right. The ogee-domed octagonal turrets embellished with Renaissance roundels take their cue from the genuine Tudor gatehouses at the palace.26 The design is externally quite convincing on a cursory glance, notwithstanding the inauthentically medieval tracery of the large window over the arch and the Gothick Venetian window which was originally placed above that.27 Slightly less convincing would have been the tall ogee-domed cupola, with its two-light ogee-arched windows,28 recalling both Wren’s Tom Tower and Hawksmoor’s projects for ogee domes at Warwick Church and Westminster Abbey.

Within the arch, the plaster fan vault and pairs of stone doors to either side are by Kent, and here he seems to have looked quite carefully at genuine Tudor features surviving inside the range. The splendid door that once led into Queen Katharine’s apartment on the second floor probably provided the basis for the moldings on Kent’s arch, and Tudor door cases in another room were the model for those within the arch. Internally Kent makes a seemingly reluctant gesture toward the Gothic in the ceiling of the first-floor Presence Chamber. This is a curious, deeply beamed ceiling, with fan pendants (one large and four small) inserted into the interstices. These, the quatrefoil frieze, and the quatrefoil motifs on the underside of the beams are the only Gothic features, the door cases and wall articulation being classical. The ceiling is a bold but still somewhat tentative statement—a beginning, in fact, but that is all. Perhaps to do more would have required too much mental effort, or time that was not available, or perhaps the resultant unfamiliar style would have cost too much.29 It could also be that no one expected such a statement from him, since they were happy to live in up to-date classical interiors. It is indeed remarkable that Kent was required to do what he did on the exterior, since recent work on the palace had been classical, including the colonnade at right-angles to his work, on the south side of Clock Court. Kent’s gatehouse is also the immediate prelude to the Queen’s Staircase, an entirely classical composite by Wren and Kent himself.

Given the tentative character of the Gothick elements in Kent’s Hampton Court interiors, and bearing in mind the paucity of either surviving Gothick interiors or Gothick interior designs by Kent, his sketch of Henry VIII receiving the French ambassador at Hampton Court is of some relevance. Inscribed on the verso, in Kent’s hand, “Mommerancy Embassader from ye King France / to Henry ye 8th at Hampton Court,” it depicts a scene set in a room with traceried windows and a ceiling with pendant bosses. Yet the window tracery is an unarchaeological variant on Perpendicular Gothic, with a quatrefoil set in a solid apex, and the ceiling is unlike any authentic Tudor specimen (though it perhaps relates to that of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court), so it cannot represent any sixteenth-century interior then existing at the palace.30 When in 1749 John Vardy published his engraving of the Great Hall at Hampton Court, he described it as “From a Design of Mr Kent” and incorporated the figure groupings from Kent’s sketch in an authentic setting.

Esher Place, Surrey

A capriccio now in the British Museum links Kent’s possible initiation into the Gothick at Hampton Court with his next and most important essay in the style, Esher Place. In the left foreground is an approximation of the Tudor palace—certainly it is no more archaeologically correct than Kent’s own contribution to it—while in the distance to the right is the fifteenth-century gatehouse known as Waynflete Tower, as envisaged in Kent’s first scheme of enlargement for Henry Pelham. Crowning the hill above it is a miniature Villa Rotonda, and in the foreground Neptune, seahorses, and an assortment of conch-blowing tritons frolic improbably in the River Mole.

The Esher Place estate (as it became known) was acquired in 1729 by the Hon. Henry Pelham (1694–1754), scion of an old Sussex family, younger brother of the Duke of Newcastle, and future prime minister (1743–54). There was no proper house on the land, but a brick gatehouse tower had survived from a quadrangular mansion built around 1480 by William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester and founder of Magdalen College, Oxford. Rather as at Hampton Court, Kent’s first inclination was to recommend a classical solution—a pen and-wash sketch shows a Palladian villa on the crest of the hill, with the bishop’s tower left as an eye-catcher in the landscape, much as Vanbrugh had recommended for the ruins of Woodstock Manor and Blenheim Palace. Once again, therefore, it may have been the client who decided on a contextual Gothick solution.

A number of sketch plans, elevations, and perspectives show Kent starting to explore the possibilities. In one particularly loose drawing, perhaps representing his first thoughts (and corresponding with the expanded tower shown in the capriccio), he is clearly playing with ways of constructing flanking wings for the tower out of a concatenation of canted bays and octangular domed turrets. Should the solution be a canted and pedimented bay followed by a domed turret, as he draws in ink to the right of the tower, or a turret followed by a canted bay, as sketched in pencil to the left? In the constantly faceted elevation that results, Kent pioneered a “rococo” approach to composition that was to become hugely influential with later generations of English architects. Moreover, such a configuration made possible—or perhaps was generated by a desire for—a more fluid approach to internal planning which was also seminal. Kent’s Esher plans evince a particular fondness for octagons, regular or elongated, and for rectangular rooms ending in canted bays. This is visible in the plan that accompanies the engraved elevation of the completed house and still more evident in a blurry sketch plan for expanding it further with wings at right angles.31

In his final solution, Kent extended the gate tower with three-story wings to the left and right, their full-height canted bays chiming with the tower’s four-story ogee-domed turrets on the entrance (east) side. The river (west) façade lacked the full-height bays but had instead canted bays on the single-story extensions at each end. Vardy’s two elevational engravings show the scheme as executed with very slight modifications and coincide with the elevations depicted in John Rocque’s engraved survey of 1737.32 The original fenestration of the tower was changed and enlarged to make two-light ogee-headed windows under square drip molds, together with a three-light window to the room over the central arch plus three quatrefoils. The same two-light windows occurred on the wings, and string courses were carried across at all levels to unite the composition. One final external feature of note is the porch on the east front, for which Kent’s charming drawing is inscribed on the verso “Mr Henry Pelham/at Esher/1733/WK.” This is the only firm dating for any aspect of the project. The porch arch is ogee, as are the niches to either side, but it comes with a Greek key fret on the imposts.33 Kent shows a statue of a Catholic ecclesiastic in one of the niches, probably meant to be Bishop Waynflete as it is too slim to be Cardinal Wolsey, a later owner of the Tudor mansion. Over the porch is a classical tablet, and running along the top of the parapet, a prettily inauthentic masonry frill.

When the Esher estate was sold by Pelham’s descendants in1805, the new owner, John Spicer, pulled down Kent’s additions to the tower and built a new classical house on the hill above—a realization, in fact, of the arrangement first sketched by Kent. The fifteenth-century tower was left, still with Kent’s external alterations though minus the ogee domes. Most of Kent’s work within the tower was also destroyed, however, leaving just a few tantalizing fragments. In the ground-floor hall, the eastern section of the vault appears to be the original brick lierne encrusted with shields, but the western section, which is a simplified version with the ribs descending onto big scrolled brackets, must be Kent’s. Vardy’s engraving shows that the original fifteenth-century spiral stair was retained (and it survives today), but a new main stair was created by Kent in the northeast section of the tower, accessed from the central hall by twin Gothick arches resting on half-octagonal pillars with grooved capitals (the south wall has blind arches to match). The now-vanished stairs rose in a curved bay, lit by a two-light Kentian window, the oddity being that the sloping sill is given an enormous baroque scallop shell. The ceiling of the stair compartment at first-floor level still has its Kent cornice punctuated by four fan pendants, from which ribs point inwards toward some vanished nodal point or boss. Throughout, Kent mingled Gothic and classical motifs in a totally insouciant manner—arch soffits have Greek key fretwork, the junctions between fan pendants and ribs have little classical scrolled consoles and so on—and this was evidently true of interiors in the wings. Just one Kent room-scheme drawing survives. It shows an octagonal cabinet, including not only a Gothick ceiling with pendant bosses, but also a door case and chimneypiece both combining ogee arches and broken classical pediments. The one interior feature engraved by Vardy, a chimneypiece with overmantel, anticipates the library chimneypiece at Rousham in both composition and combination of motifs.

Given that the completed Esher Place must have had a considerable number of expensively fitted rooms, each with a handsome chimneypiece, it is a mystery that so little is known to have survived the demolitions. Chimneypieces, especially, usually found new homes elsewhere. Family history provides a partial explanation. Well before the change of ownership in 1805, much of Esher’s original contents had been moved out. In 1760 Pelham’s third daughter, Grace, had married Lewis Watson, Baron Sondes, who owned both Lees Court in Kent and Rockingham Castle in Northamptonshire. As a consequence, a cache of Kent’s drawings for Esher found their way to Rockingham, there to be discovered in 1985 by Howard Colvin and John Harris. Some of the Esher furnishings, including Kentian Gothick chairs and several large family portraits in unmistakably Kentian Gothick frames, were transferred to Lees Court, to be consumed by a devastating fire in 1910.34

Laughton Place can be regarded as a pendant to Esher, though the evidence is circumstantial and the dating uncertain.35 The estate, which had belonged to the Pelham family since 1466, was by settlements of 1715 and 1726 passed by the fabulously wealthy Duke of Newcastle to his impecunious younger brother Henry. It was because this put him on a sounder financial footing that Pelham could afford to buy Esher Place, and having employed Kent to transform that for him, he also commissioned Kent to work on his London town house in Arlington Street beginning in 1741. At Laughton, Pelham became the owner of a Tudor tower that had been added to an existing house by Sir William Pelham in 1534. If anything of the rest of the house survived when Pelham took possession, it was now certainly removed and replaced by a Gothick farmhouse, wrapped around three sides of the tower. The tower itself was given a Gothick frontispiece on its free side—Gothick, that is, except for the inclusion of a classical pediment and dentilled cornice. The mixture of the two styles here is particularly close to the wings at Rousham, and the vocabulary generally is clearly Kentian.

Of the three payments to Kent in Pelham’s bank account, the first, of £210 in 1736, presumably relates to Esher, and the third, of £298 5s 0d in 1748, to the Arlington Street townhouse. The second, a mere £25 in 1739, might conceivably cover the provision of drawings for the conversion of Laughton to a ferme ornée, drawings that could have been acted upon some years later, even after Kent’s death—perhaps in 1751, for instance, when Pelham made an unsuccessful attempt to retire from politics. By this time, it seems, he had handed over Esher to his daughter Frances and may have been looking forward to rusticating on his Sussex estates. When he died, still in harness, in 1754, Laughton Place immediately became, not a ferme ornée but a farmhouse proper. In 1927 the Laughton estate was sold by the Pelhams, and the decrepit building was abandoned even as a farmhouse. In the 1950s the Gothick wings were pulled down, leaving the tower (still with its Kentian frontispiece) once more isolated—a curious parallel to the sequence of events at Esher.36

Honingham Hall, Norfolk

In 1737 Kent produced eight designs for remodeling Honingham Hall in Norfolk.37 The house, which had been built in about 1605, was occupied by the Hon. William Townshend, son of the second Viscount Townshend for whom Kent had carried out internal alterations at nearby Raynham Hall in about 1726–32. The elevations show him retaining the Jacobean windows with their mullions, cross-transoms, and low pediments, but introducing Gothick elements such as tall column-shafts that rise above parapet level as pinnacles, and a central porch which has an ogee-headed door and a crowning ogee dome. The garden elevation features an ogee-arched loggia comparable with the porch at Esher Place. Ogees are the dominant feature of the double-height hall (shown in a plan and four elevations), forming the doors, arches, and chimneypieces.

The following year, 1738, Kent proffered a design for amore thorough remodeling of the exterior, in which all windows and arches are given ogee heads and the whole front is set in continuous motion by the ever-changing canting of bays and angles.38 Castellated walls connect the house with its flanking pavilions, which also have canted central bays rising into octagonal domed turrets. Overall there is much in common with the original garden elevation of Rousham. The premature death of the client in the same year meant that Kent’s designs remained on paper. The house was demolished in 1967.

Rousham House, Oxfordshire

In 1737 Lieutenant General James Dormer, veteran of Marlborough’s wars and social intimate of Alexander Pope, John Gay, and Jonathan Swift, inherited a modest estate at Rousham in north Oxfordshire from his brother Robert. The house, built by Sir Robert Dormer a century earlier, was on an H-plan and only one-room deep at the center. To remodel both house and gardens, Dormer called in Kent, probably via their mutual friend Lord Burlington.39 It has been written that the results give “a clearer, because more intimate, idea of his personality than is to be had anywhere else.”40

Work on house and garden went on simultaneously. The building inherited by Dormer was not large and probably had gables like those at Chastleton House not far away. If so, Kent removed them and substituted battlements, along with a central ogee-domed cupola.41 On the north front, which commanded the view of the gardens, he continued the lower string course sideways as single-story screen walls topped by ball cresting (the balls are faceted, like those on his design for the park gates at Esher), to connect with new flanking wings. In the wall and on the wings are ogee-headed niches for statues.42 The wings—the west containing Dormer’s library; the east, the kitchen—have canted bays facing north, lit by large neo-Jacobean mullioned windows. Running around, however, is a classical dentilled cornice which rises into a little pediment on each bay, rather than the battlements of the main house.

Within, Kent’s parlor is entirely classical, whereas the library (now called the Great Parlour and furnished as a drawing room since 1764) has a unique ceiling, vaulted in groined compartments rising above a cusped Gothick cornice. The ceiling has been called “oriental rather than Gothic” in character, “suggesting the idea of the Moorish origins of Gothic current in the 18th century.”43 However, the similarities (including the incorporation of pendants within the compartments) between this ceiling and the one in Kent’s undated drawing of Henry VIII receiving the duc de Montmorency suggest that he perhaps thought of it as having more specifically Tudor references. The two-tier chimneypiece incorporates cusped friezes and a band of ogival quatrefoils into what is other wise a classical composition; another Kent chimneypiece with cusped frieze is in the small first-floor drawing room. In these features, as noted by Walpole in 1760, Kent “stuck as close as he could to Gothic.”44 The room lost its library function in 1764, when the general’s books were sold off in a sale that lasted twenty days, and the bookcases were replaced by elaborate rococo stucco panels.45 The house as a whole was altered to its detriment in 1877,46 when James Piers St. Aubyn doubled its depth on the north side, thereby ruining Kent’s careful composition. Kent’s pretty leaded glazing (which had octagonal panes) was replaced with plate glass.

In the celebrated gardens the references are predominantly classical, apart from the ruins of a little Gothick seat by the riverside, which when complete must have resembled the one Kent designed for Badminton.47 Beyond the northern bounds of the garden, however, Kent transformed an existing vernacular mill building into a Gothick eye-catcher, variously called Cuttle Mill, or the Temple (or Chapel) of the Mill. Dormer’s former head gardener, John Clary, in a letter written in 1750, noted that “what stops our Long view is a very pretty Corn Mill, Built in the Gothick manner.”48 This involved the addition of a frontispiece that combines rustic versions of several basic Gothick ingredients: ogee-headed door below a quatrefoil, stepped gable with anchoring pinnacles, and a pair of flying buttresses. Clary also refers to “the Great Triumphant Arch in Aston Field,” a stylistically somewhat indeterminate structure on the skyline to the northeast, with three round-headed arches under a roughly pinnacled gable. Both mill and arch rank very early in the history of the eye-catcher, despite neither being at all sophisticated in design.

Westminster Hall Screen

Beginning in the seventeenth century and well into the eighteenth, the Courts of Chancery and King’s Bench occupied makeshift wooden enclosures at the south end of Westminster Hall. Dissatisfaction, both professional and public, with this arrangement gradually intensified until in 1739 the Board of Works finally conceded that it would have to be replaced. In March of that year an estimate of £1,050 was passed, and work on the new courts was carried out immediately.49 Although Kent is not identified as architect in the accounts, Vardy’s engraving of his design, published in 1744, firmly establishes his responsibility. Kent’s elegant Gothick screen had steps leading to a central passage, dividing the courts and giving access to the House of Commons beyond. The façade comprised two large ogee-windowed canted bays, placed to either side of a kind of ogee-headed triumphal arch, the whole being articulated by half-octagon pillars crowned by pinnacles. As with the Gloucester Cathedral screen of two years later, these pinnacles alternate with pineapple finials. The screen was a summation of Kent’s rococo Gothick repertoire and is perhaps his most carefully considered and successful composition in the idiom.50

The courts as built in 1739 were still without ceilings, and their users continued to freeze in the winter. In 1755 one of the clerks of the King’s Bench wrote to the Duke of Newcastle, as First Lord of the Treasury, saying that the various judges (including the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice) were all of advanced years and it might be the end of them if they were forced to endure the cold damp air any longer. This resulted (since Kent was now dead) in Kent’s former colleagues Isaac Ware and William Robinson doubling the height of the screen and roofing the courts over just below the level of the projecting hammer beams of the hall. In doing so they adhered carefully to Kent’s Gothick detailing. The courts survived until about 1825, when they were demolished.

York Minster Choir Fittings

Kent made his first appearance at York Minster in 1730–31, designing a monument to Thomas Watson Wentworth.51 In 1731 Lord Burlington, who was then designing the York Assembly Rooms, devised with Kent a scheme to repave the Minster, financed by public subscription and completed in 1736. Their design, incorporating Greek key patterns, was essentially classical but may at least have been influenced by Roman mosaics recently uncovered in the county.

In 1726 Hawksmoor had prepared designs for an elaborate baroque high altar reredos. These were not implemented, and Francis Drake’s Eboracum of 1736 criticized the fact that all the schemes so far made were classical, “which will by no means suit a Gothick cathedral.”52 This may have influenced the choice of style when in 1737 the Dean and Chapter turned their attention to replacing the archbishop’s throne and choir pulpit.53 By this stage Burlington seems to have retired from direct involvement in Minster affairs, and in any case was completely uninterested in the Gothic. Thus the commission to create Gothick choir fittings devolved naturally on Kent, who now had Hampton Court and Esher to his credit.54

A construction contract was drawn up in February 1740 between the Minster authorities and three craftsmen: carver John Healey (from Beverley), joiner John Terry, and carver Charles Mitley (both from York). Unfortunately the contract, which was attached to the two design drawings discussed below, has disappeared from the Minster archives, but payments to these craftsmen totaling £225 are recorded between October 1740 and November 1741.55 Intriguingly, in December 1737 John Etty, of a local firm of architects, had been paid “for Coppying Mr Kents design for a New Throne & Pulpitt.”56 It is not clear if these are the drawings surviving in the Minster archives, and if so what accounted for the delay in their implementation. What is certain, however, is that the surviving drawings for throne and pulpit, which seem to be annotated in Kent’s hand, are very carefully drawn, and if they are indeed by Kent himself then they appear to be the only properly scaled architectural drawings by him that are known.57 One sheet shows the pulpit with its wine-glass stem, overlaid with a part plan of the underside with its radiating ribs, together with the top section of the enclosure of the throne (labeled “Bishop’s Seat”). The other is a double sheet. On the left half is the canopy, labeled “Pulpit top/ & ye top of ye Bishop’s seat,” again with a part plan, while the right half has a plan and elevation labeled “sounding board,” meaning the underside of the canopy, with its pendant boss. The drawings reveal a much more careful and considered response to the Gothic context, with attractive small-scale detail—although Kent’s classical training is still betrayed in that detail: the little Vitruvian scrolls running up the angles of the canopy, the discreet use of bead-and-reel moldings, and the scalloped cresting around the canopy which clearly recalls the classical cresting found at Chiswick House, ultimately derived from Palladio.

Three smaller and less elaborate drawings relate to the overlapping project to provide new pews (known as the Ladies’ Seats) to enclose the bases of the pulpit and throne. Verticals and horizontals on the drawings are ruled, but the rest is drawn freehand in sepia ink, almost certainly by Kent. The paneling, alternately of two lights and one, adopts motifs from the pulpit and throne, notably the inward-turning cusp at the base of each ogee-headed panel. The accompanying contract, made with Healey, Mitley, and Leonard Terry in April 1741, specified that the pews were to be installed by Christmas Day that year. The adjoining medieval choir stalls, which are shown in a number of engravings, would have provided Kent with plenty of ideas for designing new fittings that were contextually in keeping.58 They were indeed generally admired for that reason, being less whimsical than his Gloucester screen and largely lacking that intermingling of Gothic and classical elements which so irritated Walpole there. Tragically, everything, old and new, was destroyed by the terrible fire started in the choir by a lunatic in February 1829.

One remaining drawing at York needs to be considered. This contains four items: a Gothick clock (probably intended for the Minster south transept), a small two-light window, and two larger items which at first appear to be designs for elaborately traceried windows but on closer inspection prove to be designs for doors—as confirmed by rather faint pencil inscriptions. One of these, incorporating a rose-window motif at its apex, was intended for the south transept, whose dominant feature is a large rose window. The lower part of the design has a small wicket door, tinted yellow. Comparison with the inner face of the existing south transept door, which is to a different but related design that also incorporates rose-window motifs, shows that the tracery was to be applied to a solid wood base. It is possible (though not certain) that the drawing, which is drawn partly with a compass, partly freehand, is by Kent, in which case the existing south transept door could also be ascribed to him. The other design on the sheet, which also incorporates a yellow-tinted wicket, appears to be for one of the aisle doors at the west end of the nave, though the existing doors are plain. The pencil inscription is “West Side Isle door the same as the upper teere of pannells adjoining to it,” a reference to the upper of two tiers of stone paneling to either side of these doors, which comprise narrow pointed niches with straight-sided canopies.

Gloucester Cathedral Screen

In 1741 a new choir screen for Gloucester Cathedral was commissioned from Kent by Bishop Martin Benson, to whom Vardy dedicated the engraving published in 1744.59 It was of the open veranda type (of which medieval examples survive at, for instance, Exeter and Chichester cathedrals), with clusters of slim octagonal columns supporting three ogee arches. Characteristically for Kent, the design unselfconsciously mingles Gothic and classical: the crockets running up the ogee arches, for example, are reminiscent of Vitruvian scrolls; the arches support a dentilled cornice; the attic is divided into wide and narrow sections by pairs of fluted pilasters; and the crowning cresting alternates Gothick and pineapple finials. The narrow sections of attic contain candelabra motifs, while the wide ones have hexagonal and octagonal panels—the latter with escutcheons in the outer bays and in the center an inscription with the date and bishop’s name.

Walpole, visiting the cathedral in 1753, commented that Kent “knew no more there than he did anywhere else how to enter into the true Gothic taste.”60 Subsequent generations agreed, and in 1820 the screen was removed.61 Vardy’s engraving indicates that the screen abutted directly on two of the massive Norman nave columns. Kent is said to have advised Bishop Benson that all the nave columns should be fluted, but this idea was abandoned when it was found that they were not solid masonry.62 Walpole noted that Bishop Benson had also “restored” his palace “to the Gothic,” and he may well have had Kent’s advice on that project too, although there is no documentary evidence and the building was pulled down in the mid-nineteenth century.63

Shobdon Church

A tantalizing building with which Kent’s name must somehow be associated is Shobdon Church in Herefordshire, even if he cannot have been entirely responsible for its design and was certainly not involved in its erection. The church has long been recognized as England’s finest ecclesiastical essay in rococo Gothick, but its authorship has proved elusive. The Kentian elements undoubtedly predominate: the windows have the elementary “plate tracery” which Kent used at Esher; the inner walls are articulated with ogee-headed panels copied from his York choir fittings; and the triple arches to chancel and transepts, with their Vitruvian-scroll frills, obviously derive from the Gloucester choir screen.64 On the other hand, these features are combined with quotations from Langley’s Gothic Architecture Improved: the triple arches rest on clustered columns of a kind found in Langley’s Gothic orders and not used elsewhere by Kent; the windows are given curvaceous frames taken from plate 39 of Langley; and the Bateman family pew is heated by a fireplace, which is a direct crib from plate 43.65

The church was paid for by Lord Bateman, absentee owner of the Shobdon estate, and erected in 1750–52 under the supervision of his uncle Dicky Bateman (an intimate of Walpole).66 The designs were supplied by an unidentified London architect. This rules out the Shrewsbury architect T. F. Pritchard, who was a noted provincial practitioner of the Gothick and often had recourse to Langley’s pattern book. It is conceivable that Kent might have supplied designs before his death in 1748, which were put on ice and then implemented with Langley-esque embellishments by someone else. It is also possible that the whole building was a Kent–Langley conflation by a different architect altogether. Howard Colvin’s conclusion was that these were probably Kent designs with embellishments, with Bateman employing Kent’s Office of Works colleague Henry Flitcroft to bring the project to fruition.67 There are drawbacks to this theory. Although Flitcroft had worked on Shobdon Court in 1746, the idiom there was classical, and his few known excursions into Gothick (an arch at Redlynch in Somerset and Alfred’s Tower at Stourhead) are in neither the Kent nor the Batty Langley manner. Colvin dismissed two candidates from Kent’s circle who might be thought stylistically more likely—Daniel Garrett and Stephen Wright—on the grounds that they had no known links with the Batemans. He did not even consider Vardy, who of course knew Kent’s Gothick output very well, having engraved it for his 1744 publication, and whose project for Milton Abbey, exactly contemporary with Shobdon, shows him to have been master of the idiom.68 Whether any of these architects would have suggested the incorporation of quotes from Langley is a question that may never be answered.

Garden Buildings

The great majority of Kent’s designs for garden and park ornaments are classical in style, even when attached to houses such as Esher and Rousham that were predominantly Gothick, but there were certainly occasions where he toyed with other idioms, whether Gothick, rustic, or even Chinese. One of the earliest examples of his use of Gothick in his garden buildings is what may be his preliminary idea for Queen Caroline’s Hermitage in her garden at Richmond.69 As built in1730–31, the Hermitage was given a rocky façade with classical pediments akin to that built at Stowe.70 The design, although also rocky, has a central Gothick arch flanked by quatrefoils, with Gothick niches in the short returns to either side. The octagonal interior, however, is classical, with a big shell niche containing a typically Kentian side-table, niches with busts, and chaises longues.71 The Hermitage (which was demolished in about 1775) was followed in 1735 by a much more singular structure known as Merlin’s Cave. The greatest oddity of the building was a Madame Tussauds in miniature, consisting of six life-size waxwork figures that seem to have occupied three Gothick niches in the central apse.

Three undated sketches for unexecuted Gothick ornaments to other landscapes demonstrate Kent’s unfailing talent for the genre. Among his drawings for the great park at Badminton in Gloucestershire is one for an ogee-canopied seat, which must tell us how the now ruined garden seat at Rousham once appeared.72 The archives of Sherborne Castle in Dorset contain an elevation and plan for an eye-catcher or screen, to be set against a backdrop of fir trees. Its central ogee-arched concavity sits between octangular turrets and is crowned by an upward curving parapet of oversized Vitruvian scrolls—altogether one of his most attractive Gothick designs. There seems to be no known connection between Kent and the Digbys of Sherborne, although the link may have been Alexander Pope who greatly admired the place. Finally, there is the design for a telescopic Gothick tower, crowned by a little spire and marked as 80 feet high. The inscription “Sir Con: Darcy” links this with the estate at Aske Hall in Yorkshire, where Sir Conyers D’Arcy was the proprietor between 1727 and his death in 1758. The design was not implemented, and what was built was quite different: a structure called the Temple, very large and undoubtedly Kentian in idiom. The precise date of its construction—whether during the time of Sir Conyers or that of his successor the Earl of Holdernesse (1758–67)—is uncertain, but the former seems more probable.73 The authorship is also uncertain. In 1973 it was attributed to Burlington’s protégé Daniel Garrett, but a 1974 article suggested Kent as the more likely author of the original drawing.74 Certainly, however, there are strong stylistic links with the Culloden Tower in nearby Richmond, built in 1746 and usually attributed to Garrett.

Echoes of the Kentian Gothick

Kent’s Gothick idiom may have been denigrated initially, but like his other accomplishments, it nonetheless influenced his contemporaries and later generations of architects and designers, including Daniel Garrett and John Vardy. Vardy’s scheme for Milton Abbey in Dorset, had it been executed, would have been the most important manifestation of the style by another architect. Vardy, who had already begun work on Dorchester House in Park Lane, London for Joseph Damer, Baron Milton and first Earl of Dorchester, offered the same client a choice of a classical or Gothick rebuilding of the rambling medieval abbot’s lodgings adjoining the abbey church. Vardy’s drawing shows the alternatives: either a neat classical box or a façade of equivalent width clad in Kentian Gothick.75 When Sir William Chambers was taken on to direct the resumption of operations in 1770 (five years after Vardy’s death), the notoriously mean Lord Milton dictated that Vardy’s original Gothick plans be adopted and adapted. An engraving of 1774 shows a building clad in the unmistakable Kentian Gothick repertoire, and although Chambers did his best to make the elevations as regular and un-Gothick as possible, his indebtedness to Vardy’s design is clear.76

A good number of other buildings show (or showed) the Kent influence without having an identifiable architect attached. For instance, little is known of Holton House near Oxford, which occupied a moated site on an estate adjacent to Shotover, and has disappeared completely.77 The only known illustration of it shows a castellated canted bay added to one end of an earlier building, decked out with the Esher vocabulary of ogee windows under square drip-molds and with a blind quatrefoil above the classical cornice.78 Equally obscure is Werrington Church on the Devon-Cornwall border, which was rebuilt in 1742 on a new site, as part of the replanning of Werrington Park and its grounds. The old tower was reused but the west façade was widened by castellated screen walls with niches and quatrefoils in the Kent manner. There may be a connection, still to be elucidated, with the rebuilding of Filleigh Church in 1730–32 to act as an eye-catcher for the Castle Hill estate in north Devon. The sham castle built on the hill above that house, visible in a painting of about 1741, has sometimes been called Kentian.79

Another architect greatly indebted to Kentian Gothick was Thomas Wright, as seen not only in his published designs for grottoes,80 but also in those for Hollybush House on the Badminton estate, with its Esher-esque porch, and for a castellated gate at Wallington in Northumberland.81 Elsewhere, the ghost of Esher is found in the engraved elevation of Alwalton Lodge in Huntingdonshire.82 It was once to be seen at Etloe House in Leyton, East London, said to have been built around 1760 by the eccentric antiquary Edward Rowe Mores. In its original state the house boasted not only a full array of ogee-headed windows but even a Gothick Diocletian window.83 Woburn Farm, Philip Southcote’s celebrated ferme ornée near Weybridge, had a Kentian Gothick cottage, noted by John Parnell when he visited in 1763 (and recorded subsequently in engravings). It was almost certainly built by Southcote before his death in 1758. Southcote knew Kent, although there is no evidence that he designed any of the ornamental buildings at Woburn.84

References to Kent’s Gothick work, particularly designs recorded in Vardy’s published engravings, crop up in surprising contexts. His York pulpit, for instance, found an echo in the ogee-arched paneling of a room of Old Heath Hall near Wakefield, a building recorded by the National Monuments Record in 1954 shortly before its demolition. Further echoes of the pulpit are even seen in a design for a Gothick pigeon house published by John Carter in 1775. Often, though, features or motifs traceable to Kent are intermingled with others clearly taken from Batty Langley’s much-plundered Gothick pattern book, as in some of the designs of John Carr of York, such as Boynton Church, Yorkshire. Kent’s influence, considerable though it was, was inevitably limited to those who had worked with him, those who had visited his buildings, or those who had seen the Vardy engravings. Langley’s book, by contrast, while building on Kent’s example, supplied specific designs for a wide range of structures and features, together with all the information in terms of moldings and dimensions, that patrons, architects, and builders unfamiliar with the idiom could possibly need. Nevertheless the fact remains that “Kent’s pioneer Gothic designs, inspired by a characteristic sensitivity to the genius loci … show him exercising a fantasy uncontrolled by Palladian constraints and establish him as the creator of an English rococo Gothick happily free from antiquarian preoccupations.”85

© Bard Graduate Center, Roger White.

In addition to those acknowledged in the text and notes, I am particularly grateful to John Harris, Clarissa Campbell Orr, and Charles Hind for their assistance. — RW

1.The spelling “Gothick” denotes a pseudo-archaic Gothic Revival idiom that originated in England in the eighteenth century and intermingled authentic Gothic with other elements such as classical motifs and Chinoiserie.

2.Barrett-Lennard in Lillian Dickens and Mary Stanton, eds., An Eighteenth Century Correspondence: Being the Letters of … to Sanderson Miller (London: J. Murray, 1910), 275; quoted in Michael McCarthy, The Origins of the Gothic Revival (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 48.

3.Horace Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, vol. 4 (London: J. Dodsley, 1782), 240.

4.It is also clear that Batty Langley was a source, since Walpole’s copy of Langley’s Gothic Architecture Improved has a Chute drawing for the Strawberry Hill elevation on its endpaper. McCarthy, Origins of Gothic Revival, 66.

5.It is slightly ironic that Kent first embarked on his Gothic career at the instigation of Horace Walpole’s father Sir Robert. Elsewhere, Walpole bracketed Wren and Kent together when he judged that they both “blundered into the heaviest and clumsiest compositions whenever they aimed at imitations of the Gothic”; Walpole, Anecdotes, 1:186. In the case of Tom Tower, it was Wren rather than the client who insisted that the design be contextually Gothic.

6.The Venetian window in the Common Room at All Souls College, Oxford, designed by Hawksmoor in about 1715, has the same Gothick outer hood, but its central arch is conventionally round.

7.Timothy Mowl, William Kent: Architect, Designer, Opportunist (London: Jonathan Cape, 2006), 4–5.

8.The feature illustrated as the west front of Bridlington Priory (ibid., facing p. 170) is not in fact Bridlington but the north porch of Beverley Minster. Oddly, Mowl contends that the ogee arch was “usually quite rare in English Gothic” (ibid., 5).

9.Howard M. Colvin, comp., Catalogue of Architectural Drawings of the 18th and 19thCenturies in the Library of Worcester College, Oxford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), pls. 57, 58. Mowl implies that Kent’s experience of Bridlington Gothic was bolstered by his encounter with Talman in London in 1709 (Mowl, William Kent, 13); if so, he did not act on it until forced to go Gothic at Hampton Court twenty-three years later.

10.See Xavier Galmiche, Santini, architecte gothico-baroque en Bohème, 1677–1723 (Paris: Jacques Damase, 1989).

11.Tom Tower’s ogee-hooded windows are of exactly the same type as those medieval examples in Yorkshire already cited.

12.William Mason, “The English Garden,” in The Works of William Mason, vol. 1 (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1811), 395n10.

13.Walpole called these designs “the most execrable performance you ever beheld.” Walpole to George Montagu, June 13, 1751, in Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, ed. W. S. Lewis et al., 40 vols. (New Haven: Yale University Press; London: Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, 1937–80), 9:116.

14.Mowl, William Kent, 201.

15.There are three historic scenes in the Royal Collection: Agincourt (OM 505, 402901), Meeting of Henry V and French Queen (OM506, 402898), and Their Marriage (OM 507, 402900, signed and dated 1729). These maybe the works covered by payments made to Kent in 1730–31.

16.The series began with a bust of William the Conqueror, but it was incomplete at the queen’s death (1737). Only busts of the Black Prince, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I survive in the Royal Library at Windsor. I am grateful to Jonathan Marsden, Deputy Surveyor of the Queen’s Works of Art, for this information. It is uncertain whether the busts were intended, as Marsden believes, for the Queen’s Library at St. James’s Palace, or for Merlin’s Cave, as suggested in Joanna Marschner, “Queen Caroline of Anspach and the European Princely Museum Tradition,” in Clarissa Campbell Orr, ed., Queenship in Britain 1660–1837: Royal Patronage, Court Culture, and Dynastic Politics (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press; New York: Palgrave, 2002), 133.

17.John Cornforth hinted at an attribution to Kent in the Houghton guidebook. John Cornforth, Houghton, Norfolk (Derby, UK: Heritage House Group, 2007): 47.

18.The date of 1726 given in Bill Wilson, Norfolk 2: North-West and South, Buildings of England, 2nd ed. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999), 428, and the statutory list description is therefore inaccurate.

19.The two buildings are no more than a half mile apart, and the view would probably have been more open in the eighteenth century.

20.The drawings of the church are in the Drawings Collection, B series, 1–14, Houghton Archive, Houghton Hall, Norfolk. The tower drawings are B4–7 and B10.

21.David Yaxley, “The Tower of Houghton St. Martin Church,” Annual Bulletin of the Norfolk Archaeological and Historical Research Group, no. 3 (1994): 46–50.

22.The work was authorized in June 1732, and the building bears the initials “GIIR” and the date 1732. Juliet Allan, “New Light on William Kent at Hampton Court Palace,” Architectural History 27 (1984): 50–58. Thisis a correction to Howard M. Colvin, ed., History of the King’s Works, vol. 5, 1660–1682 (London: HMSO, 1976), 180. Ironically the duke’s Presence Chamber now contains two portraits of his despised elder brother, Frederick, Prince of Wales, for whom Kent was to work extensively at Kew, Carlton House, and elsewhere; and Frances Vivian, A Life of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1707–1751: A Connoisseur of the Arts, ed. Roger White (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006), 125–49.

23.Walpole, Anecdotes, 3:168.

24.I am grateful to Dr. Kent Rawlinson for showing me around the building and sharing his detailed knowledge of it.

25.Quoted in Colvin, King’s Works, 5:181.

26.At least two roundels were on the preceding range, and all the frames seem to be original, but two have heads that are post-sixteenth century. The latter are those of Titus (which is thought possibly to be modeled on George II) and Julius Caesar.

27.The window was removed some time after1872 and replaced by the present Tudor rectangle. Allan, “New Light on William Kent,” 54.

28.Dismantled as unsafe shortly after 1853; see ibid., 53.

29.Because this was a remodeling of a Tudor royal apartment rather than a complete replacement, and because Kent had to fit in and compromise, there are awkward angles and leftover spaces internally. In short, it is a cut-price job.

30.According to John Harris, however, Edward Croft-Murray suggested that it might be based on a Holbein woodcut of Henry VIII in Council; see Harris, William Kent, 1685–1748: A Poet on Paper, exh. cat. (London: Soane Museum, 1998), no. 43.

31.Kent, “Sketch plan for a house incorporating Wayneflete’s Tower at Esher Place, Surrey,” ca. 1730–35, PDP E359-1986, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

32.Vardy’s engravings were probably intended for Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones and Mr. Wm. Kent (1744) but for some reason were not included.

33.The family crest (Pelham Buckle), a stylized belt buckle originating in 1356, is depicted on those of the inner arch.

34.The pictures must have hung at Esher in one of the two large reception rooms in the north wing; at Lees Court they were screwed to the walls of the Great Room. I am grateful to John Harris for drawing my attention to the pictures, and to Countess Sondes for clarifying the position regarding their destruction.

35.See Roger White, “Saved by the Landmark Trust: Laughton Place, East Sussex,” Country Life 173 (May 5, 1983): 1184.

36.In 1978–81 the tower was saved from final collapse and restored by the Landmark Trust.

37.Now in a vellum-bound volume inscribed on the front, “Plans of Honningham / Drawn by Mr Kent in / 1737”; RIBA Drawings Collection, VOS/230.

38.This is in ibid., inscribed on the verso in Kent’s hand “For Honingham in Norfolk / Wm Kent / 1738.”

39.Mavis Batey, introduction to Ulrich Müller,“Rousham: A Transcription of the Steward’s Letters, 1738–42,” Garden History 25 (Winter 1997): 178–88. The steward, William White, wrote at least monthly to Dormer in London; his letters are preserved in the archive at Rousham.

40.Christopher Hussey, “Rousham, Oxfordshire—I. The Property of Mr T. Cottrell-Dormer,” Country Life 99 (May, 17 1946): 900.

41.On July 4, 1738, White reported to Dormer that “ye Battlements are set up and the carpenters employd in framing timber for ye Turrit”; quoted in Müller, “Rousham,” 181.

42.On February 23, 1739, White wrote to Dormer that Kent had supplied a design for the north front from the central porch “to the extremity of the Library.” “I beg he would forthwith determine where the Neches are to be plac’d and at the same time send directions on what manner they are to be finish’d”; quoted in Müller, “Rousham,” 182.

43.Nikolaus Pevsner and Jennifer Sherwood, Oxfordshire, Buildings of England, rev. ed. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1974), 743.

44.Walpole to George Montagu, July 19, 1760, in Walpole, Correspondence, 9:290.

45.No detailed records or accounts survive as to how Kent fitted up the room, though there is a recently discovered undated sketch at Rousham. Mrs. Delany described the room, not very specifically, as “magnificent, fitted up at the highest expense.” The 1742 inventory (Rousham Mss., Rousham House, Oxfordshire) lists twenty busts in the library; these were placed mainly along the tops of the bookcases.

46.Various dates for the alteration have been given, but this date, 1877, comes from an old Rousham guidebook that was privately printed by the family with a text so specific that it seems reliable: “Kent’s alterations on the North Front are hidden by an addition, made in 1877, by Mr. Clement Upton Cottrell Dormer, grandfather of the present owner.”

47.The structure on the edge of the paddock west of the house, described as a “gothick seat” (John Dixon Hunt, William Kent, Landscape Garden Designer: An Assessment and Catalogue of His Designs [London: A. Zwemmer,1987], 81), hardly qualifies as such since, although battlemented, it is entirely round arched. Dormer’s gardener, John Clary, in his description of the circuit around the grounds, seems to refer to the riverside seat as “a large nich, that makes a very handsome Garden Seat, where you set down, and view the River and Garden, from one end to the other.” He also refers to “a pretty little Gothick building (which I designed for Proserpine’s Cave),” but this appears to have been somewhere on the western perimeter, to one side of a serpentine gravel walk; quoted in Mavis Batey, “The Way to View Rousham by Kent’s Gardener,” Garden History 11 (Autumn 1983): 125–42.

48.Rousham archives, quoted in Batey, “Way to View Rousham,” 125–42.

49.Colvin, King’s Works, 5:389–90.

50.At the north end of the hall, meanwhile, in 1740–41 the Court of Common Pleas was rehoused in a new building reached through an ogee-headed door in the hall’s outer wall. The internal details were Gothick and the design may well have been by Kent, although a surviving sectional drawing appears to be in the hand of Isaac Ware; see ibid., 5:390.

51.Much of this information on Kent’s involvement at York Minster is derived from Terry Friedman, “The Transformation of York Minster, 1726–42,” Architectural History 38 (1995): 69–90.

52.Francis Drake, Eboracum: Or the History and Antiquities of York … (London: n.p., 1736), 523.

53.The existing throne was described by Drake (ibid.) as “a plain piece of oak wainscot,” while the pulpit was a Stuart one brought from elsewhere in 1726; both were considered inadequate and inappropriate.

54.The pulpit and choir are visible in an engraving of 1795. See Friedman, “Transformation of York Minster,” 82, fig. 14, or J. Halfpenny, Gothic Ornament in the Cathedral Church of York (York: n.p., 1795), pl. 105.

55.E4B, fol. 45v, October 14, 1740, York Minster Archives, York, cited in Friedman, “Transformation of York Minster,” 90n82.

56.E2 (23), n.p., York Minster Archives, York; cited in ibid., 89n78.

57.As Sir Howard Colvin observed to Terry Friedman (ibid., 90n80).

58.The Kent fittings are shown in John Harwood’s 1827 painting of the choir interior looking west; see Jonathan Alexander and Paul Binski, eds., Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England, 1200–1400, exh. cat. (London: Royal Academy of Arts published in association with Weidenfeld and Nicolson,1987), 377 illus.. Harwood also made an engraving of the choir looking east.

59.Benson was installed as bishop in 1734 and died in office in 1753. He had had a link with Kent as chaplain to Frederick, Prince of Wales since 1726, and Kent also designed a Palladian frontispiece to the bishop’s palace at Gloucester; David Welander, The History, Art and Architecture of Gloucester Cathedral (Wolfeboro Falls, NH: Alan Sutton, 1991), 409. Among the distinguished collection of architectural books bequeathed to the cathedral library by Benson at least one had been given to him by Lord Burlington; Thomas Cocke, “Bishop Benson and His Restoration of Gloucester Cathedral, 1735–1752,” in BAA Conference Transactions for 1981 (n.p., the conference, 1981), n.p. There are no references to the project in the cathedral archives, so it is assumed that Benson obtained the informal agreement of the Dean and Chapter and paid for the screen himself. Welander, History, Art and Architecture, 409.

60.Walpole to Richard Bentley, September 1753, in Walpole, Correspondence, 35:154.

61.Other critics included James Dallaway, who considered that “the man of taste must regret that the good bishop Benson … should have wasted his munificence upon ill-conceived and inappropriate monuments, upon works which are neither Gothick nor Chinese. Kent, who was praised in his day for what he little understood, designed the skreen”; Dallaway, Observations on English Architecture, Military, Ecclesiastical, and Civil … (London: J. Taylor, 1806), 78.


63.Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600–1840, 4th ed. (New Haven: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 615.

64.The ogee-headed panels specifically relate to the York pulpit, published by Vardy as pl. 51 of Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones.

65.Roger White, “The Influence of Batty Langley,” in A Gothick Symposium at the Victoria and Albert Museum, May 21, 1983, proceedings (London: Georgian Group, 1983), n.p.

66.The sources behind this information are enumerated in Howard M. Colvin, “William Kent, Henry Flitcroft and Shobdon Church,” in David Jones and Sam McKinstry, eds., Essays in Scots and English Architectural History, Festschrift in Honour of John Frew, St. Andrews University (Donington, UK: Shau Tyas, 2008), 1–8.

67.Ibid. Colvin was preceded in this conclusion by McCarthy, Origins of Gothic Revival, 151–54; and Joan Lane, “Shobdon Church, Herefordshire,” Apollo 141 (January 1995): 23–27.

68.Roger White, “John Vardy, 1718–65,” in Roderick Brown, ed., The Architectural Outsiders (London: Waterstone, 1985), 71–74.

69.Cinzia Maria Sicca, “Like a Shallow Cave by Nature Made: William Kent’s ‘natural’ Architecture at Richmond,” Architectura 16 (1986): 68–82.

70.The proposal was considered by the Board of Works in November 1730, when Henry Flitcroft and Andrews Jelfe were authorized to proceed with its implementation; Colvin, King’s Works, 5:224.

71.The interior as executed is illustrated by Vardy, Some Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones, pl. 33.

72.Badminton Archives (with kind permission of the Duke of Beaufort), Badminton; the seat was no doubt designed for the fourth Duke of Beaufort, who inherited in 1746; see Dixon Hunt, William Kent, 110 illus.

73.An isolated payment of £40 to the plasterer Vassali for work unrelated to his earlier work in the main house, may help pinpoint the date. See Giles Worsley, “Aske Hall, Yorkshire—I,” Country Life 184 (March 1,1990): 80–83.

74.For attribution to Garrett, see Barbara Jones, Follies and Grottoes, 2nd ed. (London: Constable, 1974), 366; for attribution to Kent, see Peter Leach, “The Architecture of Daniel Garrett—III, In the Gothic Vein,” Country Life 156 (September 26, 1974): 837.

75.The latter idiom is clearly shown in an engraving of Milton Abbey in 1774, although in fact that house was never built. John Hutchins, History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, vol. 2 (London: W. Bowyer and J. Nichols, 1774), 438.

76.Roger White, “John Vardy, 1718–65,” in Brown, Architectural Outsiders, 71–74.

77.Kent is known to have worked there in the mid-1720s. Colvin, Biographical Dictionary, 616.

78.John Harris drew attention to this in “William Kent’s Gothick,” in Gothick Symposium, n. 11.

79.Christopher Hussey, “Castle Hill—I. Devon: The Seat of the Earl Fortescue,” Country Life 75 (March 17, 1934): 272–77; Robin Faussett, “The Creation of the Gardens at CastleHill,” Garden History 13 (Autumn 1985): 102–25. The church was rebuilt out of recognition in 1876–77.

80.Thomas Wright, Universal Architecture, book 2 (London: [the author], 1768), esp. pl. I, recalling Kent’s preliminary design for the Richmond hermitage.

81.See Eileen Harris’s introduction to Wright, Universal Architecture (1768; facsimile ed., London: Scolar Press, 1979), n.p. Wright’s garden designs were first recognized as the link between Kent and Capability Brown by George Mason in Mason, Essay on Design in Gardening (London: B. and J. White, 1795), 111–13, 128–29.

82.Inscribed “Erected by Robert Pigott Esq. 1777,” though it is by no means clear that the house was ever actually built, according to Mr A. D. Hill of Cambridgeshire County Record Office, where this engraving is located.

83.Vestry House Museum, London. The house was heavily altered in the nineteenth century and lost most of its Gothick features.

84.The cottage, which was demolished in 1822, seems to have housed a poultry-woman and was adjacent to a menagerie. The pretty triple-ogee-arched porch contained a seat for admiring the view. James Sambrook, “Wooburn Farm in the 1760s,” Garden History 7 (Summer 1979): 82–101.

85.Colvin, Biographical Dictionary, 613–14.