Richmond House in London: Its History: Part II. Contents and Later Developments

Article excerpt

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Richmond House, Whitehall, built for Charles, 2nd Duke of Richmond, between 1733-36, has been shown to have been designed by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, possibly with changes in the execution (Pl 1). An extension and alterations made to the house by Matthew Brettingham, Sr (1699-1769), have also been described. The first article (The British Art Journal, VIII, 2, pp3-15) dealt mainly with origins, location, layout and design. This second article mostly considers its interiors and contents.

A sketch of the site of Richmond House, believed to be by the 2nd Duke, and possibly a proposal, provides a useful reminder of the layout, with the separate kitchen block at the rear (Pl 2). The project of building the house is said to have been undertaken by Daniel Garrett (d 1753), a protege of Lord Burlington, who had assisted him in many of his early building schemes. In 1736 Sir Thomas Robinson of Rokeby, the gentleman amateur architect and friend of the 2nd Duke of Richmond, wrote that Garrett 'has had care and conduct of the Duke of Richmond's house'. (1) Garrett received a total of 41 [pounds sterling] in payment only at the end of the building period, in 1736. (2)

The interiors of Richmond House can only be pieced together from a medley of clues and fragments. From this information the most intriguing aspect is trying to quantify whether William Kent was directly involved, it is hoped that by presenting what evidence exists, other scholars may gradually further evaluate the respective hands of Burlington, Garrett and Kent.

Possible documentary evidence of Kent's hand is suggested in an exchange of letters now at Holkham Hall in Norfolk, where both Kent and Matthew Brettingham had recently been employed by Thomas Coke, later Earl of Leicester. (3) An undated letter, from about March 1736, shows Thomas Coke, at the time Lord Lovell, writing from Holkham to Brettingham, encouraging him to go to 'measure' for the Duke of Richmond in London: '...I suppose I shall see you before you go, if you go to London, I (adv)ise you to go. by measuring the D. of Richmonds you() have an opportunity to measure and enter into the measuring () finest ceilings etc. besides getting much credit, & great friends, if you can be of service to the Duke. You may also then get your book of Ld. Burlingtons if you wait on him and do any commissions yt you may want at London adieu'. (4)

Brettingham always felt that Kent had taken credit for his own work at Holkham, and when Coke suggested that he work for the Duke of Richmond, he was uneasy. It sounds as if this could have been because of Kent's hand in the project.. A draft reply in faint pencil from Brettingham shows that he was keen but worried: '...I shall & must enter willingly on that affair on account of your lordship's kind recommendation of me though I must expect great opposition and ill usage from a combination of rogues and villains who clearly make it their study to cheat and impose upon my kind'. (5)

Lord Lovell then wrote again to Brettingham at Norwich, dated 1st April 1736, to say that the Duke would like to know if he was coming to do the project, but that the house would not be 'quite finish't of some months'. (6) The Duke wanted the house all to be 'measured' at once, and so Brettingham could wait until mid summer at the earliest. Surveying 'the D. of Richmonds ornaments' was going to be a worthwhile task. (7)

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An account recording a payment 'to Mr Brickingham the Surveyor & his assistant for their journey and expenses' is dated 13 November 1737. (8) This was presumably for a journey from Norwich to London, and may not have been the first such visit. Brettingham's subsequent work at Richmond House has already been documented, and there is no further record of his relationship with Kent.

A look at surviving chimneypieces may yield further clues. …