World Architecture Day 2023
It’s World Architecture Day on 2 October 2023; an excellent opportunity for us to appreciate the iconic architectural creations of the past in different parts of the world! In honour, we are highlighting the work of prominent Scottish neo-classical architect, Robert Adam and his ‘redesign’ of Compton Verney.
John Peyton Verney (1738 – 1816), 14th Baron Willoughby de Broke commissioned Robert Adam, to propose alterations to Compton Verney in the mid 18th century.
Adam’s proposed remodelling was much more extensive than anything that had taken place before. His drawings of the ground, first and attic storeys show what was to be retained from the original building and what was demolished. Three of the four sides of the original courtyard house (the east, north and south wings) were to be torn down, and Adam proposed the addition of a portico on the new east front and the reconstruction of the north and south wings, giving the house its present U-shape.
The building work for Adam’s alterations was carried out from about 1762-1768, supervised by the Warwick architect and mason, William Hiorn, who was also employed locally at Charlecote House and Stoneleigh Abbey. The stone came from the estate and the surrounding local quarries of Warwick, Hornton, Gloucester and Painswick. The most important changes include the removal of the Great Staircase on the west front and its replacement by a Saloon with pairs of columns, plus alterations to the Hall, as well as the creation of an attic storey above it. Adam also added a library and octagonal study to the south wing and adapted the brewhouse and bakery to the north of the house.
The floor plans of the house were published in the fifth volume of Vitruvius Britannicus in 1771, and show various differences from Adam’s drawings, some of which suggest that some of the Baroque interiors had been left as they were. Robert Adam was often responsible for the interior decoration as well as the architectural design of his buildings. However, at Compton Verney he designed the decoration of only a few rooms, including the Hall and the Saloon. The rest were decorated by local craftsmen using their own pattern-book designs.
His drawing for the decoration of the Hall in the Victoria & Albert Museum shows three large plaster picture frames placed high on the walls that originally contained large landscape paintings with classical ruins. These landscapes were painted by the Venetian artist and favoured collaborator of Robert Adam, Antonio Pietro Francesco Zucchi (1726-1795). They were removed from the house and sold at a later date, and only the plaster frames remain. It is this period in the history of the house that is captured in the famous painting by the artist Johann Zoffany, now owned by the J.Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The painting shows John, 14th Baron and his family in the breakfast room on the ground floor at Compton Verney.
Although Adam’s work on the mansion was completed in 1769, building work continued on the other buildings at Compton Verney until the 1780s.