By Rachel Lovett, Curator, Hammond-Harwood House after attending the 2019 Attingham Summer School which explores 26 great British Country Houses during the month of July.
The iconic British Countryside conjures up images of a grand house, set against the backdrop of rolling hills and sheep dotting the countryside. American’s have long been Anglophiles obsessed with the English great house and it can be witnessed through discussing Downtown Abbey drama or Jane Austen fan clubs. After this summer I am happy to report that those images you all fancy are alive and well and living in places like Sussex and Derbyshire!
This July I had the opportunity to attend the 68th class of the Attingham Summer School, which is an 18 residential course that explores, art, architecture, and landscape of 26 great British Country houses. It is entirely in the country, I did not go to London once. The summer school was developed in 1952 not on British soil, but rather a garden in Washington D.C. -Dumbarton Oaks, owned by American heiress and philanthropist Mildred Bliss. Bliss was in conversation with a Helen Lowenthal, an educator from Britain. The two conspired to create a school where American curators could better understand the context behind their British collections. The school was initially based at Attingham Park, a country house then serving as a college, and it is what the program is named for.
Changing needs led to the removal from that site and the course now starts the program at West Dean College, also a country house, converted to a college for conservators. Attingham was created during a pivotal time for the British country house which then was looming on extinction as over 600 houses were demolished from 1870 to 1974. At one point in the mid-20th century a few every week were being destroyed. High death taxes and large maintenance fees were largely the reason, and families were left with very difficult decisions. Giving your home or collection to the National Trust was an option but only for those selected. Therefore the Attingham course, first of its kind, helped to shed light and scholarly interest on these sites for their significance to the country.
Initially the Attingham program was designed with Americans in mind, however now the makeup is roughly 50% American, 40% British and 10% from countries around the world. The course is highly regarded in the museum field for training mid-career level curators and conservators in this immersive three week course that challenges professionals to think in creative ways to interpret their British collections.
In the United States most historic house museums have some influence from British architecture, and the home where I curate in Maryland is no exception. The historic Hammond-Harwood House c.1774 was designed by Oxford born architect William Buckland and constructed in the Anglo-Palladian style. Our collection dates to about 1770 to 1830 and has a high percentage of British artifacts. Therefore I am constantly using British archives and narratives to get a better context of our past. In the following post I will highlight the connections between the British country house and Hammond-Harwood House.
Architecture has long been used a way to advance status. Matthias Hammond, the original owner of the Hammond-Harwood House, sought out English born architect William Buckland in 1774 to design his home. Buckland carefully poured over design books and looked back to the Palladian designs he had seen in his hometown of Oxford and London where he trained. Buckland engaged in a centuries old tradition of creating a masterpiece for a demanding and invested client who hoped to demonstrate their taste, wealth and status through their home, like the British country house.
During my trip I went to several castles, and I was immediately struck by the grandeur and age of these immense edifices. As an American historian, life for me began in the 17th century. However, British architectural history goes back more than 700 years before the pilgrims first landed, and I wondered what connections, if any, would find to the home in Annapolis where I curated.
If we look at the medieval or Jacobean castle at first glance there may not be a lot of connections between the Hammond-Harwood House and a site like Cowdray, a 16th century manor house now a ruin after a 1793 fire. However, if you look a little closer a connection can be made to Cowdray or any other medieval castle. The anatomy of a medieval castle or manor is pretty standard. The center of the household revolves around a great hall. The hall was where dining occurred, visitors gathered, and was the heartbeat of the social life within the castle walls. It was generally found on what the English call the ground floor, and Americans would call the first floor. I assure there was a lot of confusion for American’s upon check at the three spots we stayed given this difference!
Each medieval castle also had a long gallery found in the higher levels. This served to showcase the family’s ancestral paintings and treasures like at Parham House in Sussex. Other examples of halls I saw include Hardwick hall in Derbyshire and Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire just to name a few.
In addition to the great hall and long gallery, each structure also had a private wing for family use, their own turret tower in a castle. The connection to Hammond-Harwood House comes from firsthand account in the 1835 daybook of Frances Loockerman. She lived in the Hammond-Harwood House from 1811 when she moved in as a young mother to her death in 1857. She called Hammond-Harwood House her “castle” and indeed this structure shuts up just like a fortress with seven locks on the front door and five on all of the others. Furthermore, she called her bedroom, the inner most sanctum of her world, her “North East Turret of my castle”.
In an English country house you will often find an area of the house called the state apartments. These quarters contain a sitting room, bedroom, and often an additional meeting space. Designated for royal visits, these apartments were made for a grand display to show your best bed and furnishings. At the Hammond-Harwood House our equivalent is the best bedchamber on the first floor which is a very fancy guest bedroom meant to showcase the best bed hangings and use as a space for entertainment, not sleeping for the family.
The castles were remarkable and more relevant than I had originally anticipated, however, I was pleased when we went to the Palladian inspired homes which were similar to Hammond-Harwood House.
Uppark House burned in August of 1989, however, the vast majority of the contents of the home were saved by the National Trust staff, visitors, and local firemen. The Trust then had to make the difficult choice to rebuild, or to leave as a ruin as seen with sites like Cowdray. They choose to rebuild and restore it to the day before the fire, given they had plans and photographs of the interior. This meant an enormous amount of painstaking time and research.
Today the house looks as if nothing happened, save a few scorch marks and various areas.
It is an incredible testament to modern day craftsmanship and as my professor Tessa Wild stated, “Everyone thinks that this type of skills are dead, it just not true. Give people the time and the money and you can discover the craftsmanship is still alive and well. Uppark is a testament to that.” Here at the Hammond-Harwood House we are having an extensive window restoration project done and we are using skilled craftsman who are painstakingly conserving the window frame and glass giving the craftsman the time and the money to do their magic.
Another Palladian inspired home I saw at Attingham is Keddleston Hall. Keddleston is one of the earliest and greatest works of Scottish born architect Robert Adam, who worked in the Palladian style. Adams had spent a great deal of time in Italy and was friends with Giovanni Piranesi from the Veneto. Piranesi rose to fame making detailed drawings of classical antiquity.
In 1760 Adams began working on a home for Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron of Scarsdale, taking over from architect Mathew Brettingham who had made the initial plan, which was based on Palladio’s Villa Mocenigo. Hammond-Harwood House is the only known house in colonial America which can claim to be inspired by a plate in Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture, the Villa Pisani.
British country houses became a center of learning for young and upcoming architects like Peter Harrison, who studied with an unknown British Lord and then brought Palladianism to America with his Redwood Athenaeum in 1750 in Newport Rhode Island.
Clearly William Buckland was well aware of the Palladian style and current architecture ideas. When he died in 1774 during the construction of the Hammond-Harwood House property he had one of the largest architectural libraries in the American colonies with 14 books, which could only be rivaled with collections like those of Thomas Jefferson.
The brilliance of William Buckland lies in his ability to take a country house structure and recreate it in an urban setting with limited acreage. It shows Buckland’s understanding of a Palladian villa and his genius in miniaturizing and transforming it for 18th century colonial Maryland.
In designing this property it is only natural that one would question the layout for the extensive land behind the home that Hammond bought with the property. The garden was originally made up four city lots, it was described in a 1789 deed as Hammond’s Square. Hammond had purchased the four lots between 1772 and 74 with the intention of building the property. It was bounded by King George Street, Price George Street, and the boundary of the Paca property. Where the house is situated was probably the only unobstructed view of the harbor. There is a large spring which feeds into the pond at the Paca garden and empties into the city dock area. The spring bisected the property so the only suitable location for the property would have been where you see the home today.
While Buckland died before this property was finished he may have made a few suggestions about the grounds. In England he would have seen great country houses and the introduction of landscape gardening. One gardener in particular was gaining incredible fame during the 1750’s whilst Buckland was studying in London. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was born of humble origins but worked at a few country houses as gardener before coming to Stowe House in Cambridgeshire in 1741, where he worked under William Kent (1685–1748) to who introduced the new naturalistic English garden style. Kent was an architect, painter and furniture designer. He lived in the Veneto from 1709 to 1719 and then brought the Palladian style back to England. His landscapes were created to correspond with the architecture of Palladian homes.
This naturalistic English style of garden replaced the more formal jardin a la francaise with strict geometric lines. The English garden presented an idealized view of nature with lakes, rolling hills, livestock, and recreation of classical temples.
Brown worked at Stowe House then became a consultant landscape gardener and designed over 170 properties around England. Brown got nickname because he often told his clients that their grounds had great “capabilities”. He was an excellent and persuasive salesman.
Traditional architects also got into this new style of gardening, designing outbuildings to fit the classical tastes of these naturalistic gardens. For example Batty Langley’s 1735 renovations to the Bowling Green at Wrest Park and Brown’s son in law, Henry Holland’s Chinese dairy at Woburn. Architect James Gibbs played a huge influence in the life our architect William Buckland. Buckland witnessed Gibbs Radcliffe camera being built during his youth in Oxford and saw several of his buildings while studying joinery in London. Gibbs influence on Buckland is evident through the Gibbs surround window, Buckland placed on the stairway at Hammond-Harwood House similar to the one’s Gibbs used on St. Martin’s in the field in London.
The four acres from the Hammond-Harwood house down to the Paca gardens were originally a gentle slope we believe it was then filled in to have series of terraces or “falls”. Similar falls can still be seen at the Paca gardens today, which is a recreated garden of what originally existed on the property. Visitors coming to Annapolis just before the American Revolution described a brick mansion that dominated the town as being set in a spacious lawn that featured trees and shrubs. No formal pattern was noted. It is therefore apparent that the “English style” of a more naturalistic garden had taken hold in Annapolis. The lots closer to Prince George Street we believe had some outbuildings, a pasture, and an orchard. Hammond never lived on the property nor did his nephews who inherited the property so it’s’ hard to say what kind of garden existed at this time or if Buckland any gave any advice, though he would have had knowledge of Gibbs and Brown’s work.
The beauty of these country houses is not only the grounds or architecture but the material culture they hold. Often the same family has lived in the home for hundreds of years building on the collection. The vast majority of the homes I visited did have a family still living on the property. During our trip we visited a few private homes for meals and viewed their collections.
Although no one lives at the Hammond-Harwood, we are fortunate to have the contents of collections to be about 30% original, this is due to dedicated volunteer and staff members who acquired objects back after the 1925 auction which was held upon Hester Harwood’s death. One of our most important collections is 17 works by the Peale family. Charles Willson Peale, patriarch of the Peale family of painters, lived in Annapolis from his youth into his mid 20’s. The wealthy elite of Annapolis recognized his artistic talent and sent him to London and study under Benjamin West. In London Peale was exposed to the great European masters and came back with a style heavily influenced by British portrait and genre painters. During my course I came across a painting that struck me as a Peale connection.
At Keddleston the 1st Baron of Scarsdale, Nathaniel Curzon (1726-1804) is depicted with his wife Caroline Colyear, Lady Scarsdale by Nathaniel Hone is 1761. The couple appears relaxed and at ease with their surroundings in the garden. Curzon inherited a grand estate in Derbyshire and wanted to outdo any of his neighbors including the Cavendish family of Chatsworth, so in 1759 he commissioned Robert Adams to build him a lavish Palladian Villa called Keddleston. The beauty of Keddleston is found not only in its symmetrical lines or classical references but in the vision and execution of one man’s ideal home. Curzon had the money and time to create his perfect home. Unlike other country houses the estate has not been altered by later generations. According to Dr. John Chu of the National Trust this painting style was new and unusual for that time period. However the style is something you see in Peale paintings. For example, Peale’s 1788 painting of Benjamin and Eleanor Ridgely Laming of Baltimore, which portrays the couple relaxing outside in their garden as if you had just encountered them. The connection could be explained as Peale saw Hone’s work in London. Hone was one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Art in 1768 along with Peale’s teacher Benjamin West.
The last painting I will mention is that of Margaret Frances Townley Chase attributed to the school of Sir Godfrey Knellor. Born the daughter of Lord Townley in London, she was given a life of luxury raised by her maternal grandfather and her step grandmother. She fell in love with a middle-class reverend, Richard Chase, and moved to Maryland, essentially leaving her fortune up to fate, as it was then governed by her step uncle. This painting done before her marriage in the 1720’s shows several attributes. In the background is a dolphin, a Christian symbol, as dolphins would save sailors at sea. The dolphin is a symbol found throughout the British country house on the decorative arts. The dog in her lap is a King Charles Spaniel which only friends of the king could own. Dogs are meant to represent two things for a woman fertility and loyalty. Currently at Chatsworth House there is an exhibition depicting 197 paintings and sculptures of dogs and I was pleased to make the connection to Margaret’s portrait.
Margaret was a heraldic heiress, meaning that her male line had died out and she could inherit her father’s coat of arms. Only Margaret’s direct descendants had claim to her coat of arms. However, her nephew by marriage Samuel Chase, signer of the American Declaration of Independence, used her arms a number of times on silver urns and Chinese porcelain. Americans did not adhere to strict British heraldry rules and would often steal or invent a coat of arms.
At Parham House in Sussex I saw a lantern clock which closely resembled one we have here in the collection. This clock was created by Henri Chapel. I am working to find the maker but it could quite possibly be Chapel, same as the clock at Parham. I have been in correspondence with a gentleman who runs the clock tour at Parham about this research.
This course for me was all about making connections between English and American architecture and collections. Despite the scale of the houses the course taught me the narrative of these transatlantic great houses is similar. It is a story about people trying to advance themselves through architecture like Matthias Hammond, building collections over generations like the Chase and Loockerman families, and struggling to hold on to these large homes despite the financial strain like the Harwood’s. It was a truly life changing experience and I will continue on what my Attingham professor David Adshead called the journey of “Elegant curiosity”.