Last week I talked briefly about the house at Kenwood in the 1600’s and this time we move on to the events of the 18th century which led to the big showy makeover by Robert Adam (that’s for next week).
Something I didn’t mention last week is that in the seventeenth century the house was known as Caenwood. It changed hands several times in the beginning of the eighteenth century. From 1704 to 1711 it belonged to a London merchant, John Walter, and then to William, 4th Earl of Berkeley, who sold it on to John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll, in 1712.
In 1746 the Scottish aristocrat John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, acquired Kenwood. His interest in plants probably led to the addition of the orangery to the west of the south front and the introduction of new species to the grounds.
The footprint of this house first appears on John Rocque’s plan of Westminster and Southwark of 1746. If you’ve never seen this map it’s worth looking up as it a gorgeous thing consisting of 24 sheets at a scale of 26 inches to a mile. Nearly ten years in the making, it has been described as “a magnificent example of cartography.”
The big news came in 1754 when William Murray (1705–93), from 1756 1st Earl of Mansfield, acquired Kenwood for £4,000 and used it as a weekend retreat. Lord Mansfield expanded the estate, and modernised the gardens spending a fortune on making the site more natural looking.
Unfortunately the couple were childless, but from about 1766 they agreed to house their niece, Anne Murray, and two great-nieces, Elizabeth Murray and ‘Dido’ Elizabeth Belle,
which must have enlivened the routine of the household considerably. In any case it seems Mansfield felt it worth spending more money on giving the house a real update and he could afford it as he had done well and was increasing in status and in wealth. he chose the men of the moment, the real cutting edge boys, the Scottish neoclassical architect Robert Adam and his brother James, to remodel the house from 1764 to 1779. I’ll tell you what they got up to next week.