Rac­ing and rev­elry

In the 300th an­niver­sary of the birth of the ar­chi­tect James Paine, Richard Hewl­ings as­sesses his work on Don­caster’s Man­sion House, South York­shire

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Paul High­nam

Don­caster came into ex­is­tence as a ro­man fort at the point where the Great north road crosses the Don and as an in­land port. It did not de­velop a sta­ple in­dus­try, but a fer­tile hin­ter­land pre­served the town’s pros­per­ity un­til its in­dus­trial ex­pan­sion. this fol­lowed the ar­rival of the rail­way in 1852 and the open­ing of col­lieries as late as 1905. then, in 1971, came the In­ner re­lief road, an act of self-mu­ti­la­tion.

some sense of the town’s for­mer in­ter­est and char­ac­ter is, how­ever, pre­served in one out­stand­ingly beau­ti­ful street of na­tional note: south Pa­rade, the length of the Great north road that leads into town from the race­course, is lined by an­cient trees and fine houses by the lo­cal ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Lind­ley (1739–1818).

at one end, south Pa­rade trans­forms into the High street, where one the­atri­cally an­tique build­ing stands out: the Man­sion House, an as­sem­bly room de­signed by James Paine and be­gun in 1745 (Fig 3). Both its title and ar­chi­tec­tural grandeur are, how­ever, out of all pro­por­tion to the sta­tus of 18th-cen­tury Don­caster. Man­sion houses were oth­er­wise the pre­serve of the great­est cities, such as Lon­don and York. the cor­po­ra­tion of Don­caster was not out­stand­ingly wealthy nor did it re­turn its own MP un­til 1885, so the neigh­bour­ing gen­try had lit­tle cause to pa­tro­n­ise the town. What forces then cre­ated the Man­sion House?

Since at least 1600, the Cor­po­ra­tion had al­lowed rac­ing on the com­mons and, from 1704, it be­gan to spon­sor the sport as a source of in­come. En­ter­tain­ing the ever-grow­ing num­bers of fash­ion­able vis­i­tors to the races pre­sented a prob­lem as the ex­ist­ing town hall —where the Mayor hosted at least six an­nual Cor­po­ra­tion feasts—was lit­tle more than a lash-up. It must have been to solve this that, in 1739, the Cor­po­ra­tion ap­pointed a com­mit­tee to pur­chase a site for an as­sem­bly rooms.

Its mem­bers were un­likely to have been con­nois­seurs: seven out of the nine can be iden­ti­fied—two tan­ners, two gro­cers, one ma­son, one at­tor­ney and one gentle­man of the town. Nu­mer­ous com­mit­tees of a sim­i­lar char­ac­ter suc­ceeded it. Thus, sur­pris­ing as it may seem, an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture was in­tro­duced to Don­caster by its trades­men.

The com­mit­tee might have ap­pointed a lo­cal ar­chi­tect, such as Wil­liam Rickard, car­pen­ter, joiner, cab­i­net-maker, sur­veyor and a mem­ber of the Cor­po­ra­tion. Or those at one re­move from the Cor­po­ra­tion: Rickard’s fa­ther-in­law, Ge­orge Platt of Wood­laithes, for ex­am­ple, was the ar­chi­tect at nearby Cus­worth Hall in 1740–1 and builder of Bur­row Hall, Lan­cashire, to the de­signs of the Deputy Sur­veyor of the Kings Works, Westby Gill (a na­tive of Rother­ham).

Al­ter­na­tively, the Cor­po­ra­tion could have fol­lowed the ex­am­ple of lo­cal grandees. Lord Mal­ton, for ex­am­ple, had just en­gaged Henry Fl­itcroft, a pro­tégé of Lord Burling­ton, the ar­biter of ar­chi­tec­tural taste, to com­plete the east front of Went­worth Wood­house. In­stead, by Fe­bru­ary 1745, the Cor­po­ra­tion had left the de­sign, specif­i­cally ‘the front of the Man­sion House… to Mr Pain’s di­rec­tion’.

This was James Paine, ap­pointed in De­cem­ber 1744 at the age of 27 to su­per­vise the trans­for­ma­tion of nearby Nostell Pri­ory (to the de­signs of Col James Moyser). Paine came from Hamp­shire and was also a pro­tégé of Lord Burling­ton’s; he had passed his for­ma­tive years in the St Martin’s Lane Academy, the cru­cible of Ro­coco de­sign. Paine gave the Cor­po­ra­tion a façade part-de­rived from one of Inigo Jones’s White­hall Palace pro­pos­als.

In­side, an im­pe­rial stair (Fig 2), a new fash­ion set by Wil­liam Kent, gives a theatri­cal ap­proach to the Grand Room, which occu- pies the whole width of the first floor and its coved ceil­ing rises into the roof space, with a Mu­sic Gallery set into the cove on the side op­po­site the en­trance (Fig 1).

The Cor­po­ra­tion’s ob­jec­tives are opaque, but in­dica­tive. It ap­pointed a build­ing com­mit­tee in Novem­ber 1744, then dis­charged and re­placed it in April 1745. The Cor­po­ra­tion took over this com­mit­tee’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in May, ap­pointed a third com­mit­tee in Au­gust and or­dered a stop to con­struc­tion in Novem­ber (a re­sponse to the Ja­co­bite Ris­ing), by which time, vaults had been dug and walls were ris­ing.

On Fe­bru­ary 28, 1746, Paine agreed to build the Man­sion House for £4,523 4s 6d, sug­gest­ing that he was hence­forth con­trac­tor as well as ar­chi­tect. He was paid in in­stal­ments, in March and Oc­to­ber 1746, July 1747 and Oc­to­ber 1748. In Fe­bru­ary 1748, an al­ter­ation to the mid­dle win­dow of the Great Room was or­dered ‘ac­cord­ing to the de­sign sent down by Mr Paine’. ‘Mu­sick at Open­ing the Man­sion House’ was paid for on April 15, 1749.

Paine pub­lished his de­sign in 1751, il­lus­trat­ing ceil­ing paint­ings in plas­ter frames and a faux cur­tain held by naked at­lantes over the mu­sic gallery, but the Grand Room’s ornament was ac­tu­ally ex­e­cuted in plas­ter

(Fig 5). Paine’s book specif­i­cally men­tioned the plas­ter­ers Thomas Per­ritt and Joseph Rose. Both later be­came known for Ro­coco ornament of the type that en­livens the stair and Grand Room at Don­caster and they may have learnt this type of ornament from Paine, who was the mas­ter of it.

In Oc­to­ber 1748, Paine was also asked ‘what fur­ni­ture was thought proper’ and to es­ti­mate for it, sug­gest­ing that he may have de­signed it. Six sur­viv­ing carved and gilt sconces

(Fig 6), for which the Don­caster carver Christo­pher Richard­son was paid in 1755, bear a gen­eral re­sem­blance to Paine’s draw­ings at Nostell and Fel­brigg. Richard­son is likely to have also carved the tym­pa­num ornament on the façade and the statue of Jus­tice il­lus­trated in Paine’s book; his bill also cov­ers ‘joiner’s work’.

Other dis­tinc­tive in­ter­nal ornament in­cludes the stair balustrade, al­most iden­ti­cal to that at Nostell, and prob­a­bly the work of the lead­ing Lon­don smith Thomas Wagg, whose note­book records ‘gen­eral smith work [and gates]… For Mr James Paine, sent to Don­caster’ in 1747.

Ge­orge Gib­son, whose con­tract for ma­son’s work was drawn up in Fe­bru­ary 1745, may also have been an out­sider, as, in De­cem­ber 1744,

‘En­ter­tain­ing the ever grow­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors pre­sented a prob­lem’

he had been paid for ‘com­ing over and giv­ing pro­pos­als… for the Front of the Man­sion House’. He had built a new town bridge in 1741. Where he came over from is not known.

Many of the trades­men in­volved were, how­ever, lo­cal. John Beale, a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee, Cham­ber­lain be­fore 1751 and Mayor in 1753, was en­gaged in Jan­uary 1745 ‘to do the In­side Ma­son Work at ye Man­sion House’ (con­fus­ingly, this work must be brick). Wil­liam Rickard, Mayor in 1774, was the car­pen­ter and also made frames for can­dle stands in 1749, a press for the Com­mon Din­ing Room in 1754, four din­ing ta­bles and two side­board ta­bles in 1756 and was in­cluded on the Man­sion House Fur­nish­ing Com­mit­tee in 1762.

Another lo­cal brick­layer, Thomas Pen­ny­s­tone, put up a ‘smooki­ack’ in the kitchen in 1759, which is still there and Ge­orge Hal­li­fax, watch-

Fig 1: The Grand Room. There is a mu­si­cian’s gallery above the main door to the left

Fig 2: The im­pe­rial main stair gives a theatri­cal ap­proach to the Grand Room

Fig 3 above: The façade in­cor­po­rates paired columns on a rus­ti­cated base. Its crown­ing ped­i­ment was re­mod­elled as an at­tic storey in 1801. The main door is re­cessed within a porch. Fig 4 be­low: Paine’s pub­lished de­sign for the Man­sion House. The cen­tral block was the only part re­alised and one of the wings could never have ex­isted within the street plan

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