The Architects of the Chapel at Greenwich Hospital

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  • The Architects of the Chapel at Greenwich HospitalAuthor(s): Lesley LewisSource: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec., 1947), pp. 260-267Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 11:34

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    THE reconditioning of the present Greenwich Hospital Chapel (Fig. I) extends from January 1779, when the old chapel by Thomas Ripley

    was gutted by fire, to February 1790, when the official architects of the Hospital had completed its restoration.

    James Stuart, joint author with Nicholas Revett of The

    Antiquities of Athens, was the Surveyor. This appointment was made in 1758 through Admiral Anson's influence, on the death of Ripley. The design of the chapel is popularly attributed to Stuart but numerous documents in the Public Records Office and the Library of the Royal Institute of British Architects show that although the responsibility was

    officially his the larger part of the work probably belongs to his assistant William Newton.1

    In 1779 Stuart must have been engaged on Mrs.

    Montagu's house in Portman Square, begun in 1777 and

    sufficiently advanced in 1782 for Horace Walpole to dine there.2 Another important commission of his in the late

    'seventies was Sir Sampson Gideon's house at Belvedere, near Erith, Kent.3 Hence there is evidence of the character of his work at this time, which seems to prove that he may not have been as incapable and infirm as his subordinates at Greenwich liked to suggest. His Clerk of the Works, at the time of the fire, was Robert Mylne, also a man of consider- able distinction, who in 1760 had won the competition for the design of Blackfriars Bridge. He is said to have been

    "a rare jintleman, but as hot as pepper and as proud as a

    lucifer."4 It is hardly surprising that Stuart, notoriously

    dilatory and unreliable, quickly quarrelled with his Clerk of the Works when they were engaged on a major project together. The story of their relations is principally con- tained in the above-mentioned documents in the Public Records Office. These are memoranda, letters and minutes of the Board of Governors of Greenwich Hospital, col- lected as evidence in a lawsuit brought by the Hospital for the recovery from Mylne of certain drawings. It is there shown that, as a result of his differences with Stuart, Mylne was dismissed in September 1782 and succeeded by Wil- liam Newton who, with the Board's consent, had been

    acting as assistant to Stuart since the previous February. The above-mentioned documents in the Royal Institute

    of British Architects throw light on William Newton's rather obscure general practice and provide a fairly com-

    plete record of his connection with the Hospital. This col- lection of notes and drawings was apparently assembled

    by Newton's executors in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain

    recognition from the Hospital of his claim to be the designer of the chapel, and payment for his extraordinary services.' This claim was made publicly in a footnote to his transla- tion of Vitruvius, published posthumously in 1791.

    According to a statement by Mylne the chapel was burned down in 1779, with a great part of Queen Mary's building, and during the next two and one-half years everything was restored except the chapel and the cupola.' An extract from a letter to Mylne dated June 20, 178o (presumably from the Board) about the room in the

    cupola for the new clock shows, however, that the latter item was early under consideration.7 From the middle of the summer until December of 1780 the damaged parts of the cupola were cleared away and materials for the recon- struction laid in, but work does not seem seriously to have

    begun until after June 6, 1781. This is the date of a copy agreement by certain craftsmen to undertake the various

    i. (a) Public Records Office Addit. 65, io6. These papers are not catalogued individually and will be subsequently referred to by the initials P.R.O. (b) Royal Institute of British Architects A.5, A.6, D.4. The notes and drawings are at present in three boxes noted in the Library handlist by the above numbers and not indi- vidually catalogued. They will be subsequently referred to as R.I.B.A., A.5, etc.

    2. Horace Walpole, Letters, ed. Mrs. Paget Toynbee, Oxford, 1904, xii, p. i I6.

    3. Lesley Lawrence [Lewis], "Stuart and Revett: Their Literary and Architectural Careers," Journal of the 'Warburg Institute, ii, 1938-1939, PP. 128-146.

    4. James Elmes, "History of Architecture in Great Britain," Civil Engineer and Architects' Journal, x, 1846, p. 340.

    5. See Wyatt Papworth, "William Newton and the Chapel of Greenwich Hospital," Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, xxvII-xxvIII, 1891, pp. 417-420, for commentary on these papers.

    6. P.R.O.

    7. R.I.B.A., A.5.

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    branches of work in the chapel.8 The workmen here agreed that works and materials should be paid for "on the same Terms and Conditions, according to Measure, Weight and Value, as are now paid and allowed for Works and Materials of the like kind at the New Buildings of Somerset

    House, under the Direction and Control of Sir Willm. Chambers." This is corroborated by the rough draft of a letter from Stuart, presumably to the Board, in which he recommends the engagement of the artificers employed at Somerset House who had been "trained up to perform works of great elegance under the most eminent archi-

    tects."'9 The names of several of these craftsmen appear in notes on the drawings, showing that they were employed throughout the work, and Newton's executors called on some of them to testify in support of the above-mentioned claim. Devall is named on a drawing for a Corinthian vase, dated March 22, 1782 and signed by Stuart, Papworth on a pencil sketch for the center of the staircase ceiling, and Richard Lawrence on one for "the 2 pannels on the re- turns of the Organ gallery."10

    By September 1781 the roofing of the chapel was under consideration. There is a draft of a letter of this date to Mrs. Palmer accompanying "Patterns or Modells of the intended Iron work for the Roof of the Chapel."" This is signed by James Donaldson, Mylne's clerk, who is men- tioned in Stuart's account of Mylne's ejection from the office at Greenwich.l He possibly was also the author of a drawing of the "Section of the West End in the Chapel," for it appears to be superscribed in his hand "Clerk of the Works Office Greenwich Hospital Augt. 1781" (Fig. 2). This seems to be a sketch with measurements of the west end of the old chapel, for it corresponds with another draw- ing in which details are labelled "present doorway," et

    cetera.13 The writer has not found any illustrations of Rip- ley's chapel to confirm this, but there seems reason to

    suppose that the main lines of the decoration of the east and west ends were influenced by the previous design, and this

    would explain the difference of scale between the enormous

    scagliola columns and the rest of the scheme. After the preliminary burst of activity there was a pause.

    Stuart apparently failed to supply the necessary drawings.

    Mylne says that he wrote for them in January 1782 and, not receiving them, "proceeded to furnish some drawings which were necessary to enable the workmen to make a

    .beginning.'""' Some of these no doubt related to work on

    the roof, because on June 22 Mylne signed a "Bill of

    Scantlings made out from Design of the Roof,"" but may have included others, for he says, further: "on the 12th

    January the Surveyor acquainted the common workmen, without apprizing any other person, that the Pedestals, Architraves and other parts proceeding on next the floor and making part of the inside of the Chapel, as well as the foundation of the Cupola towards the East were wrong and were not to be formed in that manner."" Yet at the time of writing this, May 1782, Mylne had still received

    nothing except "some scraps of Drawings of particular parts" given unofficially to the mason. He sums up the situation thus: "The Stone is ready at the Building, the Timber is cut down in the Woods, every preparation is

    made, Workmen are in waiting and all stands still, because the form and quality of the Parts of the Building are not yet made known to those, who are, by the Constitution of the

    Hospital, to have the care and execution of it.""7 One of the "scraps" mentioned by Mylne was probably a working drawing on cartridge paper signed by Stuart on March

    22, 1782, and described in his very shaky hand, "Corin- thian Base, Chappel at Greenwich, Mr. Devall 2.8 Di- ameter when finished in Scagliola."" It has a note on the

    back, apparently in the same hand, "The Pedestal 7.9 in

    Surveyor's drawing altered to 7.6 by the Clerk of the Works Mr. Mylne."

    Although no general drawings had as yet been sent to

    Mylne there were some in existence, for the Board had

    already approved them in March 1782."1 Dated the same

    month, there is an estimate by Jn. Richter for eight three-

    quarter scagliola columns 23 feet 6 inches in height and

    2 feet 8 inches in diameter, and thirty-two pilasters 9 feet 9 inches in height, et cetera, which shows that the design

    8. R.I.B.A., A.5. The copy signatures are: John Groves Bricklayer John Devall Mason Saml. White Carpenter William Clark for Mrs. Palmer Smith John Papworth Plasterer C. Catton Painter Richard Lawrence Carver George Holroyd and lu er Jeremiah Devall Plumber William Bent Ironmonger Jas. Arrow Joiner

    9. P.R.O.

    0o. R.I.B.A., A.5. ii. R.I.B.A., A.5. S2. P.R.O.

    13. R.I.B.A., A.5.

    14. P.R.O.

    15. R.I.B.A., A.5. 16. P.R.O.

    17. P.R.O. 18. R.I.B.A., A.5. 19. R.I.B.A., D.4 (on permanent loan from the Governors of

    Greenwich Hospital). On May 2o, I782, Mylne received a general drawing for the east end of the chapel, with an adjustable flap for the center portion making it applicable also to the west end, and on May 22 he received one for the side of the chapel. Both these drawings are signed by Stuart, by J. Ibbetson on behalf of the Commissioners and Governors of Greenwich Hospital, by the Clerk of the Cheque and finally, on receipt, by Robert Mylne, so they at least had been through all the forms required by the Hospital.

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    was well advanced.20 Mylne received the general draw-

    ings (Figs. 3, 4, and 5) on May 20 and 22, but they do not seem to have speeded the matter up very much, for there was a good deal of correspondence about this date in which Mylne complains of the scarcity and inadequacy of the drawings sent him, and Stuart accuses Mylne of

    precipitancy and officiousness.21

    By August 1782 the Board evidently grew restless at the continued delay, and Mylne prepared a long memorial

    recapitulating the statement he had made in May, putting all the blame on Stuart, and justifying his own conduct.22 Stuart replied to this with a vigor that belies his alleged infirmity. His counter-attack on Mylne is recorded by the

    correspondence between them. He says that after parts of the chapel affected by the fire had been pulled down, "the Clerk of the Works, without orders or drawings from me, was proceeding not to restore it to its original form, but to introduce new mouldings and ornaments of his own in-

    vention, such as I could by no means approve of," and that the clerk "altered and mutilated" drawings given to the workmen on March 14.23 Mylne certainly did do this at times, for we have already noted a drawing altered by him at about this date, and there is another signed "James Stuart Surveyor, Aug. I4th, 1782," with amendments in red ink, signed by Mylne, and a further remark in an un- known hand "this drawing was not made exactly to a scale therefore all the above observations (which are founded upon that supposition) are erroneous the figures only are to be followed."24

    In the meanwhile, Mylne was deprived even of the gen- eral designs he had received in May. Benjamin West, the artist commissioned to paint the altarpiece, had asked Stuart to get back the drawings so that he could show them to "His Majesty, with the sketch of his picture inserted in its

    place.""2 Stuart took this opportunity to withhold the draw-

    ings altogether, alleging several instances of Mylne's abuse and that "it is not allowable nor practicable to work from

    general drawings made on so small a scale." He had in fact written to Mylne on August 8, 1782: "I have repeatedly told you, that you are not to work from the general Draw-

    ings, and I do again strictly and positively forbid, on any pretence whatever, every attempt to deduce particulars, whether mouldings or dimentions, from the general draw-

    ings, which therefore cannot be of any use to you, and of course you cannot possibly want them."''26

    As a result of these disputes, the Board upheld Stuart

    and dismissed Mylne on September Io, 1782, not without some trouble, recorded by a further memorandum in Stuart's handwriting:

    I went down to Greenwich with Mr. Newton to put him in

    possession of the Office of the Works, and found Mr. Mylne there, who refused to quit the premises, saying he knew nothing of his dismission, that I might give him time for Information and to take his effects away I did not return till Thursday, when I again acquainted him that it would be necessary for him to

    quit the office to me but he again refused saying he should not

    acquiesce to any such proposition, he asked by what authority I came with such orders, I told him by that of the General Court he answered he should not submit to the orders of such a packt General Court after making many words he sett off f...


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