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 Myl