The Architecture of Robert Adam (1728-1792)

The Castle Style

Mellerstain House


Introduction to the Castle Style

Robert Adam's Castle Style Designs

 The Sublime, Picturesque and Beautiful in C18th Thought




Mellerstain House, just north of Kelso in the Scottish borders and the family home of the Earl of Haddington, is open to the public and a delightful house that is well worth a visit. It is also an early example of the Robert Adam's Castle Style, the second example of Adam using this style in Scotland.

Fig 1. North Elevation. The centre portion of Mellerstain house was designed by Robert Adam in the Castle Style. The side wings which were built 40 years earlier for a house that was never finished, are by William Adam.

William Adam's Design
William Adam had been commissioned by George Baillie of Jerviswood to design a new house in 1725. There had been an earlier house on the site before William Adam was involved, but this was demolished to make way for his design. The original drawings for this design are on display at the house and show a restrained Palladian mansion with two wings and a linking central block. This house was designed with dressed stone voussoirs and quoins only. The general wall surfaces were intended to be harled (rendered) on rough undressed coursed stone. This was presumably a cost saving measure.

The work on William Adam's design started in 1725, but came to a halt after the two wings were constructed. For some forty years one of the wings was used as the residence of the family and the other as a stables and servants quarters.

Annotated later South elevation

Fig 2. South Elevation. S .M. Vol 43/43
Titled "South Front of Mellerstain House
for the Honble George Baillie of Jerviswood". There is a note on the right "extends 192 feet"

This drawing and a untitled one of the same elevation on display at Mellerstain House show the windows divided both horizontally and vertically with heavy (probably stone) mullions. The building actually has sash windows with standard divisions.

Annotated Plan

Fig 3. Ground Floor Plan.
Soane Museum Vol 43/46. Titled "Plan of the Principal Floor of Mellerstain House for the Right Honble Geo Bailley of Jerviswood"
The principal rooms clockwise from left are:-"Breakfast Room 25 by 18" (ft)
"Library 49 by 24"
"Dineing Room 40 by 26"
"Drawing Room 30 by 24"
"Bedchamber 24 by 18"
"Closet 18 by 19"
"Bedchamber 18 by 19"

Robert Adam and Mellerstain
In 1759 another George Baillie, grandson of the previous, inherited the estate. As a young man in 1745 he had set off on the "Grand Tour" and had apparently come back to Scotland embued with enthusiasm for and knowledge of current architectural taste. In 1770 he commissioned Robert Adam to design a new house.

The main design problem Adam had to resolve was to link the two wings of the incomplete house his father had designed. The position of the wings, determined by William Adam's design, set the scale, orientation and location on site of the proposed new building. The new house had to link to the old in a coherent architectural style and (given the choice of materials that was made) there was probably a relatively tight budget.

This is an early design by Adam in his Castle Style. The detailing and elevational treatment is unsophisticated when compared to the complex stone detailing and intellectual games that Adam plays with the designs of (for example) Dalquharran, Seton or Culzean Castles.

It seems likely that budget might have been a big consideration in chosing the Castle Style for this building. The two pavilions, constructed to William Adam's design, were a long way apart. To join them would require a lot of building. A classical façade would have entailed much larger quantities of expensive dressed stone. The walls of a "castle" could be constructed from irregular "drove" (rough chiseled) stone, or even random rubble, with dressed stone only used around the window and door openings, at external corners, for string courses, corbelling and machicolation along the battlements and wall copings. Expensive elements such as ornate columns and pilaster capitals could be avoided.

battlement detail

Fig 4. Battlement Detail. As might be expected, the more important the building the more ornate the stone detailing becomes. The battlements in this square turret, are capped with a continuous stone coping. This not only protects the stone battlement, (particularly important given the undressed stone and exposed position) but also acts to define a regular edge and skyline, emphasised by the small shadow cast by the coping.

junction of pavilion with linking section

Fig 5 Wall and Battlement Detail. This view shows a junction between the wing pavilions and the lower link. There are subtle differences in the stone detailing of the pavilion and the lower link section. The battlements of the link do not have the vault in the machiciolation of the pavilion. This junction seems awkward despite the care taken to line the link machiciolation with the pavilion string course

entrance detail

Fig 6 Stonework - Main entrance and steps. The most ornate stonework is aroud the main entrance door on the North side of the house. However it is not clear that this is by Adam. Adam's North elevation, the only drawing for which is kept at the house and which is followed elsewhere in all other respects, shows a simple dripsone hood over a paneled front door. This elaborate detailing, containing the coat of arms of the family is probably later work

window detail

Fig 7. Stone Detail at Window. The stone hood over the window, borrowed from late medieval and Elizabethan Manor house architecture, has two functions. It provide a degree of protection the the window reveal and the window frame by throwing water off the face of the building. It is also used here to provide visual interest, giving a heavy shadow over the window head.

 There are several original drawings by Robert Adam's office on display at Mellerstain. These are pen and ink with wash drawings that were sent to the client for approval prior to the building work commencing. Unfortunately they incorrectly mounted and are quite badly "foxed" and appear to be in a deteriorating condition. They include 2 drawings of plans, ground and first floor on one, second floor and roof plan on the other. There are also three elevations, including two South elevation drawings more or less the same as the Adam office copy illustrated here from the Soane Museum collection, as well as (the only known?) North elevation of the House.

One of the South elevations, like the Adam office copy above from the Sir John Soane's Museum, shows the windows divided vertically into 2 elements, rather than the three usual in sash windows. Adam may be experimenting here with a detail for the timber sash windows that is meant to bring to mind the rhythm of stone mullions and transoms, a detail, like the drip mouldings over the windows, derived from Elizabethan Architecture. As built the sash windows follow the normal 3 vertical divisions.

One pen and watercolour drawing on display at Mellerstain, by Adam himself, is of particular interest in respect of these essays. It is a design for a ruined castle. The caption on this reads.

"Design of a Ruinous Building for the Honbl George Baillie at Mellerstain to be placed on the Top of the Hill of Darlingfield".

The hill mentioned is about half a mile from the house, on the axis of the North (entrance) side. The drawing appears to have been folded in half along the bottom edge. The hidden half may well contain a plan.

Adam designed many "ruin"s of this sort for clients who did not have convenient ruins on their estates to give the impression of antiquity. It seems that Adam is here re-using a similar design of 1766 for an "L" shaped ruin for Duntall Castle, at Croome Court.1

This ruin was positioned to provided a visual termination of the vista or view from the house to the North. It takes the form of a battlemented arched gate, flanked by battlemented turrets and ruinous screen walls. Like the entrance gate to the fortified bridge viaduct "ruin" for Culzean Castle, one of the gate turrets is circular in plan, the other square. This presumably helped to emphasise the haphazard, ruinous quality that was sought.

The drawing is an excellent example of a picturesque composition, both as a painting, and as a represention of a building in a landscape. Adam excelled at scenes like this. Throughout his professional life he drew and painted scenes of ruins in picturesque landscapes that stand as works of art in their own right.


Notes, References, Acknowledgements
1. Thanks to Stephen Astley, Drawings Curator at the Sir John Soane's Museum for this information.



Introduction to the Castle Style

Robert Adam's Castle Style Designs

 The Sublime, Picturesque and Beautiful in C18th Thought





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