The Hon Sir William Stanhope
At Eythrope House, Buckinghamshire
In 1726 he inherited the Eythrope estate in Buckinghamshire from his father, together with the manor of Wing. Eythrope secured him an income of £8,000, equivalent to about £1,250,000, tax free, in today's currency. He used this freely for building projects at Eythrope and, from 1745, Pope's Villa in Twickenham. Wing was neglected and later demolished.
His work at Eythrope enjoyed mixed reviews. Browne Willis, the antiquarian, was outraged by his demolition of the 14th century chapel, using the masonry to build a bridge over the River Thame.*
George Lipscomb, writing in 1847 (History of Buckinghamshire) noted that:
“(Stanhop) was distinguished by his wit, humour, and literary talents. He expended large sums in the improvement and decoration of the house and grounds, lived in great splendor and hospitality, and was one of that noted club of wits and bon vivants who assembled at Medmenham, under the frivolous, and in some respects, disreputable character of Monks of La Trappe, and dying without male issue, this estate, in 1772, reverted to his surviving brother.”
"(he) completed the west front in a plain and substantial manner, but with little taste. His also were the imitation of ruins of an amphitheatre, castles, and turreted buildings which, erected on the neighbouring eminences, gave an air of extent and magnificence to the grounds but the taste of the proprietor would have been better displayed, if the scenery had been cheered and enlivened with picturesque and commodious cottages, which might have remained permanent comforts to the poor, and lasting monuments, not only of refinement, but of public spirit and benevolence.”
Further and not very complimentary references to his architectural activities at Eythrope are to be found in the Verney letters at Claydon House. In June, 1744 Lord Fermanagh wrote to his father, Earl Verney: "We passed by Sir Wm. Stanhope's, who is laying outt a very large sum upon a House and Garden to very little purpose." In the following year his sister reported that the family had "call'd to see Sir Wm. Stanhope" and found the house "full of Workmen". She did not "much like it, 'tis so under ground". In another letter she says that the house has been "new fronted with Portland stone or freestone", and adds that Sir William "has only 2 good Rooms in the House, viz. the Dining Room and Gallery”
In 1721 he married Susanna, daughter of John Rudge, MP, a director of the Bank of England. There was a daughter of the union, Elizabeth, who married Welbore Ellis. Susannah died in 1740 and in May 1745 he married again, Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Ambrose Crowley MP. She died in the following February. His third marriage was to Anne Hussey (1737-1812) daughter of Francis Blake Delaval MP, in 1759. Francis was one of the Delavals of Seaton Delaval in Northumberland, mostly known for riotous living. If she was of similar persuasion Anne, 35 years his junior may have been something of a handful. In 1761 they went off to Italy together but harmony did not last, as noted by Walpole in a letter to Sir Horace Mann, dated 1 September 1763:
“We sent you Sir William Stanhope and my Lady, a fond couple; you have returned them to us very different. When they came to Blackheath, he got out of the chaise to go to his brother Lord Chesterfield's, made her a low bow and said, 'Madam, I hope I shall never see your face again.' She replied, 'Sir, I will take all the care that you never shall.' He lays no gallantry to her charge.”
Public OfficeIn 1727 Stanhope was elected as member for Lostwithiel and, in 1754 for Buckinghamshire. Frequently absent in Italy, he did not appear in divisions after 1766. He did not stand again in the general election of 1768. At Pope's VillaOn 12 August 1745 Stanhope acquired Alexander Pope's Villa and Garden from the Vernon family. The transfer of the freehold part of the property was registered in the Middlesex Deeds Register, but he did not trouble to seek admission to the copyhold portion at the Manor Court. This was an omission for which the property could have been forfeited, but which apparently went unnoticed for nearly 60 years.
The prospect of his purchase had alarmed Pope's friend Dr Oliver, who wrote from Bath to Dr William Borlase, on 7 July 1744: “I hear Sir William Stanhope declares strongly for the Grotto, but I would willingly have it fall into more philosophical hands.” Stanhope does not appear to have occupied the villa until 1748, when he was first assessed for rates.
Stanhope also acquired the remaining artisan cottages on either side of the villa.
In about 1758, he remodelled the Villa in a form which he may have considered a better reflection of his station in life. In doing so he removed Pope's portico of 1733, added for the same reason. He added wings and a grand double external staircase, crowned the building with a pediment and erected a balustrade along the facade at roof level. His neighbour in Cross Deep, Samuel Scott painted three virtually identical views of the finished product.
Next, in 1761, Stanhope bought a property and land across the lane at the upper end of Pope's garden. He connected this to the garden with a tunnel which came to be known as “Stanhope's Cave”. He furnished this with trophies from Italy, and busts of himself, his wife, his father and, of course, Pope. A plaque, composed by Pope's friend Robert Nugent (who should have known better) was erected at the garden entrance, honouring Stanhope's “improvements” to the estate.
Pope's Garden Redesigned
Stanhope also rearranged Pope's garden, clearing out much vegetation and building a perimeter wall. This was noted crossly by Walpole in a letter to Sir Horace Mann on 20 June 1760:
”I must tell you a private woe that has happened to me in my neighbourhood--Sir William Stanhope bought Pope's house and garden. The former was so small and bad, one could not avoid pardoning his hollowing out that fragment of the rock Parnassus into habitable chambers--but would you believe it, he has cut down the sacred groves themselves! In short, it was a little bit of ground of five acres, inclosed with three lanes, and seeing nothing. Pope had twisted and twirled, and rhymed and harmonized this, till it appeared two or three sweet little lawns opening beyond one another, and the whole surrounded with thick impenetrable woods. Sir William, by advice of his son-in-law, Mr. Ellis, has hacked and hewed these groves, wriggled a winding-gravel walk through them with an edging of shrubs, in what they call the modern taste, and in short, has designed the three lanes to walk in again--and now is forced to shut them out again by a wall, for there was not a Muse could walk there but she was spied by every country fellow that went by with a pipe in his mouth.”
Travel in Italy and FranceDuring the last years of his life, his sight failing, Stanhope lived mostly in France, dying at Sennecey-les-Dijon on 7 May 1772.
Whatever his architectural achievements, Stanhope was generally regarded as a man of taste, enjoying membership of White's Club where he spent much time. Returning from Italy he would be accompanied by expensive pictures and statuary. He probably installed the two figures in the grotto, recorded there by Samuel Lewis in 1786, now long gone. They were not a pair, and the inscribed plinths on which they stood may have originally supported other figures.
He is recorded as a member of the Hellfire Club whose Steward was Paul Whitehead who came to live at Colne Lodge in Twickenham in about 1755. Colne Lodge was probably designed by Isaac Ware and it may have been Ware who oversaw Stanhope's extensions to Pope's Villa in 1758. He designed Chesterfield House in London for the 4th Earl and undertook a considerable amount of work at.Eythrope.Sir William Stanhope's Will (PCC Prob 11/978) dated 1 August 1771The will, covering five pages, provided for a wide range of bequests. Stanhope bequeathed the Pope's Villa Estate to his son-in-law, Welbore Ellis for the duration of his life. The estate was then to pass to his niece Gertrude and, after her death, revert to the Earl of Chesterfield. Gertrude (b1731) did not outlive Ellis. She was the daughter of Stanhope's sister, also Gertrude (1697-1775) who married Sir Charles Hotham (1693-1737), and she had married, secondly, Welbore Ellis Agar Esq (1735-1805). Thus Welbore Ellis Agar was Stanhope's nephew and Gertrude was a first cousin of Welbore Ellis by marriage. In 1802, Pope's Villa reverted to the Earl of Chesterfield who promptly sold it to Sir John Brisco (1739-1805) of Crofton Place, Cumberland.
Stanhope was particular about the contents of the villa and garden. He listed them as “all the household goods, bustoes, statues, urns, vases, pedestals, furniture and things which shall be about in my capital messuage and premises” and required that “so far as law and equity shall permit” they should remain at the villa as heirlooms” being listed in a certified inventory. A forlorn hope, of course: while they might all have remained there until 1802, they must have been dispersed when the villa was demolished by Baroness Howe in 1808.
The Eythrope estate was bequeathed to the Earl of Chesterfield.
There were, in particular, bequests to his house-maid Elizabeth Thompson, of houses near Wing for her lifetime following which they would pass to the hospital there. His valet de chambre Edward Roberts was to receive all his wearing apparel. He made generous provision for this housekeeper, Catherine Arnold, at his house in Dover Street both in cash, annuities and household goods. His “natural son, William Stanhope Esq” was to receive an annuity of £100 per annum.
Gertrude was appointed sole executor of his will. Among other bequests she was to retrieve the jewellery which Stanhope had given to his estranged wife, who was to receive only £20 for a mourning ring.
* Willis mentions, with great disgust and vehemence, the desecration of this building, observing, that "although Sir William Stanhope had, by the desire of his lady, fitted up this Chapel, and caused Divine Service to be celebrated in it regularly for about ten years ; yet, at length, in 1738, most wickedly, sacrilegiously, and impiously demolished it, though warned against it by Dr. Carmichael; and that he made use of the stones to build a Bridge over the Thame, near the House; moreover, he adds, that the tomb-stone of the founder was basely taken up, and his grave opened in expectation of finding treasure, and that Sir William Stanhope sold the lead for 100."further reading:H M Colvin, Eythrope House and its Demolition
George Lipscomb, History of Buckinghamshire, vol 1 (1847), pp. 482-3
Verney Letters of the Eighteenth Century, ed. Margaret Lady Verney, ii (1930), pp. 195-6, 247.