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Description: Downton Castle and Adjoining Stable Courtyard
Date Listed: 11 May 1987
English Heritage Building ID: 150195
OS Grid Reference: SO4451174733
OS Grid Coordinates: 344511, 274733
Latitude/Longitude: 52.3678, -2.8164
SO 47 SW
3/16 Downton Castle and
Country house and adjoining stable courtyard. Circa 1774-8 by Richard
Payne Knight, altered and extended 1860-70. Sandstone ashlar. Roofs con-
cealed behind embattled parapets, main ones of which project above prominent
corbel tables; others have strings at base; parapets to main south-east front
partly have loopholes beneath the merlons (some of which are cruciform in shape).
There are groups of ashlar stacks concealed from main elevations. Assymetric
plan; the eastern end, the north-west tower, north porch and chapel are C19
additions. Mainly two and three storeys with cellar. Picturesque style.
Windows were originally lancets and were replaced in C19 by mullioned windows
and traceried lights. Main south elevation (originally the main entrance front):
composed of roughly central large square tower which housed the main entrance,
to the left of which are two three-bay ranges terminated by a large octagonal
tower and to the right of which is a 2:1:2 range, a square tower and a two-bay
addition. From left to right: the octagonal tower is of three stages and has
a traceried rectangular window with a hoodmould on the lower stage of its
south-east face. The adjoining three-bay range projects slightly and has
large ground floor mullion and transom windows with four-centred heads,
hoodmoulds and block stops; on the first floor are 2-light traceried windows
with hoodmoulds and returns. The next three-bay range is narrower and recessed
and has a central ground floor canted bay window with an embattled parapet
flanked by inserted double doors; on the first floor is a rectangular traceried
window and two mullion and transom windows with hoodmoulds. There is a small
turret to the left side of the parapet. The projecting large central tower is
of two stages and has the former main entrance which is approached by a flight
of steps and flanked by battered buttresses. It has a four-centred arched head
of two orders, double doors and a transom light. Above is a corbelled canopy
decorated with a central blank shield flanked by loopholes. There are two
rectangular lights beneath the parapet which has corner buttresses. The 2:1:2
range to the right has a central slightly projecting small square tower with
two ground floor traceried lights which have hoodmoulds with block stops; on
the first floor is a semi-circular oriel window; it has a foliated corbelled
base, springing from an attached shaft situated between the ground floor windows,
and an embattled parapet. On the second floor is a group of three cusped lancets.
The flanking ranges have lean-to two-bay arcades with four-centred archways of
two orders on the ground floor. within the left arcade is a 2-light window
with plate tracery, a mullion and transom window and, between them, a door with
a four-centred head. Above on the first floor is a 3-light window with plate
tracery and a mullion and transom window. Within the right arcade are three
mullion and transom windows and a rectangular light with a traceried head and
there are three mullion and transom first floor windows. To the right of this
range is a square tower of roughly four stages with a battered plinth in which
is set a rectangular light. A string above the lower stage forms a hoodmould
above a lancet window and also a 2-light window on the right side. The second
stage has an oriel window on three corbels with a hipped roof and there is a
loophole on the third stage and a 2-light window on the fourth stage. In the
left side is a doorway and in the right angle is a stair turret. To the right
of the tower is a two-bay C19 range with ground floor mullion and transom
windows with four-centred heads, a 3-light and a 2-light first floor window
and a group of three and two cusped lancets on the second floor. There is a
bartisan-style projection at the parapet corner. The main entrance was moved
to the north-west side in the C19. It is flanked by two circular three-stage
towers and the linking wall has a stepped parapet above a large four-centred
arched recess containing a window. The porch is canted, has buttresses with
offsets and a blind pointed archway with a blank shield in the central
embrasure of the parapet. The entrance archway is of three hollow-chamfered
orders, the central one of which is shafted and enriched with rosettes.
The stable courtyard adjoins to the north-east and has a hipped slate roof.
Two storeys with dentilled eaves cornice with roughly eight bay sides and
four bay ends. Windows have cambered heads. At the centre of the north-east
side is a square two-stage clocktower with an intermediate two-course band,
large four-centred archways on the lower stage and a brick quadripartite vault
within. Interior: principal room in south tower is a copy of the
Pantheon with a circular, coffered dome and has columns supporting an elaborate
entablature and screening niches in the walls containing statues of Coade stone.
The drawing room has doors and windows flanked by porphyry columns with white
marble capitals and bases and an entablature enriched with a peacock frieze.
The fireplaces are of ornately carved white marble, that in the library having
porphyry panels deocrated with swags, masks and garlands. Richard Payne Knight
was the grandson of Richard Knight of Madeley (1659-1749) the Shropshire iron-
master, whose fortune he inherited. At the age of 17 he travelled to Italy and
was soon regarded as a scholar and aesthetician of considerable distinction.
He built Downton Castle as an early expression of his beliefs in the relation-
ship between architecture and landscape, later expounded in his Analytical
Enquiry into the Principles of Taste of 1805. His intention was to unite the
"different improvements of different ages in the same building" providing an
irregular castellated building with a classical interior, and the medieval
castle architecture of Wales together with the landscapes of Poussin and
Claude Lorraine were probably sources of inspiration. The style and the
assymetric plan first emerged in 1717 in Vanbrugh's house at Greenwich and
at Walpole's Strawberry Hill begun in 1748, but at Downton these ideas were
to achieve their first true expression and inspired the castellated designs
of the Picturesque movement for the next fifty years. (Country Life, XLii 60,
p 36-42; BoE, p 117-8; Summerson, J: Architecture in Britain 1530-1830, 1970,
p 473-5; Beasly, Pauline: A Brief History of the Knight Family, 1958).
Listing NGR: SO4451374740
This text is a legacy record and has not been updated since the building was originally listed. Details of the building may have changed in the intervening time. You should not rely on this listing as an accurate description of the building.
Source: English Heritage
Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.