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Colen Campbell

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Palladian revival: Stourhead House, South facade, designed by Colen Campbell and completed in 1720.  The design is based on Palladio's Villa Emo. A print from Vitruvius Britannicus
Palladian revival: Stourhead House, South facade, designed by Colen Campbell and completed in 1720. The design is based on Palladio'Villa_Emo" title ="Villa Emo">Villa Emo. A print from Vitruvius Britannicus

Colen Campbell (16761729) was born in Scotland, a descendent of the Campbells of Cawdor Castle; he initially trained as a lawyer, and then studied architecture.

His major published work, Vitruvius Britannicus, or the British Architect... appeared in three volumes between 1715 and 1725. (Further volumes using the successful title were assembled by Woolfe and Gandon, and published in 1767 and 1771.) Vitruvius Britannicus was the first architectural work to originate in England since John Shute's Elizabethan First Groundes. In the British empirical vein, it was not a treatise but basically a catalogue of design containing engravings of English buildings by Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren as well as Campbell himself and other prominent architects of the era. In the introduction that he appended and in the brief descriptions, Campbell belaboured the "excesses" of Baroque style and declared British independence from foreigners while he dedicated the volume to Hanoverian George I. The third volume (1725) has several grand layouts of gardens and parks, with straight allées, forcourts and patterned parterres and radiating rides through wooded plantations, in a Baroque manner that was rapidly becoming old-fashioned.

Buildings were shown in plan, section and elevation, but also some were in a bird'Palladian_Architecture" title ="Palladian Architecture">Palladian Architecture in Britain during the 18th century.

Campbell was influenced as a young man by the Scottish architect James Smith (ca 1645 - 1731), the pre-eminent Scots architect of his day, and a closet neo-palladian whom Campbell called "the most experienced architect" of Scotland (Vitruvius Britannicus, ii).

The somewhat promotional volume, with its excellently rendered engravings, came at a propitious moment at the beginning of a boom in country house and villa building among the Whig oligarchy. Campbell was quickly taken up by Lord Burlington, who replaced James Gibbs with Campbell at Burlington House in London and set out to place himself at the center of English neo-Palladian architecture. In 1718, Campbell was appointed deputy to the amateur gentleman who had replaced Wren as Surveyor General of the Royal Board of Works, an appointment that Burlington is certain to has pressed, but a short-lived one. When Benton, the new Surveyor was turned out of office, Campbell went with him.

Campbell's main commissions

Wanstead House, as built, illustrated in Nathaniel Spencer, The Complete English traveller, London 1771
Wanstead House, as built, illustrated in Nathaniel Spencer, The Complete English traveller, London 1771
  • Wanstead House, Essex: ca 1713/4 - 20 (illustrated left) In the first volume of Vitruvius Britannicus the most influential designs were two alternatives for a palatial Wanstead House, Essex, for the merchant-banker Sir Richard Child, of which the second design was already under way when the volume was published. (Campbell claimed that Wanstead House had Britain'Portico" title ="Portico">portico, but this accolade probably belongs to The Vyne, Hampshire.)
  • Stourhead, Wiltshire 1721 - 24, as a seat for the London-based brewer Henry Hoare. Wings were added in the later 18th century, and Campbell's portico was not executed (though to his design) unmtil 1841. The famous landscape garden round a lake, somewhat apart from the house, was developed after Campbell'Henry_Flitcroft" title ="Henry Flitcroft">Henry Flitcroft and Lancelot "Capability" Brown.
Marble Hill House, Twickenham
Marble Hill House, Twickenham
  • Pembroke House, Whitehall, London for Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke, 1723, a London house in a prominent location for the heir of Jones'Wilton_House" title ="Wilton House">Wilton House. Lord Herbert (as he then was) was inspired by it to design the similar Marble Hill at Twickenham for Henrietta Howard, Countess of Suffolk, the mistress of the future George II . This 5-bay palladian villa with central pediment, raised on a high basement, would not have been out of place in tidewater Virginia. Its clumped screens of trees and formal turfed terraces descending to the Thames (illustrated right) manifest the earliest stages of the English landscape garden. (Pembroke House, London, was rebuilt in 1757 and demolished in 1913.)
  • Houghton House, Norfolk, begun 1722, for Sir Robert Walpole, the Whig prime minister. Here Campbell was replaced by Gibbs, who capped the end pavilions with octagonal domes, and by William Kent, who designed the interiors.
  • Mereworth Castle, Kent 1722 - 25: Campbell'Villa_La_Rotonda" title ="Villa La Rotonda">Villa La Rotonda, capped with a dome with no drum, through which 24 chimney flues pass to the lantern.
  • Waverley Abbey, Surrey ca 1723 -25 for John Aislabie (largely altered)
  • Nos 76 and 78 Brook Street, London, 1725 - 26. No. 76, which survives, was Campbell's own house, the designs for its interiors published in his Five Orders of architecture, (1729).


  • Howard Colvin, A Biographical dictionary of British Architects, 3rd edition
  • Robert Tavernor, Palladio and Palladianism 1991
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