A ROOM BY ANY OTHER NAME – Those Regency Ladies Are At It Again!

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Regency era lady with a penchant for making and collecting music must have a designated room for doing so.
 If one studies the floor plans of most stately homes as they appear today, one will find a room designated the music room, even if said room only houses a single instrument. This became common practice in the late nineteenth century, but most of these rooms were once used as parlors or drawing rooms. They were not designed specifically as music rooms.
A drawing room or morning room was often used to display a household’s instruments.
As strange as it seems, with the emphasis on musical accomplishment expected of young ladies beginning in the eighteenth-century and becoming nearly a mania during the Regency era, before the middle of the eighteenth-century the inclusion of a specifically designed and designated music room in house plans for both stately homes and town mansions was rare. Beginning in the 1760’s, the inclusion of this room in plans for new homes and renovations for existing homes became increasingly more common. This indicates a major shift in the role of music in the domestic and social lives of the residents of these homes.

Perhaps one of the first set of house plans which recorded a specific room dedicated to music was drawn by no less a designer than Robert Adam himself. In 1760, as lead architect for the creation of Sir Nathaniel Curzon’s showplace – Kedleston Hall – Adam drew plans for a neoclassical Temple of Art which encompassed an enfilade on one entire side of the entrance hall. It consisted of a music room, a drawing room, and a library. These rooms were so labelled in a catalogue printed in 1769, which was used to guide tourists around the house. This catalogue was reprinted at least four times by 1800 and would have been well-known to any wealthy landowner and / or peer looking to build or renovate a home.

The Music Room at Kedleston Hall
An impetus of Adam’s design of this arrangement of rooms was the ability to make available a large audience chamber by opening the three rooms into each other by a series of folding doors. (If you look at the right hand edge of the photo above you will see the door frame leading into the next room.) This arrangement enabled the entire area to be used in featuring a talented family musician or even a professional for a large gathering of people. One must remember Kedleston Hall was primarily a place to house the Curzon family’s extensive collections of art and to entertain on a grand scale. Music, especially that provided by the talented daughters of a household, began to play a great part in these entertainments. (It wasn’t the Miss America Pageant, but it came close. And was so much more refined than auctioning one’s daughter off at Tattersall’s.)
Adam was exceedingly interested in music and went on to design music rooms and even keyboard instrument cases for both town and country homes for a wide range of clients.
Stop by this blog    squarepianos.com/blog.html    to see two posts on the piano and harpsichord cases he designed for Catherine the Great. Yes, that Catherine the Great.
This business of designing a music room which could be closed off for private tutoring and practice and then opened up to other rooms by way of a series of folding doors carried over into Adam’s designs for houses in London as well. Whilst in Town the impetus was partly due to the availability of professional singers and musicians to hire in addition to those entertainments provided by wealthy amateurs; more often it was to show off the musical accomplishments of the women in the household – the male patrons’ wives or daughters. It also provided a place to house the instruments and music collections of these ladies. There can be no doubt the ladies of the house had a great deal to say about the addition of music rooms to the plans for their homes both in the country and in Town.
Adam expanded this practice in the design of the townhouse of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn at Number 20 St. James Square in 1774. In addition to being the sion of the wealthiest family in Wales (a position this family maintained for 200 years,) Sir Watkin was a great patron of the arts, particularly music. He sponsored so many musical events in his London home he was even the subject of a caricature depicting himself and members of the nobility attending one of the Concerts of Ancient Music, a long running series of concerts he sponsored in London.
The design for Sir Watkin’s townhouse provided a formal dining room on the first floor which opened by way of two-leaf doors leading into the music room. In addition to an exquisite ceiling and music-themed plaster work throughout the music room, Adam also designed the case for the organ gifted to by Sir Watkin to his first wife.
Robert Adam’s design for the front facade of No. 20 St. James Square.
Robert Adam’s design for the Music Room ceiling at No.20 St. James Square

This organ was made for the music room of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn’s house in St James’s Square. The case was designed by Robert Adam in 1773 and made by the carver Robert Ansell. It is the only one of a small group of monumental Adam organ cases to survive. It is crowned by a portrait of Sir Watkin’s favourite composer, Handel. The life-size plaster figures represent Terpsichore, the muse of dance and song, with a lyre, and Euterpe, the muse of lyric poetry and music, with a flute. The organ itself was made at a cost of £250 by John Snetzler, the principal builder of the day. It was altered in 1783, and rebuilt and enlarged in 1864, when it was moved to Wynnstay, the Williams-Wynn house near Wrexham. The colour-scheme, also of 1864, added blue to the original green, white and purple.
It is currently housed in the National Museum of Wales.

Meanwhile, back at Tatton Park and Sledmere, homes to the Sykeses and Egertons, Samuel Wyatt was engaged to work on renovations and additions to both homes. As both masters of these homes sought to please the musical ladies of their households, their hire of Wyatt was a deliberate one. He served as Adam’s assistant at Kedleston Hall. His vision for both Sledmere and Tatton Park included a Music Room with access to larger spaces by way of folding doors, just as Adam had done. After Wyatt’s death in 1806, the projects were taken over by his nephew, Lewis Williams Wyatt. Also during this time, the grandiose, formal styles of Kedleston Hall and even the completed work at Sledmere gave way to a more domestic floor plan. Libraries, drawing rooms, and music rooms were arranged more and more often as a gracious suite of rooms divided by large folding doors to create a sort of large living area. The master of the house in his library was still in sight and sound of the mistress of the house in the drawing room at her embroidery and also within hearing distance of the musical members of the family practicing or playing for the family’s enjoyment. These designs, greatly influenced by those arts thought exclusive to women, were the beginning of a more domestic view of the designs of stately homes. They were still showcases, statements of wealth, but they were becoming, for lack of a better word – homes.

Ground plan of the executed design for Tatton Park. Final plans by Lewis William Wyatt, January 1808.

 If you look at the plans above, you will see broken lines in some of the doorways. These are an indication of places where folding doors might be placed to open the various rooms into one large space. A similar arrangement was probably in place at Highclere Castle.

Music Room Highclere Castle. Notice the double doors to the left.
Floor plan of Highclere Castle. Notice the position of the music room as anchor to the drawing room and library.

What does it all mean? Through the collection of music and the subtle need for a pla
ce to display and practice it, women shaped the way music became viewed during the Georgian and Regency eras. Their collections were important enough to be bound and saved and made available to each other. Their musical accomplishments went from a way to keep them occupied, to a badge of distinction, to an art to be admired, to a heritage to be preserved, and finally to an architectural necessity. Not bad for a segment of the population primarily seen as ornamental breeders with little to no say in the way their lives were conducted.

The key to changing a man’s mind is to make it appear to be his idea all along.

More important, music became a large part of the every day life of families during these eras. It grew to be a point of commonality, a source of entertainment and domesticity, all wrapped up in the days and nights and places these families lived their lives.

The Music Room – Brighton Pavilion

 Whether in the splendor of a monument to a king’s excesses or in the manifestation of a superior amateur musician’s desire to make music a part of her family’s lives and legacy…

The far end of the music room at Tatton Park. The bookcase at the end of the room houses a great deal of Elizabeth Sykes Egerton’s music collection.

England and the musical world owes a great debt to those accomplished young ladies of the Georgian and Regency eras whose collections and music rooms are still being explored and studied today. Who knows when or where another great musical treasure will be uncovered next.


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