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Cannons middlesex.jpg
James Gibb's design for the South Front (from Vitruvius Britannicus)
General information
Architectural style English Baroque
Town or city Edgware
Country England
Construction started 1713
Completed 1724
Demolished 1747
Cost £200,000
Client James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos
Technical details
Structural system stone
Design and construction
Architect William Talman, John James, James Gibbs, John Price and Edward Shepard

Cannons was a stately home in Edgware, Middlesex built for James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos between 1713 and 1724 at a cost of £200,000[1] (equivalent to £28,630,000 today[2]) but which in 1747 was razed to the ground and its contents dispersed.

Cannons was the focus of the first Duke's artistic patronage - patronage which led to his nickname "The Apollo of the Arts". Brydges filled Cannons with Old Masters and Grand Tour acquisitions and also appointed Handel as resident house composer from 1717 to 1718. Such was the fame of Cannons that members of the public flocked to visit the estate in great numbers and Alexander Pope satirised it as Timon's Villa in his poem Of Taste (1731).

Following the first Duke's death in 1744, Cannons passed to his son Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos. Due to the cost of building Cannons and significant losses to the family fortune in the South Sea Bubble there was little capital in Henry's inheritance, so in 1747 he held a twelve-day demolition sale at Cannons which saw both the contents and the very structure of the house itself sold piecemeal leaving little more than a ruin barely thirty years after its inception.


The Cannons estate was acquired by Chandos in 1713 from the family of his first wife, who had died the previous year. The name "Cannons" is an obsolete spelling of "canons" and refers to the Augustinian canons of St Bartholomew-the-Great, London, who owned the estate before the English Reformation. Chandos soon began to remodel the existing Jacobean house built by Thomas Lake (which is believed to have been designed by John Thorpe). The new three-storey house took 10 years to complete and was designed as a square block with four new pedimented facades and a large internal courtyard.

The Duke went through several architects beginning with William Talman in 1713 who produced twelve plans but was dismissed in 1714 before starting any building on the main house. Next was John James who designed the north and west ranges (and also rebuilt the local parish church, St Lawrence, Whitchurch with a baroque interior). On advice from Sir John Vanbrugh the Duke appointed James Gibbs in 1715. Gibbs is known as an architect who worked in a baroque idiom but incorporated palladian elements. He designed the chapel (consecrated 29 August 1720) as well as the final designs for the four new facades. The designs for the interiors did not meet with approval from Vanbrugh who commented "The fronts v.fine... But the inside is of poor Invention" and Gibbs was dismissed in 1719. Cannons was completed under the supervision of the Duke's surveyors John Price and latterly Edward Shepard. A contemporary account from a 1722 visitor at the time that the finishing touches were being made to the interiors records:

The Salon... is to be supported by Marble Pillars and painted by Paullucci [sic Bellucci]; as is the great Staircase, which is all of Marble... this Staircase leads you into the Royal Apartments fronting the Parterre and grand canal and consists of a Suite of six noble rooms well proportioned, finely plaister'd and gilt by Pargotti [sic Giovanni Bagutti, a Swiss-Italian plasterer associated with the architect Gibbs] and the Ceilings painted by Paullucci; from these Apartments you go into my Lords dressing room and Library, fronting the gardens.[3]

Due to having five different architects working on the house and the Duke's constantly changing vision, Cannons encompassed both Palladian and Baroque elements and has been described both as one of the last great Baroque houses and also as contributing towards the development of Palladianism in England.[4]


The grounds of Cannons extended to 105 acres (42.5 ha) and were renowned for their magnificence. There was a grand terrace opening on to a parterre containing gilded statues, a pleasure garden and an orchard.[4]

The water gardens, consisting of a great basin, a canal and numerous ornamental fountains led Nicholas Hawksmoor to comment "I cannot but own that the water at Cannon's... is the main beauty of that situation and it cost him dear".[5] Chandos had a water engineer of international fame in his household - his chaplain, the Rev John Theophilus Desaguliers, FRS. Desaguliers created a system of pipes of different materials and bores to feed the water features. In fact, he was better-known for his scientific expertise than his interest in his parishioners.[6] Another FRS associated with the gardens was Richard Bradley, a horticulturalist who was to become the first professor of botany at the University of Cambridge. Bradley, who dedicated a gardening book to the Duke, was in charge of the hothouse before being dismissed for financial mismanagement. He cultivated exotic plants such as the pineapple.[7]

Chandos oversaw changes at Cannons reflecting the eighteenth-century movement towards a more naturalistic style of landscape gardening. Some features from the original park survive, including two lakes, the Basin Lake and the Seven Acre Lake. English Heritage has included Canons Park on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.[8]

Demolition and dispersal[edit]

Boy Bitten by a Lizard. This is the Florence version, not Chandos' painting.

The Brydges lost a significant part of their fortune when the South Sea Bubble burst and their finances never recovered. Following the death of the first Duke, the very fabric of Cannons, all its contents and every fixture and fitting were auctioned to satisfy debts. A twelve-day sale began on 16 June 1747 and the sale catalogue included works by Titian, Giorgione, Raphael and Guercino. Amongst the most notable paintings were Caravaggio's Boy Bitten by a Lizard (wrongly attributed to Guercino in the catalogue) which the National Gallery, London acquired in 1986, and Nicolas Poussin's The Choice of Hercules which was purchased at the sale by Henry Hoare for Stourhead, his house in Wiltshire, where it still hangs.[4] Of the sculptures Grinling Gibbons' carved panel The Stoning of St Stephen is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum,[9] and a statue of George II attributed to John van Nost is in Golden Square.[10]

The portico, railings and marble staircase with bronze balustrade were bought by the 4th Earl of Chesterfield for his new London home, Chesterfield House, South Audley Street which was built in 1749 but like Cannons is no longer standing having been demolished in 1937.[11]

The rest of the house and contents were dispersed across the country and the location of much has been lost, however some substantial elements can still be seen, including the colonnade which is in front of the National Gallery in London. Elements of the chapel, in particular stained glass windows designed by Sebastiano Ricci and made by glass painter Joshua Price and Bellucci's ceiling paintings were purchased by Thomas, Lord Foley and installed by James Gibbs in the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Great Witley, Worcestershire.[4] There is a tradition that the gates were removed to Trinity College, Oxford, but this is incorrect, for the College's two sets of gates both predate the demolition of Cannons and are well documented.[12]

The estate itself was purchased by the cabinet maker William Hallett who in 1760 built a large villa on the site which today houses the North London Collegiate School and is known by the modern spelling, Canons.[13]

In popular culture[edit]

Such was the fame of the house that the Duke had to introduce crowd control measures - including a one-way system - to manage the large numbers of visitors who flocked to the estate.[4] Cannons was featured in early travel guides including a 1725 travelogue by Daniel Defoe where he described Cannons extravagance thus:

This palace is so beautiful in its situation, so lofty, so majestick the appearance of it, that a pen can but ill describe it... 'tis only fit to be talk'd of upon the very spot... The whole structure is built with such a Profusion of Expense and finished with such a Brightness of Fancy and Delicacy of Judgment.[14]

A few years later Alexander Pope was seen as satirising Cannons in his poem Of Taste (1731), which ridicules the villa of an aristocrat called "Timon" and includes the lines:

Light quirks of music, broken and uneven,

Make the soul dance upon a jig to heaven,
On painted ceilings you devoutly stare
Where sprawl the saints of Verrio or Laguerre...

Timon, like Chandos, is a patron of the painter Louis Laguerre and listens to elaborate music in his chapel. After adverse comment, including a caricature by William Hogarth of Pope splattering Chandos' carriage, the poet apologised to the Duke, denying that any comparison with Cannons was intended, but it has been suggested that Pope could have anticipated that some people would see a connection.[16] Within a few years another point of comparison had emerged - Pope had prophesied the demolition of Timon's villa.

Art collection[edit]

Antonio Bellucci's ceiling paintings from the Cannons chapel, now in Great Witley Church

Chandos began collecting paintings before Cannons was built. Chandos, who had good contacts in the art market in the Netherlands, sometimes bought works unseen, relying on the judgement of his agents. One of the difficulties he faced in acquiring the best continental art was that the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), which was a key factor in his great wealth, also made it more difficult to import art directly from Italy. Even so, his collection of Italian paintings included some of the great masters (see section on dispersal below). Chandos also commissioned painters directly, for example, the portraitists Michael Dahl and Sir Godfrey Kneller, [9] and the decorative painters Antonio Bellucci, Louis Laguerre and William Kent who worked on the interiors of the house. Chandos was a patron of the sculptors Grinling Gibbons and John Nost.

Musical patronage[edit]

Chandos maintained a musical establishment; some of the musicians are known to have doubled as household servants but even so, musical standards were very high. The music director for twenty years was the German composer Johann Christoph Pepusch. He wrote a number of pieces of church music for the Cannons chapel.[17] The size of the musical establishment at Cannons declined in the 1720s in response to the family's losses in the South Sea Bubble, a financial crash which took place in 1720.[18]

By far the most famous musician associated with Cannons is George Frideric Handel. He attracted the patronage of noblemen such as Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington,[19] and he was based at Burlington House before becoming Cannons’ resident composer from 1717 to 1718. It has been suggested that the move to Cannons was related to the fact that in 1717 there was reduced demand for his services in central London because operatic productions were experiencing a downturn.

Chandos had a taste for Italianate music and in 1719 became a patron of Handel's opera company in London. At Cannons, as well as employing continental musicians as composers, he also engaged continental instrumentalists. The singers, on the other hand, seem to have been mainly English, rather than the highly-trained and expensive Italians who were the stars of the London opera scene.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Neale, R.S. (1981). Bath, 1680-1850: A Social History, or a Valley of Pleasure Yet a Sink of Iniquity. Routledge. p. 128. ISBN 071000639X. 
  2. ^ UK Consumer Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 6, 2017. 
  3. ^ Macky, John (1724). A Journey through England in Familiar letters from a Gentleman here to his Friend abroad. London. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Jenkins, Susan (2007). Portrait of a Patron: The Patronage and Collecting of James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (1674-1744). Ashgate. ISBN 0754641562. 
  5. ^ Jenkins, Susan (2007). "Susan+Jenkins" Portrait of a Patron. The Patronage and Collecting of James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (1674–1744). Ashgate Publishing. p. 84. ISBN 9780754641568. 
  6. ^ The letters of James Brydges Earl of Carnarvon and later Duke of Chandos (1674–1744) to John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683–1744) correspondence preserved at The Huntington Library, California
  7. ^ Campbell, Susan (2005). A History of Kitchen Gardening
  8. ^ This recognition is in spite of the fact that the eighteenth-century park survives in a fragmented and partial state - the register includes parks and gardens with a main phase of development prior to 1750 even when only a small part is still evident.
  9. ^ [1] Survey of London
  10. ^ Mitton, Geraldine Edith (1903). Mayfair, Belgravia and Bayswater. 
  11. ^ Clare Hopkins, Trinity: 450 Years of an Oxford College Community (OUP, 2005), 170, 173.
  12. ^ "North London Collegiate School" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  13. ^ Defoe, Daniel (1725). A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain. pp. Letter 6, Part 1: Middlesex, Hertford and Buckinghamshire. 
  14. ^ Epistles to Several Persons: Epistle IV To Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ "Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667-1752)". Retrieved 2008-02-02. 
  17. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Handel, Donald Burrows
  18. ^ Murdoch, Tessa. "The Music Room". Royal College of Music. Retrieved 2008-02-02. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°36′34″N 0°17′32″W / 51.60937°N 0.29216°W / 51.60937; -0.29216

Category:English Baroque architecture Category:Rococo architecture of England Category:James Gibbs buildings Category:Former buildings and structures of England Category:Destroyed landmarks Category:Houses in Middlesex Category:1724 architecture