Doddington Hall and the Delavals: Inventories and Archives

Essay by Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez

Doddington Hall and the Delavals: Inventories and Archives

Sir John Hussey Delaval’s restoration and remodelling of Doddington Hall, Lincolnshire, can be understood through a collection of records currently housed at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the Northumberland Archives, Ashington.1 These records consist primarily of building accounts, inventories and letters, which relate to alterations to the house, landscape and surrounding buildings. Among the family and estate papers at the Bodleian Library are three inventories that were taken in the second half of the eighteenth century.2 The earliest inventory of the house, which was taken on 16 January 1753, by an anonymous hand, comprises a list of all the objects and furniture contained in every room.3 The order and designation of the rooms in this inventory provides useful information about the way in which the house was inhabited before Sir John inherited the estate in 1759. For example, from this inventory we learn that the north-west chamber on the ground floor, which was referred to as the Dining Room later in 1786, was previously known as the Parlour in 1753.4 It is also clear from this inventory that the room above the Great Hall, which later came to be known as the Drawing Room, was known as the Long Dining Room before Sir John’s mother died.5 This suggests the interior of the house retained its original sixteenth-century arrangement, which was centred on the most domestic, intimate spaces, until the mid-eighteenth century, when the appeal of larger and more visible symmetrical spaces became increasingly attractive to building patrons in England.

The second inventory of the house, also by an anonymous hand, was taken in 1760, possibly just before the remodelling began to take place.6 As with the 1753 inventory, the survey taken in 1760 began by listing the contents of every room, starting with the Great Hall on the ground floor and ending with the two bedchambers at the top of the main stairs on the second floor.7 Although the 1760 inventory appears to have been little concerned with standards of presentation, since most items are listed without spacing or clear separation, the descriptions of the furniture paid greater attention to detail than in the 1753 survey. Thus, it is possible to identify items that either remained in place or were moved elsewhere in the house during the remodelling. Artefacts that were relocated include a set of the tapestries depicting a scene with a boar and a lion; these appear to have hung downstairs in the Drawing Room (the Green Parlour) in 1760, before they were rehung in the first-floor chamber (the Tiger Room) facing the church.8 The inventory of the items in the chamber opposite, which also listed ‘Tapestry Hangings’, as well as a ‘four-post bed … with yellow threed Sattin’, informs us that the tapestries we see today in this room (the Holly Room) might have hung there before the remodelling.9 Another record in the 1760 inventory that bears significance is the description of the items in the Long Gallery, which suggests there was very little in terms of decoration and furnishings in this section of the house.10 This fact sets the Long Gallery apart from the majority of the rooms around the house, which were more densely furnished, and explains why Sir John set out to invest more in the transformation of this socially significant but hitherto sparsely furnished space.

The third inventory of the house, which was taken by staff members J. Brown, William Portes and Sarah Holmes between 28 February and 7 March 1786, provides arguably the most illuminating insights into the late eighteenth-century interior of Doddington Hall.11 The date and accuracy of the inventory suggests it was taken shortly after the departure of Lord and Lady Delaval to Ford Castle, possibly as a way of documenting everything that was not taken to the principal seat of the family. In contrast to the 1753 and 1760 inventories, this survey began by listing the contents of the rooms at the south end of the second floor and ended with the service quarters of the ground floor.12 From the order and description of the rooms in this inventory it is clear that by 1786 the chambers on the second floor, occupied by Mr and Mrs Cawthorne, Sir John’s son-in-law and his daughter, Frances, were among the principal domestic spaces of the house.13 This arrangement would have differed significantly from the 1760s interior, when the Drawing Room and the two tapestry rooms made up the core of the household.14 One motive for converting these chambers into the primary accommodation may have been the departure of Lord and Lady Delaval from the house. Another reason to convert these chambers into primary spaces might have been their proximity to the Long Gallery, which, as building records show, underwent extensive renovations between 1760 and 1762. Also, as the 1786 inventory confirms, the Long Gallery retained an important collection of furnishings, including Japanned furniture, mahogany chairs and a large number of oil paintings in carved and gilt frames.15 One of these paintings, Anne Hussey Delaval, Lady Stanhope, and Sir John Delaval in a Performance of 'The Fair Penitent' by Nicholas Rowe, attributed to Benjamin Wilson (DN52), was displayed on the north wall; while another, Lord and Lady Pollington, Later Earl and Countess of Mexborough, with their Son by Joshua Reynolds (DN93), hung at the south end of the room, where it remains today.16 How the room directly below the Long Gallery turned from a Long Dining Room with only a large table and a small selection of chairs into a Large Drawing Room with a rich display of papier-mâché trophies, mirrors and paintings in carved and gilt frames, can also be understood from the 1786 inventory.17 The entry corresponding to this room informs us that the north wall contained a ‘Large picture in Oils … of the family’, by Arthur Pond (DN57), while the east wall hosted a ‘Large picture in oils … of Sir Francis in Regimentals’, attributed to the studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds (DN35).18

The greater portion of the building accounts, which are kept among other household bills, legal papers, receipts and letters, are preserved in the form of individual manuscripts at the Bodleian Library.19 The accounts and vouchers related specifically to the procurement of the building works at Doddington Hall, dating from 1761 to 1775, are also found among the Bodleian manuscripts, but are bound together as eighteen separate volumes.20 These volumes include estimates for individual commissions, such as the reconstruction of the staircase and the re-flooring of the Long Gallery. 21 Surveys, or ‘Measurements’ that recorded the work and that were produced at different stages are also found among the folios. These surveys were undertaken by John Dixon, the surveyor at Doddington, who procured specific building materials such as the lead for the windows. They are structured according to the order of the rooms and appear to have taken place whenever a significant disbursement was made. Among the contractors mentioned in the accounts are: Robert Lilly, the painter who estimated in 1760 the cost of the painting to be done at £15 10s; Matthew Rennison, the plasterer responsible for all the plasterwork carried out inside the house, who in 1762 received a total sum of £446 13s 3½d; and Thomas Lumby, the master carpenter behind all the joinery work, who received the approximate sum of £410 18s 7d on February 1762 for most of the alterations made inside the rooms with the exclusion of the staircase, which was valued separately at £197 8s 5d on October 1762.22

From the accounts above it is clear that Thomas Lumby was the main, and indeed only, master craftsman involved in the project from conception to completion. His initial estimates, dated May 1760, outline much of the work involved in the building campaign.23 Lumby’s signatures appear also in numerous documents, principally receipts, which date from 1760 to 1775. Yet, perhaps the most revealing source of evidence contained within the account books is a letter written by Reverend Robert Pregion Hurton (DN105), the rector at Doddington, to Sir John Hussey Delaval.24 Dated 23 August 1760, the letter contains an account by Hurton that describes how little progress has been made so far around the house and that Lumby has ‘received more cash than he has done work’.25 In his letter of complaint, Hurton also goes as far as quoting William Portes, the steward at Doddington responsible for directing the work on behalf of Sir John, who referred to Lumby’s promises as being ‘like the wind, [for] they blow as they list [,] and he hears the sound thereof [,] but cannot tell whence they come or whether they go [,] for he can lay no hold on them’.26 Similar remarks, although less adverse, appear again in some of Portes’s own letters to Sir John, which are held at the Northumberland Archives.27

Written between 1760 and 1799, letters from Portes describe the multiple tasks carried out as part of the general management of the estate, including the surrounding land, and are therefore not exclusively concerned with the remodelling of the house, though a significant number of them relate to specific building activities. Those letters written in 1761 and 1762 in particular offer detailed insights into the different stages of the construction period.28 For instance, from one of Portes’s letters we learn that the reconstruction of the great staircase, the cost of which was estimated in May 1760, did not formally begin until February 1761, nearly one year after the remodelling of the house began, since Lumby had not yet managed to remove the original open-well staircase from its place.29 This information, coupled with records that show a high number of joiners and bricklayers were employed in March 1761, suggests that Portes’s written plea, which was sent in February the same year and requested the ‘desirable presence’ of Sir John on site, did in fact help expedite the works inside the house.30

The sudden need to make headway with the remodelling of the house interior and the progress made by Lumby and his men are also evident from the ensuing letters written by Portes. Three letters alone were sent to Sir John in April 1761, informing him that there were only nine doors left to hang around the house and that all the stringboards on the stairs were installed and ready to be plastered.31 Indeed, it appears that so much progress had been made with the joinery that by May 1761 ‘all the rooms in the house’ were finished, except for the ceiling in the Long Gallery, the staircase and the Great Hall, on which the plasterers had begun to work.32

On 13 June 1761, in order that the plasterwork could be completed, Portes requested from Sir John designs for the chimneypieces in the Long Gallery and Dining Room, providing a clear indication of Sir John’s direct personal involvement in the design of the interior.33 With a large number of bricklayers at work and ‘nothing material to remite’ to Sir John by the end of June 1761, Lumby appears to have steered the construction works without complications throughout July and August 1761, when the joiners’ work in the Long Gallery and Dining Room was mostly complete.34 On 8 August 1761 John Dixon made an interim survey of the joinery works carried out around the rooms of the house. Thereafter, attention was shifted back to the staircase, which had not progressed since Sir John and Lady Delaval had last visited the house, as well as the floor of the Great Hall, which was being re-laid with new stone flags.35 These alterations, including work on the floors of the kitchen and Long Gallery, appear to have proceeded steadily throughout the second half of 1761 and carried on all the way through to June 1762, when the painting of the interior, including the wainscot panelling within the Dining Room, was fully underway.36 On 10 July 1762 Portes reported that labourers had nearly finished the ‘2 chamber floors’ inside the house and were ‘going very briskly forward with the outside work’.37 Two weeks later Portes described how he personally oversaw the installation of the tapestries, which were amended and hung according to the instructions of Lady Hussey Delaval.38 By August 1762 works outside the house were almost complete and Lumby’s men continued to lay down the new floor inside the Long Gallery, a task that might have lasted until October 1762, when the staircase was finally completed.39

This particular stage in the project, represented by Dixon’s 1762 survey of the joinery work, plasterwork and ‘glazier’s work’, effectively marked the end of the transformation of the interior of Doddington Hall.40 The surviving records that correspond to the period after 1762 relate mostly to alterations to the gardens and outer buildings (and which lie beyond the scope of the current research project and related inventory transcriptions). Perhaps the most significant of these alterations was the reconstruction of the parish church outside the house, which, according to a letter written by Sir John Delaval to the bishop of Lincoln, was in ‘a very ruinous condition’ and in need of repair by 1770.41 Its reconstruction, in the Gothic style, was undertaken by Thomas Lumby and his son, William Lumby; and it was complete in 1775, shortly before the funeral of Sir John’s only son and heir, who died at the age of nineteen in 1776. 42 It appears that by this point Sir John had fallen out of love with Doddington Hall, for not only did he fail to attend the funeral of his son but went as far as painting the walls of the newly built church in black.43 The fact that Sir John ordered the cutting down of nearly all the trees also tells us something about his future plans, or lack thereof, regarding Doddington estate.44 The only evidence that suggests Sir John sustained some level of engagement with the management of Doddington is found in some of the estate accounts and letters by William Portes, which reveal that Sir John continued to invest in the general upkeep of the agricultural buildings.45 Besides these expenses, all documentary evidence points to the reality that by 1775 Sir John had moved his focus of attention back to Ford Castle, Seaton Delaval and 23 Hanover Square, London, where interior renovations continued to take place until the 1780s.46 In light of this review, the 1786 inventory of Doddington Hall could be regarded as part of a plan to transfer some of the family assets to London, Seaton and Ford; a process that may have been in course but certainly not complete by then. A close look at this inventory’s descriptions of furnishings reveals how the interior of Doddington Hall, having been successfully transformed into a magnificent family home, was once again changing and adapting to the requirements of its residents.

1753 Inventory Plans (ground floor)

Figure 1.
1753 Inventory Plans (ground floor), Doddington Hall & Gardens.

Digital image courtesy of Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

Ground Floor

1. Great Hall
2. Dining Room (Brown Parlour)
3. Green Parlour (Library)
4. Buttery
5. Pantry
6. Kitchen
7. Dairy
8. Stewards Room

1753 Inventory Plans (first floor)

Figure 2.
1753 Inventory Plans (first floor), Doddington Hall & Gardens.

Digital image courtesy of Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

First Floor

9. Tapestry Room
10. Holly Room
11. Closet
12. Closet at the stair
13. Large Drawing Room
14. Bedchamber (Yellow Room)
15. Dressing Room
16. Bedchamber
17. Bedchamber Closet
18. Bedchamber
19. Study
20. Closet

1753 Inventory Plans (second floor)

Figure 3.
1753 Inventory Plans (second floor), Doddington Hall & Gardens.

Digital image courtesy of Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

Second Floor

21. Bedchamber
22. Dressing Room
23. Bedchamber
24. Bedchamber
25. Nursery
26. Long Gallery
27. Bedchamber
28. Bedchamber
29. Bedchamber


  • Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez

    Rodolfo Acevedo Rodríguez is an artist, architect and architectural historian with an interest in the recording and interpretation of historic buildings. He is a practicing member of The Royal Institute of British Architects, an affiliate member of The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers and a fellow of The Society of Antiquaries. Between 2016 and 2020, he carried out research on Boughton House, Doddington Hall, Petworth House, Thornton Abbey Gatehouse, Trewithen House, Wentworth Woodhouse and West Wycombe House. A contributor of ‘Art & The Country House’, Rodolfo has written a number of essays and transcriptions of architectural records.


  1. For a full catalogue of the archives housed at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, see Mary Clapinson and T. D. Rogers, eds, Summary Catalogue of Post-Medieval Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library Oxford: Acquisitions 1916–1975, Volume II Catalogue, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991, pp. 1270–3.

  2. Archives catalogued as ‘Inventories of household goods at Doddington Hall, 1753, 1760 and 1786, with notes of 1789–1804’: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, e. 6.

  3. The inventory consists of eight folios: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, ff. 1r–8r.

  4. BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, f. 1r; for 1786 entry see MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, f. 8r.

  5. BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, f. 2v; Rhoda Apreece died in 1759; R. E. G. Cole, History of The Manor and Township of Doddington, Lincoln: James Williamson, 1897, p. 149.

  6. The date on the top left-hand corner is partly faded: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, f. 8r.

  7. The inventory consists of six folios: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, ff. 9r–14r.

  8. ‘Tapestry Hangings of the room’ are listed among paintings and curtains: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, f. 9r.

  9. The inventory describes ‘Tapestry Hangings’ in the ‘Bedchamber adjoining’ the great staircase: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, f. 9v.

  10. Only ‘Two large tables’ and ‘Three old trunks’ are named among the largest objects inside the room: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 13, f. 12r.

  11. The inventory was taken on 28 February and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 March 1786: BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6.

  12. The inventory consists of fifty-five leaves: BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, ff. 5r–60r.

  13. The entries for ‘Mr. and Mrs. Cawthorne’s Bedchamber’ adjoining the ‘Dressing Room’ and the ‘Nursery’ list a significant number of furnishings: BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, ff. 5r–5v.

  14. See notes 4 and 9.

  15. For the estimate of the alterations to the Long Gallery see BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, f. 46r; BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, ff. 6r–6v.

  16. BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, ff. 6r–6v.

  17. BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, 10v–12r.

  18. The listing does not specify on which part of the wall the painting hung: BO MS Top. Lincs. e. 6, f. 11v.

  19. Family and estate papers date from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries: BO MS Top. Lincs. b. 3–5, MS Top. Lincs. c. 3–30.

  20. Accounts and vouchers dated 1761–78 are catalogued as MS Top. Lincs. c. 14–30.

  21. Estimates for these works are included in BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14.

  22. For work done by Matthew Rennison see BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, ff. 40v–45v; Estimated payment for Lumby’s work based on the balances brought forward on 8 August 1761, 13 February 1762 and 15 October 1762: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, ff. 56 r, 58v, 59r.

  23. For initial estimates, see BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14.

  24. BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, ff. 78r–78v.

  25. Rev. R. P. Hurton’s letter was sent on 23 August 1760: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, f. 78r.

  26. BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, f. 78v.

  27. The surviving letters date from 1760 to 1799: Ashington, Northumberland Archives, 2DE.20/1–16.

  28. NA 2DE 20/1/1–29.

  29. By November 1760 Dixon had not yet been able to remove the old stairs: NA 2DE 20/1/1; by January 1761, the old stairs were still not taken down and none of the room doors were hung yet: NA 2DE 20/1/2.

  30. Portes's letter, dated 20 February 1761, reports that work inside the house was ‘still at a very slow pace’; NA 2DE 20/1/3.

  31. Letter dated 11 April 1761: 2DE 20/1/5.

  32. Portes’s letter, dated 16 May 1761, also describes joiners working on the ‘Turrett on the top of the House’: NA 2DE 20/1/9; Portes's letter, dated 26 May 1761, reported plasterers ‘doing the ceiling under the half spaces of the stairs’: NA 2DE 20/1/10.

  33. Letter dated 13 June 1761: NA 2DE 20/1/13.

  34. Jobs carried out by the labourers and bricklayers employed in June and July also included work on ancillary buildings: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, ff. 286, 288, 292, 295, 296, 358; letter by Portes dated 27 June 1761: 2DE 20/1/15; John Dixon’s survey of the Long Gallery and ‘Wainscott Room’ was conducted on 8 August 1761: NA MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, f. 56r.

  35. It is not clear from Portes's letter when Lord and Lady Delaval visited Doddington: NA 2DE 20/1/17.

  36. The Dining Room and the chambers on the south end of the Long Gallery were among the rooms completed first: NA 2DE 20/1/21.

  37. Letter dated 10 July 1762: NA 2DE 20/1/24.

  38. Portes's letter, dated 24 July 1762, describes how the ‘tayler’ mended the tapestry before it was hung up: NA 2DE 20/1/25.

  39. John Dixon surveyed the work completed on 15 October 1762: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, f. 59r.

  40. A total sum of £145 19s 0d was paid out to John Dixon for work in 1760, 1761 and 1762: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 14, f. 68r.

  41. The reconstruction of the church was undertaken at the expense of Sir John: Cole, 1897, p. 151.

  42. John Cornforth, ‘A Building Baronet – II’, Country Life, vol. 188, 10 February 1994, pp. 46–9.

  43. Both the interior of Doddington church and that of the chapel at Seaton Delaval were painted black: Cole, 1897, p. 153.

  44. By the time of his son’s death, Sir John had fallen out with his brother Edward Delaval and therefore cut down all the timber that would fetch any money: Cole, 1897, p. 154.

  45. Estate accounts show labourers were employed in 1764 to carry out work in the ‘Garden Courts’, ‘Bakehouse’ and ‘Coolehouse’: BO MS Top. Lincs. c. 16, ff. 4r, 22r, 26r.

  46. Work on the main house at Ford Castle was more or less complete by 1771, while renovations at Seaton and 23 Hanover Square continued until 1780–1: Cornforth, 1994, pp. 46–9.



by Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Rodolfo Acevedo Rodriguez, "Doddington Hall and the Delavals: Inventories and Archives", Art and the Country House,