Raynham Introduction

Essay by Martin Postle

Raynham Hall, among the most historically and architecturally important houses in Norfolk, has been the country residence of the Townshend family for nearly four hundred years, and is presently home to the Marquess and Marchioness Townshend. The present case study, as with the others in the research project, focuses upon certain aspects of Raynham’s collection and display history. At the heart of the research relating to Raynham Hall is a catalogue of over eighty portraits, mostly of members of the Townshend dynasty, including paintings by leading artists associated with the British School. We are grateful to Emily Burns, Emily Knight, Amy Lim and Edward Town, experts in their respective fields, for compiling the entries, based upon their first-hand inspection of the paintings at Raynham and the high-resolution photographs commissioned by the Paul Mellon Centre from Tom St Aubyn.

Collectively, the picture entries contained in the case study comprise the first detailed catalogue to have been published on the painting collection at Raynham. Also, in close connection to the picture catalogue, Amy Lim has written an 'object-in-focus' piece providing a transcription of and commentary upon a memorandum in the archives at Raynham, presented by the artist Charles Jervas to Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend; it is among the most detailed and fascinating documents of its kind.

While the principal focus of the research is Raynham itself, the significance of the house in relation to regional politics, particularly in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is of vital importance in understanding its history and the trajectory of collecting pursued by the Townshends. In his essay, Jonny Yarker places Raynham in its local context, comparing its status and that of its owners with other great Norfolk houses, notably Houghton Hall, the country seat of Sir Robert Walpole, the brother-in-law and neighbour of Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend. Yarker also compares Raynham and Houghton with Wolterton Hall, the third Norfolk 'power house' in the triumvirate, and home to Sir Robert Walpole's younger brother Horatio, 1st Baron Walpole.

Although it has been the subject of comparatively little scholarly research, the architecture of Raynham Hall is of considerable importance, both in terms of its structure and its interiors. For the present project, Amy Boyington and Karey Draper were commissioned to write a concise architectural history of Raynham, drawing together the various strands of existing research, archival resources, ground plans and elevations, in private collections and in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Among the grand State Rooms on the ground floor at Raynham is the Red Saloon, remodelled in the late 1720s by William Kent. But while Kent's interior remains intact, the twelve full-length military portraits – the co-called 'Vere Captains' – he installed there in custom-made frames were dispersed to the four winds in 1904, when they were sold at auction. In his essay, Edward Town traces the history of the subsequent ownership of the Vere Captains in various private and public collections; in doing so, he investigates the circumstances surrounding the original commissioning of the portraits and issues relating to attribution.

Aside from the paintings at and associated with Raynham, among the most compelling visual images are the caricatures made by George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend, during the mid-eighteenth century. Using the caricatures at Raynham Hall as the basis for his research, Oliver Cox explores the political and military career, as well as the social connections, of this talented and prolific caricaturist. The essay also places the Raynham caricatures, bound together in one album, in relation to other similar drawings by the 1st Marquess, held by the McCord Museum, Montreal; the British Museum, London; and the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries proved to be a difficult and potentially disastrous period for the Townshends of Raynham, in terms of the survival of their dynasty, their house and its collection. In his essay, Martin Postle explores the historical background and extraordinary circumstances surrounding the Townshend Heirlooms sale held by Christie’s in March 1904. Postle also investigates the whereabouts of works of art formerly at Raynham and their relationship to pictures still remaining in the house, in the context of the collection as a whole and its display history. While the 1904 sale marked a nadir in the Townshend fortunes, its aftermath registered the resilience of the family and the collective determination over succeeding generations to retain and maintain the house, its interiors and its historic collections.

To accompany the present case study, Charles, 8th Marquess Townshend, kindly agreed to the commissioning by the Paul Mellon Centre of a short film by Jon Law. Jon's film does not function merely as an adjunct to the research contained in the accompanying case study; it explores the interior of the house with an independent eye, focusing in particular on the Oak Staircase, which is associated with the apparition of the 'Brown Lady', the supposed ghost of Dorothy Walpole, and modern ghost stories penned by the 7th Marchioness Townshend.


  • Dr Martin Postle is Deputy Director for Grants and Publications at the Paul Mellon Centre. Between 1998 and 2007 he was Head of British Art to 1900 at Tate. Martin's research and publication interests focus principally on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British art, including portraiture, landscape and the history of art academies. He has curated exhibitions on a wide range of subjects, including the artist’s model, the Fancy Picture and the art of the garden, as well as monographic exhibitions on Joshua Reynolds, Johan Zoffany, Richard Wilson, Stanley Spencer and George Stubbs. Martin is project leader and commissioning editor of ‘Art & the Country House’, to which he has contributed a number of essays and catalogue entries.


by Martin Postle
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Martin Postle, "Raynham Introduction", Art and the Country House, https://doi.org/10.17658/ACH/RNE576