Daniel Finch, 9th Earl of Winchilsea and 4th Earl of Nottingham (1752-1826) succeeded his uncle in 1769. On coming of age he set about making the great late 17th Century house he had inherited more habitable and comfortable. The dining room, with its neoclassical plasterwork undoubtedly dates from this phase. He later went on to remodel other rooms and employed Repton to landscape the park (1795). There are a large number of interesting payments in the account of Hoare's Bank in the name of the Guardians of the Earl of Winchilsea. Most significant are two payments to John Mayhew (28 November 1774, £236 5s 0d, Ledger F folio 74 and 20 April 1776, £315 Ledger F folio 76). These suggest that John Mayhew and William Ince were the principal suppliers of furniture during this first phase of modernisation at Burley. There is one other major payment to a London cabinet-maker at this period, to John Taitt (4 August 1776, £350). Lord Winchilsea wrote to his mother in the winter of 1774 'I have got a number of things from Mayhew. I am sure the house will soon have a more furnished look' (C. Hussey, 'Burley-on-the-Hill', Country Life, 17 February 1923, p. 217). In the later 1790s there are payments to Vulliamy and Marsh (presumably William Marsh of Elward and Marsh, Elward, Marsh and Bailey, Elward Marsh and Tatham, Marsh and Tatham, etc., see the Dictionary of English Cabinet Makers, 1680-1840, Leeds, p.227-279) who most probably supplied the suite of ormolu-mounted rosewood library bookcases that remain in the house.
The attribution to Mayhew and Ince is further confirmed on stylistic grounds. The use of ebonised borders is a recurrent feature of the firm's work. The wreath ring handles are found on a number of documented or attributed pieces - appearing for example on many pieces in the Broadlands commission (H. Roberts, 'Furniture at Broadlands', Country Life, 5 Februiary 1981, p. 346, figs. 1 and 2). Meanwhile, a mahogany serpentine commode of very similar shape with identical spirally-fluted feet was supplied to Earl and Countess Stanhope circa 1775. It is recorded in one of the Scribble Books kept by Grizzle, Countess Stanhope (Stanhope Papers, Kent Record Office, Maidstone): 22 Feb 1775 Bill Mayhew & Ince for black bordered Commode London £10 10s. A smaller commode very close to the Stanhope commode was sold in the Leidesdorf Collection, Sotheby's London, 27-28 June 1974, lot 101 and again on 10 February 1989, lot 82.
At the time of George III's accession the establishment of Mayhew's highly successful partnership with William Ince, was advertised by their Universal System of Household Furniture, 1762. This commode can be recognised as one of the firm's masterpieces of the 1770s, and later influenced the design of their work at houses such as Broadlands, Hampshire and Chevening, Kent (Hugh Roberts and Charles Cator's contribution to the Mayhew entry in G. Beard and C. Gilbert (eds), Dictionary of English Furniture Makers: 1660-1840, Leeds, 1986).
The brilliantly handled design of this commode with its combination of lustrous figured timber set off by sparingly used ebonised neo-classical ornament, all neatly and perfectly executed, bear eloquent witness to the heights achieved by the firm in its creation of an English Louis XVI style.
John Mayhew and William Ince's elegant Pompeian-pillared commode is conceived as a 'marriage chest' in the fashionable French 'Commode Table' manner, with its sculpted 'Apollo temple' frieze reflecting the 'antique' style he adopted from the 1773 publication of the Works in Architecture issued by the Rome-trained court architect Robert Adam (d.1792). Intended for a garniture of flower-vases and candelabra to be mirrored in an accompanying pier-glass, it was designed for a window pier, where its beribboned drapery frieze would harmonise with the contemporary raised curtain-festoons. It would also no doubt, have been designed to harmonise with the chimneypiece of a stately bedroom apartment reception/dressing-room, where such festive hearth ornament would evoke lyric poetry concerning sacrifices at love's altar in antiquity. Its hanging bas-relief trophies of laurels festooning sunflowered libation-paterae would serve to recall the poet Ovid's metamorphoses concerning the History of the Sun god Apollo and his love Clytie, as well as the embellishment of the deity's Palmyreen temple as popularised by R. Wood, Ruins of the Temple of the Sun at Palmyra (1753). Its stepped border is wreathed, like its satin-figured drawer tablets and stepped plinth, with a reed to symbolise the 'love' of Pan, the Arcadian fertility deity. Its concealed frieze-drawer is equipped with laurelled rings, recalling Apollo as poetry-deity of Mt. Parnassus, and these suspend from whorled golden acanthus flowers appropriate to the Roman poets' Golden Age. The French-fashioned projecting pillars are of herm-tapered, antique-fluted and vase-baluster form. The stand's herm-tapered and reed-wrapped columnar 'stumps' are spiral-fluted in a manner that recalls antique boulle-patterned sarcophagus-chests, whose reeded feet are spiralled in the manner of Jupiter's vivifying fulcrum.
Begun in 1696 for the 2nd Earl of Nottingham, Burley on the Hill is one of the great masterpieces of English Baroque architecture. With commanding views over Rutland water and a magnificent forecourt modelled on the piazza of St. Peter's, the house was considered by the 18th Century writer Daniel Defoe to be almost without equal, 'I do not know a house in Britain which excels all the rest in so many particulars, or that goes so near to excelling them all in everything.' In 1908 the house was severely damaged by fire, an event witnessed by Winston Churchill who was a guest at the time and who later wrote, 'from the centre of the house a volcano roared skyward in a whirlwind of sparks.' It is said that during the fire Churchill had to stand outside in nothing but a towel.