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John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford (d.1839), the celebrated 19th century horticulturist and agricultural improver, created the beautiful villa and gardens at Endsleigh, Devon for the promotion of his Tavistock Estate and the enjoyment of his large family. His rural idyll focused around a grand farm-house that was dressed as an antiquarian 'cottage orné', and planned in harmony with its 'picturesque' location overlooking the meandering Tamar river. His interests followed those of his elder brother Francis, 5th Duke (d.1802), who had disposed of the family's London mansion to concentrate on the embellishment of the family's country estates; and he honoured the 5th Duke by placing his marble bust in pride of place in Endsleigh's hall. Appropriate for the Russell 'ferme orné', this entrance/banqueting hall was heraldically charged with the family's armorial 'shells' and 'goat' crest (see the hall chairs now at Woburn Abbey). As at the family seat Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, the Duke consulted the architect Humphrey Repton (d.1818), famed in particular for his work at the Marine Pavilion, Brighton for George, Prince of Wales, later George IV. However the building of the Endsleigh Cottage, and its principal garden pavilion or 'Swiss Cottage', was entrusted to the architect Jeffry Wyatt (d.1840), who had trained in the office of James Wyatt (d.1813), Surveyor General of George III's Board of Works, and was later to be elevated as Sir Jeffry Wyattville for his work at George IV's Windsor Castle. Wyatt had already demonstrated talents as a 'painter-architect' with his palace designs, inspired by the writings both of Homer and of the connoisseur William Beckford (d.1844), that he exhibited in the 1790s at the Royal Academy.
The actual site for the main house and its adjoining family pavilion for her ten children was chosen by Georgiana, Duchess of Bedford, who laid the foundation stone in 1810, in the same year that Wyatt first exhibited Endsleigh designs at the Royal Academy. An inscribed stone tablet set above the fountain in the stable courtyard at Endsleigh records: 'Endsleigh Cottage was built and a residence created in this sequestered valley by John, Duke of Bedford, the spot having previously been choosen for the natural and picturesque beauties which surround it by Georgiana, Duchess of Bedford. The first stone of the building was laid by her four eldest sons...September 7, 1810'. The planning of Endsleigh and its varied gardens epitomises the teachings of Uvedale Price in his, Essay on the Picturesque, 1798. While Wyatt's interior decoration and robust furnishings likewise fuse the classical, Elizabethan/gothic and exotic styles in an eclectic and novel manner. The Duke's furnishings also made use of native materials as lauded in Rudolph Ackermann's, Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions etc (1809-1828). Endsleigh's furnishings helped set the pattern for publications such as J.F. Loudon's influential Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture, 1833.
Jeffry Wyatt provided designs for the principal furniture, whose execution was entrusted to a variety of local craftsmen in Exeter, Plymouth etc. Original invoices, held in the Bedford Archive and the Devon County Record Office, sent to His Grace The Duke of Bedford during the period 1810-1820, include bills from numerous craftsmen working under William Walker, the Clerk of Works at Endsleigh. From these invoices it has been possible to identify a number of pieces of furniture made by the local craftsmen; in particular by the cabinet-makers John Williams, (working under the direction of Jeffry Wyatt) and Samuel Soper. Other craftsmen are listed in the archive, however, it has not been possible to attribute specific pieces of furniture directly to them. These include William Physick, Henry Spencer and William Martin (and family). William Martin undertook 'joiners work' and was also responsible for preparing an inventory of the contents of Endsleigh in 1839 on the death of John, 6th Duke. The inventory records a total value of 2894 pounds, 19 shillings and sixpence for the contents of Endsleigh. Various shipments of furniture from London are also recorded during this period. These were organised by George Edgcombe; a bill dated 10th June 1815 records 'for carriage of goods to Endsleigh - paid Edgcombe 11 pounds, 10 shillings and sixpence for the freight of eight packages of furniture from London in the Lord Nelson Trader for the Duke of Bedford'. It is possible to speculate that this delivery of furniture records a shipment from George Bullock's Grecian Rooms, Piccadilly, London.
The Duke and Duchess were abroad on an extended Grand Tour during the early years of the building work, and their interest in antiquities reflected by the Library's sculptural ornament. However, an extensive collection of porcelain, together with animal models, were displayed throughout in it's living rooms, while an abundance of plants and flowers helped fuse the ducal cottage and its garden. The river Tamar provided many pleasurable hours of salmon fishing and was also a very exciting stretch of river for canoeing. This was a sport particularly enjoyed by Mary, wife of Herbrand, 11th Duke (d.1940), known as the 'Flying Duchess'. The landscape principles advised by Repton were largely adhered to by successive dukes of Bedford, with magnificent views and the delight of discovering exotic and rare trees and plants. This cottage remained a favourite retreat for later members of the family up until the time of Hastings, 12th Duke. The property was run as a country hotel by the 13th Duke's Trustees until it was purchased, in 1962, by Endsleigh Fishing Club.
Christie's are indebted to original research carried out by Colin and Mary Brown, Honourary Archivist of Endsleigh Charitable Trust, the assistance of the Devon County Record Office and in particular to Livinia Wellicome, Curator, Woburn.