The rococo taste of ‘boxing’ Windham

The Cabinet at Felbrigg, designed to contain William Windham II’s Grand Tour pictures. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The remodelling of Felbrigg Hall mentioned in the previous post, which took place between about 1749 and 1755, created a sequence of fashionable rococo interiors cleverly integrated into a much older house.

Portrait of William Windham II in hussar uniform by John Shackleton. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Much of Felbrigg reflects the lively, almost contradictory personality of William Windham II. In his youth he was known as ‘boxing’ Windham and it was said that ‘he had an utter abhorrence of restraint, which made him love to associate with those that put him under none at all: here he might throw his legs against the chimney, round himself into a hoop in his elbow chair, and at the same time read one subject, and converse on another …’ 

One of a pair of pier glasses in the Rose Bedroom, supplied by John Bladwell in about 1752, but made to fit old mirror glass. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Windham did not go to university, but toured the Continent with his tutor Benjamin Stillingfleet, staging plays and touring a glacier with his friends, acquiring paintings and books as well as contracting an impetuous marriage to the daughter of the First Syndic of Geneva.

The Drawing Room, remodelled by Paine in 1751 but retaining its late 17th century ceiling ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

When Windham inherited Felbrigg in 1749 he first employed Paine to build a new service wing, which included workshops where he could pursue his interests in woodturning and bookbinding.

The Dining Room was created by Paine in 1752, but its family portraits and reused mirrors connect it to the previous century. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Paine then restructured the main house, creating a number of beautiful rococo interiors. However, older features such as 17th century ceilings and chimneypieces were often left in place out of respect for the history of the house.

A mirror of about 1750, probably by John Bladwell, in the Grey dressing Room, used by William Windham II as his personal dressing room. ©National Trust Images/David Kirkham

Outside, too, Windham retained the different appearance of the two wings of the house, dating respectively from the early and the late 17th century. In his house as in his personal life, he seemed to revel in contradiction.

11 Responses to “The rococo taste of ‘boxing’ Windham”

  1. frenzzee Says:

    I know absolutely nothing about Windham (doubly humiliating since I grew up near Felbrigg) and wonder if there is a book about him. He sounds absolutely fascinating! Certainly someone we would admire today.

  2. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    There is so much to admire, but I am particularly taken with the care given to the placement of the pictures. In the Drawing Room, the portrait over the chimneypiece seems particularly high. Is there a story behind that?

  3. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    I agree with frenzzee – this is definitely someone about whom i’d enjoy reading!

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Frenzzee, yes to me the mixture of freedom and curiosity in his character somehow seems very dix-huitième. There is a book entitled ‘Felbrigg: The Story of a House’, written by Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, the last private owner of the house who bequeathed it to the National Trust in 1969: The family included other vivid characters, such as ‘fighting’ Windham (a noted politician) and ‘mad’ Windham.

    Classicist, yes William Windham II was very keen on getting the hang of his pictures right. Sketches survive in which he worked out and recorded his preferred hangs. That is an interesting question about the chimneypiece in the Dining Room, I will try to find out.

    Mark, thanks.

  5. Andrew Says:

    There is the ODNB, but it does not really do him justice.

    • frenzzee Says:

      I went immediately to the link you provided, Andrew, and because I’m in the US I’m unable to view it…I’ll see if there’s a workaround!

  6. Andrew Says:

    Sorry, you will need a subscription. You might be able to get access through your library, but I wonder if this might work:

    There is also a copy of the entry in the DNB (the old 1900 edition) at,_William_%28DNB00%29

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Andrew.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    In response to your question, Classicist, my colleague Mike Sutherill, the curator advising on Felbrigg, says that the current portrait of William Wyndham III was hung c. 1860, replacing a much larger portrait of Count James Dagnia (painted by John Shackleton), a friend of the family. The present picture was hung on the fixings of its predecessor which limited how low it could be hung before the fixings were seen. So it is one of those cases where the present appearance is not entirely satisfactory from an aesthetic perspective, but reflects a decision by one of the owners of the house and is therefore in itself now ‘historic’. And very perspicaceous of you to spot it 🙂

  9. The Devoted Classicist Says:

    Thank you, Emile. I really appreciate your finding the answer to my question. I am a big fan of your fine blog, and look forward to learning many more fascinating facts about National Trust collections.

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