storey house

Cannons (house)

Cannons was a palace in Edgware, Middlesex built for James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos between 1713 and 1724 at a cost of £200,000 (equivalent to approximately £30 million today) and which was satirised as Timon's Villa in Alexander Pope's poem Of Taste (1731). In 1725 Daniel Defoe described Cannons thus:

Cannons was the focus of the 1st Duke's artistic patronage - patronage which led to his nickname "The Apollo of the Arts" - and was filled with Grand Tour acquisitions as well as having Handel as house composer from 1718 to 1719. Such was the fame of the house that the Duke had to introduce crowd control measures - including a one-way system - to manage the large numbers of visitors who flocked to the estate.

Following the 1st Duke's death in 1744, Cannons passed to his son Henry Brydges, 2nd Duke of Chandos who in 1747 held a twelve day demolition sale which saw both the contents and the structure of the house itself sold piecemeal leaving little more than a ruin barely thirty years after its inception.


The estate was acquired by Chandos in 1714 who began the remodelling of the existing John Thorpe designed Jacobean house. The new three-storey house took 10 years to complete and was designed as a square block with four new pedimented facades and a large internal courtyard.

The Duke went through several architects beginning with William Talman in 1713 who produced twelve plans but was dismissed in 1714 before starting any building on the main house. Next was John James who designed the north and west ranges. On advice from Sir John Vanbrugh the Duke appointed James Gibbs in 1715 who designed the chapel (consecrated 29 August 1720) as well as the final designs for the four new facades. The designs for the interiors did not meet with approval from Vanburgh who commented "The fronts v.fine... But the inside is of poor Invention" and Gibbs was dismissed in 1719. Cannons was completed under the supervision of the Duke's surveyors John Price and latterly Edward Shepard. A contemporary account from a 1722 visitor at the time that the finishing touches were being made to the interiors' records:

Due to having five different architects working on the house and the Duke's constantly changing vision, Cannons encompassed both Palladian and Baroque elements and has been described both as one of the last great Baroque houses and also as contributing towards the development of Palladianism in England.


The grounds of Cannons extended to 105 acres (42.5 ha) and were renowned for their magnificence. The water gardens, consisting of a great basin, a canal and numerous ornamental fountains led Nicholas Hawksmoor to comment "I cannot but own that the water at Cannon's... is the main beauty of that situation and it cost him dear". There was also a grand terrace opening on to a parterre containing gilded statues, a pleasure garden and an orchard.

Patronage at Cannons

Chandos was a great patron of the arts and Cannons was furnished with his collections of Old Masters, books and objects. He also maintained a small musical establishment; some of the musicians are known to have doubled as household servants but even so, musical standards were very high. The music director for twenty years was the German composer Johann Christoph Pepusch. He wrote a number of pieces of church music for the Cannons chapel, and was in charge of musicians including J.S.Bach's cousin Johann Christoph Bach and Francesco Scarlatti.

By far the most famous musician associated with Cannons is George Frideric Handel who when he settled in England in 1712 attracted the patronage of noblemen such as Chandos and Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and was Cannons’ house composer from 1717 to 1718. At the time Handel was there the ducal chapel was still being constructed, but Chandos had already rebuilt the local parish church, St Lawrence, Whitchurch to his baroque taste. The organ used by Handel is still in St Lawrence's—the 1994 restoration is based on the surviving parts of the 1716 Gerard Smith organ—and here his church music for Cannons was performed, the Chandos Te Deum and the Chandos Anthems. Esther, the first English oratorio received its premiere at Cannons in 1718 as did the masque Acis and Galatea. The scoring of Handel's Chandos Anthems suggests that on a regular basis Cannons could call on somewhat fewer than thirty musicians; Handel wrote for singers and a small orchestra with two wind players and strings (divided in three parts rather than the usual four, as there was no viola section).

Demolition and dispersal

The family's finances had never fully recovered after the bursting of the South Sea Bubble and following the death of the 1st Duke, the very fabric of Cannons, all its contents and every fixture and fitting were auctioned to satisfy debts. A twelve day sale began on 16 June 1747 and the sale catalogue included works by Titian, Giorgione, Raphael and Guercino. Amongst the most notable paintings were Caravaggio's Boy Bitten by a Lizard (wrongly attributed to Guercino in the catalogue) which can now be seen in the National Gallery, London, Nicolas Poussin's The Choice of Hercules which was purchased at the sale by Henry Hoare for Stourhead, his house in Wiltshire, where it still hangs and Grinling Gibbons' carving The Stoning of St Peter which is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The portico, railings and marble staircase with bronze balustrade were bought by the 4th Earl of Chesterfield for his new London home, Chesterfield House, South Audley Street which was built in 1749 but like Cannons is no longer standing having been demolished in 1937.

The rest of the house and contents were dispersed across the country and the location of much has been lost however some substantial elements can still be seen including the colonnade which is in front of the National Gallery in London and the gates at Trinity College, Oxford. Elements of the chapel, in particular stained glass windows designed by Sebastiano Ricci and made by glass painter Joshua Price and Bellucci's ceiling paintings were purchased by Thomas, Lord Foley and installed by James Gibbs in the Church of Saint Michael and All Angels, Great Witley, Worcestershire.

The estate itself was purchased by the cabinet maker William Hallett who in 1760 built a large villa on the site which today houses the North London Collegiate School and is now known by the modern spelling, Canons.

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