Turner at Farnley Hall

Turner at Farnley - Copy

In 1980 Otley Museum was happy to help David Hill, beginning his life time work ‘Turner in Yorkshire’ exhibition at York City Art Gallery, with the loan of Farnley Hall etchings. Similarly, we were able to assist Marian Sharples with her paper on the Fawkes Turner Collection at Farnley in 1990 and her further study of 1997 on the Farnley Estate (see this Bulletin 2016). Their research has done much to illustrate the extraordinary patronage of Walter Fawkes in the wider cultural landscape.

The current ‘Northern Exposure’ exhibition on Turner at the Mercer Gallery in Harrogate displays further impressions of what Fawkes described in 1816 as ‘the local and very interesting scenery’. From Bolton Priory and Kirkstall Abbey to Lindisfarne and Lancaster sands, Turner journeyed widely – but what exactly did he illustrate within our immediate river valley?

This Bulletin attempts to clarify some of that catalogue of local views and place them in the Farnley estate context.

Turner at Farnley, 1808 – 1824

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) visited Farnley annually between 1808 and 1824. Walter Fawkes (1769-1825) patronage was at its height in the second decade of the century, when, according to Hill, he bought nearly 200 watercolours and 6 oils at a cost of £3, 500. Turner’s ‘Wharfedale and Washburn’ sketchbook, thought to have been drawn on his first Farnley visit in 1808, includes Addingham, Bolton Priory, the Strid and Barden Tower. Since our Bulletin has a five mile radius, we need a closer picture of his local footprints.

Turner’s pencil drawing of the ‘View of the Wharfe Valley’ from Otley Chevin c.1808, shows foreground stone cutters at Pool Bank, with distant focal points of both Farnley and Caley Hall – all Fawkes estate (Museum copy: O/WH/dr/2). Stone quarrying on these contours eventually took on epic proportions, when in 1882 one block was said to weigh 6, 000 tons (see our Bulletin 2017).

Pool stone cutters - Copy
Stone cutters at Pool Bank, Paul Wood 2019 after J.M.W. Turner c. 1808.

Further drawings in this sketchbook include ‘Lindley Hall and Bridge’ and ‘Leathley Church from Lindley Mill’, both of which would later become paintings. An intriguing ‘View of Otley Mills, with the River Wharfe and Mill Weir’ c.1808, was sold anonymously in 1890 with a note that it had been ‘presented by Mr. Fawkes to the family of the present owner’. Since this untraced Turner would certainly depict Wharfeside Mills of Garnett and Hartley, its provenance beyond the late nineteenth century remains a mystery to be resolved.

The ‘Large Farnley Sketchbook’ c.1814-1815, contains studies for a ‘Shooting Party on Hawksworth Moor’ and the ‘Washburn under Folly Hall’, worked up in the following year and showing av ery distant ruined Dob Park Lodge. It was this watercolour that figured largely in the recent response to the application for the Vavasour restoration of the Listed Building. The question seemed to be, would the nicknamed ‘Over Turner’ turn in his grave? (see Bulletin 2016 and Bulletin 2019).

Some two centuries before the recent planning application, it was architectural purity that had been Turner’s next subject at Farnley as the squire had toured his ancient Halls as a trophy hunter. External and internal features were chalked up and carted away from Newall, Lindley, Menston, Caley and Hawksworth Halls to be grafted onto the older house at the rear of Carr’s new wing of 1790. These were the equivocal ‘Architectural Remains’ series of drawings, etchings and watercolours of about 1815, in which Turner’s hand can be detected. Here we see Walter Fawkes ancestral home transformed into a muddle of spoliated stone and dislocated dates, all readied as a reliquary for his Civil War Museum of ‘Fairfaxiana’. George Walker’s internal painted hunting and shooting scenes on oak panels were themselves taken from Caley Hall at a later date.

Turner ‘s material for the proposed Fairfaxiana illustrated the further rehabilitation of the Fawkes name – expunging the memory of earlier Catholic plots and Royalist loyalties of 1605 and 1642. Gone was any local memory of an earlier Fawkes threatening ‘to draw his tenants by a horse tail to York’ if they failed to join the Royalist army and subsequent skin of the teeth survival of sequestration during the Interregnum. The new invented tradition of Walter Fawkes MP, as parliamentarian ‘forebear of Fairfax’ (a dubious claim), illustrated with documents, swords and all manner of Cromwelliana was clearly intended to strengthen Walter’s radical reforming credentials and local connections.

Walter Fawkes - Copy
Walter Ramsden Hawksworth Fawkes by T. Woolnoth pub. 1825.

‘The Porch of 1624 removed from Newall Hall’ (O/F/en/1 & Bulletin 2019) had also been the subject of drawings and a watercolour of 1814 showing it in situ (O/N/pt/1). The ‘Old Dairy’ gazebo in the garden behind the house also came from Newall. The ‘Gateway to the Flower Garden removed from Menston Hall’ (O/F/en/2) and ‘Bay Windows from Lindley Hall’ (O/F/en/3) were close to Turner depictions. The patron’s fine gardens and new eighteenth century mansion were further celebrated with ‘Farnley Hall from the East’ and ‘The Avenue’ all now part and deed parcel of a wider emparkation movement, that was displayed by the regional squirearchy. The scale at Farnley could never be that of Harewood, epic Bramham Park or Wentworth Woodhouse, but the less than romatic consequences of ‘beautification’ were often the same.

We know that Farnley West End hamlet was wiped off the estate map, High and Low Green tenants displaced, old fields cleared and roads diverted, so what was the local view of the Fawkes landscape upheaval?

Old cabins have been removed, and comfortable habitations constructed. Poverty seems beaten out of Farnley. Mr F’s public conduct has been variously considered. To his friends the theme of panegyric; to his enemies he has been the object of reprobation (‘Wharfdale’ m.s., c.1809).

This countryside reform was further reflected in the waters of Turner’s first depiction of ‘Lake Tiny towards Lindley Hall’ c.1815. Here was 36 acres of idyllic ornament with island, boat house and wood walks down to the river. Even the line of the Washburn itself was found wanting above Leathley corn mill – and moved south after 1790. Turner’s ‘Woodwalk’ and ‘Pheasant’s Nest’ summer house retreat, of about 1818, refect the new promeande aesthetic. The view of ‘Lake Tiny with Almscliffe Crag’, perched the watercolourist looking east from Thornberry Hill. Looking south he would have seen the patron’s pattern book Home Farm in the Square at Farnley, complete with ‘a pyramid-roofed central pavilion’ and Venetian window to the ground floor.

In the absence of discovered documentary evidence in the Farnley archives, the construction of Farnley Lake should obviously belong to the late eighteenth century estate model – where in house labour has been reasonably suggested (pers. comm. Guy Fawkes). The considerable earthworks to form the low embankment needed navvy like puddled effort, even though the fault-bounded lake bed was aided by natural deposits of iron pan cementation (see ‘Geology of the country between Bradford & Skipton 1953 p.138 and Bradford solid and drift geological map sheet 69, BGS). ‘The Banks of the Washburn’ c.1817 shows the steep riverside bordering Lake Tiny with Chevin horizon.

Crossing back across the Wharfe, the familiar watercolours of ‘Wharfedale from the Chevin’ c.1818 include distant Otley and Farnley Hall, as well as ‘Caley Hall and Park’, with ‘Caley Crags with Deer’. It was this storm lashed background of post-glacial boulders (minus the 57 elephants) that ancedotally set the scene for Turner’s ‘Hannibal Crossing the Alps’. Nevertheless, here was the Fawkes exotic game park with feral goats, boar, zebra and Indian axis deer. The wildlife pleasure ground was cut in two by the new Leeds Road Turnpike, actually supported by Fawkes during the 1830s.

Turners viewpoints map - Copy
Turner’s viewpoints in Wharfedale and Washburn 1808-24, Paul Wood 2019.

Returning to Farnley Hall and the patron’s domestic life and hospitality, Fawkes commissioned Turner to illustrate the ‘Drawing Room’, ‘Conservatory’ (doubtful existence) and ‘Oak Staircase’ in the old house. His Cromwelliana piece ‘Fairfaxes Chair’ was disembodied between oak panels lifted from Hawksworth and Lindley Halls. The neo-classical ‘East Gates’ Lodges have been suggested by Hill to be designed by the artist himself, based on comments by Ruskin’s wife and detailed annotations (Museum copy: O/F/dr/2).

‘West Lodges’ facing Farnley Lane continue the theme of Jacobean picturesque with armorial devices, a dubious ‘1618’ date and fanciful ornament. As one nineteenth century commentator noted ‘Farnley abounds with these curious reminiscences of old houses’ (Otley and Ilkley Guardian, 13th April 1871). Turner was here with pencil and white wove paper sketching ‘Lodge Gates, Otley Bridge’ but recording an ‘1818’ date. Our local application for Listed Building status in 2003 discussed provenance and dating, as did Hill on this Turner Bequest Sketch CL111 15 in 2009. If West Lodges were a Carr creation and merely noted by Turner ten years later, which seems eminently plausible, then the new house architect had much masonic recycling left from the old multi-gabled hall sketched by Buck about 1720 (O/F/dr/1). Again, the plague of doubtful datestones damn the description (see Bulletin 2017).

J.M.W. Turner as visionary, topographical watercolourist and unwitting architect might well be established, but we also see him as ornithologist of sorts with his ‘Farnley Book of Birds’, from c.1816 onwards. The 20 watercolour studies bought by Leeds City Art Gallery in 1985, included specimen garden, estate game birds and a Cuckoo; Turner’s ‘Moorhawk’ was a ‘Marsh Harrier’, a pair of which in fact tried to nest on the keepered Denton Moor in May 2017. An RSPB video camera recorded unidentified men robbing 5 eggs from the nest on 17th May (N.Y. Police press statement, 10th August).

Whatever the cultural context, here was Turner, hunting, shooting and fishing with a sketchbook in his hand and with great friends in the beautiful Wharfe valley. The importance of this connection is confirmed much later by Ruskin when asked if Turner painted many birds, “Nowhere but at Farnley. He could do them joyfully there” (Hill, 1988, ‘Turner’s Birds).

Turner caricature - Copy
Cartoon of Turner, Paul Wood 2019, after W.H. Fawkes c. 1820, see Hill 1988.

Mounsey’s ‘Wharfdale’ of 1813 describes the aspirational experience of the day, with particular reference to the writer describing himself 20 years on as ‘Pictorial Planner of Estates’.

Farnley Hall is seated a little before the centre of a stately swell of lawns and woods, which are bordered with the Rivers Wharfe and Washburn. Such an agreeable, studied diversity and variety of grounds, spotted and tissued with woods, here present themselves, that the eyes wander over the shady groves and plantations with continued curiosity. The green plait which supports the trees, intermixing its lively tints among the deep but glittering hues of the foliages; shews itself here and there, shaped into every sort of figure and extension. The grand end and tendency of these judicious decorations is a most pleasing mansion, placed in a paradise of gardens.

Pen, pencil or brush, the picture painted uses a common Arcadian language.

Turner did not return to Farnley after the death of Walter Fawkes aged 56 on the 25th October 1825 at Portman Square, London. The artist’s developing stylistic poetry is a longer story, and not one witnessed by his late Wharfedale patron (see Rothenstein, 1962, Tate Gallery). Under the Turner of Bequest of 1856, 282 oils and over 19, 000 watercolours and sketches were given to the nation. John Ruskin, a later visitor to Farnley commented, ‘of all his drawings, I think those of Yorkshire scenes have the most heart in them. Farnley Hall, a place where a great genius was loved and appreciated, who did all his best work for that place’.

The Estate landscape was under threat, when in 1852, F.H. Fawkes pictured the promoters of the Washburn Reservoirs as the ‘Leeds Water Pirates’. 10 years on and he was lodging objections to the revival of a Wharfedale Railway scheme that would ruin his Caley Hall estate. The pirates did of course flood the Washburn with navvies, whilst the same invaders pushed the iron road up the Wharfe valley; after Fawkes had bargained the best terms.

Hill, D. 1980 ‘Turner in Yorkshire’ exhibition cat., York City Art Gallery
Hill, D. 1984 ‘In Turner’s Footsteps’
Hill, D. 1988 ‘Turner’s Birds’ exhibition cat. Leeds City Art Gallery
Hill, D. 1995 ‘Harewood Masterpieces’ watercolours and drawings
Hill, D. 1996 ‘Turner in the North’ Tate & Harewood exhibitions 1996-7
Hill, D. 2019 ‘Turner, Northern Exposure’, exhibition, Mercer Art Gallery et al. 2020

Sharples, M. 1990 ‘The Fawkes-Turner Connection & the Art Collection at Farnley Hall 1792-1937’ Northern History Vol. XXVI, pp. 131-159.
Sharples, M. 1997 ‘The Fawkes Family and their Estates in Wharfedale, 1819-1936’ Thoresby Soc., 1997.

Andrew, I. 2003 ‘West Lodge, Farnley, Listed Building application’ Otley Conservation Task Force.

Leach, P. 2009 ‘Buildings of England, Yorks. West Riding’ (after Pevsner, 1967, p. 250)

Wood, P. 2009 ‘Guide to the Landscape of Otley’
Wood, P. 2013 ‘Guide to the Townscape of Otley’

Of the original 200 Turner’s said to be at Farnley initially, 40 local works remain in family hands in 1990 according to Sharples. However, it is very important to stress that Farnley Hall remains a private home. The precise location and provenance of Turners’s output it an epic listing way beyond this modest posting. The study of individual items would need to be pursued through multiple institutions, galleries, Hill’s research, that of the Turner Society and others. The private collector paradox may well be beyond even Turner’s expansive view.

If the artist’s ‘View of Otley Mills’ hangs over your mantelpiece, please let us know!

Pencil - Copy

P.W., S.R. and C.D. 2020.

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