Paul Sandby, 1731 - 1809
The 1804 Salvin Cotton Mill Fire with Durham Cathedral and Prebends' Bridge
1804 Salvin Cotton Mill Fire with Durham Cathedral
watercolour and bodycolour
12 x 18 cm. (5 x 7 in.)


There were not many large fires in Durham , but the only fire that  it is likely to be is the fire that destroyed the Salvin Cotton Mill. This was a large building, for Durham, and stood some six storeys high in Church Street which is just across the river from the cathedral on the south side. The Mill was built in 1796 and lasted only eight years.The conflagration which began in this six-storey mill on 7th January 1804 and totally destroyed the building. The Mill Specialized in corduroys and cotton goods, it was close by St. Oswald's Church, less than a mile from the Cathedral. With such a large building there would be a bright glow in the sky above the cathedral. The Salvin family were  well known and owned various large houses and  estates around Durham. Anthony Salvin the great Victorian Architect was from one branch of the family. With thanks to Dennis Jones Chairman of Durham Heritage Centre.

Durham is a historic city and the county town of County Durham in North East England. The city sits on the River Wear, to the south of Newcastle upon Tyne and to the north of Darlington. Durham is well known for its Norman cathedral and 11th century castle, both designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The castle has been the home of Durham University since 1832.

The name "Durham" comes from the Celtic element "dun", signifying a hill fort, and the Old Norse "holme", which translates to island.The Lord Bishop of Durham takes a Latin variation of the city's name in his official signature, which is signed "N. Dunelm". Some attribute the city's name to the legend of the Dun Cow and the milkmaid who in legend guided the monks of Lindisfarne carrying the body of Saint Cuthbert to the site of the present city in 995 AD.[4] Dun Cow Lane is said to be one of the first streets in Durham, being directly to the east of Durham Cathedral and taking its name from a depiction of the city's founding etched in masonry on the south side of the cathedral. The city has been known by a number of names throughout history. The original Nordic Dun Holm was changed to Duresme by the Normans and was known in Latin as Dunelm. The modern form Durham came into use later in the city's history. The north eastern historian Robert Surtees chronicled the name changes in his History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham but states that it is an "impossibility" to tell when the city's modern name came into being.

Local legend states that the city was founded in A.D. 995 by divine intervention. The 12th century chronicler, Symeon of Durham, recounts that after wandering in the north, Saint Cuthbert’s bier miraculously came to a halt at the hill of Warden Law and, despite the effort of the congregation, would not move.Aldhun, Bishop of Chester-le-Street and leader of the order, decreed a holy fast of three days, accompanied by prayers to the saint. Saint Bede recounts that during this fast, Saint Cuthbert appeared to the monk Eadmer with instructions that the coffin should be taken to Dun Holm.

After Eadmer’s revelation, Aldhun found that he was able to move the bier, but did not know where Dun Holm was. By chance later that day, the monks came across a milkmaid at Mount Joy (southeast of present-day Durham). She stated that she was seeking her lost dun cow, which she had last seen at Dun Holm. The monks, realising that this was a sign from the saint, followed her. They settled at a "wooded hill-island formed by a tight gorge-like meander of the River Wear."After arriving at their destination, they erected the vestiges of Durham Cathedral, which was a "modest building." Symeon states that this was the first building in the city and, unfortunately, does not remain today having been supplanted by the Norman structure.

The legend is interpreted by a Victorian relief stone carving on the south face of the cathedral and, more recently, by the bronze sculpture 'Durham Cow' (1997, Andrew Burton), which reclines by the River Wear in view of the cathedral. During the medieval period the city gained spiritual prominence as the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert and Saint Bede the Venerable. The shrine of Saint Cuthbert, situated behind the High Altar of Durham Cathedral, was the most important religious site in England until the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury in 1170.

Saint Cuthbert became famed for two reasons. Firstly, the miraculous healing powers he had displayed in life continued after his death, with many stories of those visiting the saint's shrine being cured of all manner of diseases. This led to him being known as the "wonder worker of England". Secondly, after the first translation of his relics in 698 AD, his body was found to be incorruptible. Apart from a brief translation back to Holy Island during the Norman Invasion the saint's relics have remained enshrined to the present day. Saint Bede's bones are also entombed in the cathedral, and these also drew mediaeval pilgrims to the city. Durham's geographical position has always given it an important place in the defence of England against the Scots. The city played an important part in the defence of the north, and Durham Castle is the only Norman castle keep never to have suffered a breach. The Battle of Neville's Cross, which took place near the city on 17 October 1346 between the English and Scots, is the most famous battle of the age. The city suffered from plague outbreaks in 1544, 1589 and 1598.

The city remained loyal to King Charles I throughout the English Civil War. Charles I came to Durham twice during his reign. Firstly, he came to the cathedral for a majestic service in which he was entertained by the Chapter and Bishop at great expense at the start of his reign. His second visitation to the city came towards the end of the civil war, escaping from the city as Oliver Cromwell’s forces got closer. Local legend stated he escaped down the Bailey and through Old Elvet. Another local legend has it that Cromwell stayed in a room in the present Royal County Hotel on Old Elvet during the civil war. The room is reputed to be haunted by his ghost. Durham suffered greatly during the civil war and Commonwealth. This was not due to direct assault by Cromwell but the abolition of the Church of England and the closure of religious institutions pertaining to it. The city has always relied upon the Dean and Chapter and cathedral as an economic force.

The castle suffered considerable damage and dilapidation during the Commonwealth due to the abolition of the office of bishop whose residence it was. Cromwell confiscated the castle and sold it to the Lord Mayor of London shortly after taking it from the bishop. A similar fate befell the cathedral, it being closed in 1650 and used to incarcerate 3,000 Scottish prisoners. Graffiti left by them can still be seen today etched into the interior stone. At the Restoration in 1660, John Cosin (a former canon) was appointed bishop and set about a major restoration project. This included the commissioning of the famous elaborate woodwork in the cathedral choir, the font cover and the Black Staircase in the castle. Other renovations were carried out to both the city and cathedral by his successor Bishop Lord Nathaniel Crewe.

In 1720 it was proposed that Durham could become a sea port by digging a canal north to join the River Team, a tributary of the River Tyne near Gateshead. Nothing came of the plan, but the statue of Neptune in the Market Place was a constant reminder of Durham's maritime possibilities. The thought of ships docking at the Sands or Millburngate remained fresh in the minds of Durham businessmen. In 1759, a new proposal hoped to make the Wear navigable from Durham to Sunderland by altering the river's course, but the increasing size of ships made this impractical. This was further compounded by the fact Sunderland had grown as the north east's main port and centre for shipping.

Artist biography

Sandby, Paul (bap. 1731, d. 1809), painter and engraver, was almost certainly born in Nottingham and was baptized there in St Peter's Church, on 12 January 1731, the younger son of Thomas Sandby (1686–1742), framework knitter and sometimes associated with property at Babworth in Nottinghamshire, and his wife, Ruth Ash (1686–1766).

Little is known about the early life of Paul and his elder brother Thomas Sandby; the brothers appear to have been apprenticed to the Nottingham land surveyor Thomas Peat, and in 1742 Thomas began his career in the south when he was engaged as military draughtsman in the Ordnance office in the Tower of London. It seems likely that Paul Sandby learnt his early skills as a draughtsman and watercolour artist from his elder brother, but nothing definite is known about his movements before March 1747, when he submitted specimens of his work to the Board of Ordnance (eight of the drawings are in the British Museum and one in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Soon after the establishment of the military survey in Scotland in September 1747, Paul was appointed draughtsman to the survey. This was set up under Lieutenant-Colonel David Watson to make maps of the highlands, as part of the campaign to restore peace in the area after the rising of 1745.

Sandby was with the survey for some five years, and during this time he made numerous landscape drawings and figure studies, some of the former and most of the latter already remarkably able and mature, which are to be found in many public collections. The impressive maps on which he was principally employed—as well as working on some of the initial surveys he was largely responsible for the colouring of the many sheets of the fair copy—show the very high standards achieved by Sandby and his colleagues. In his Scottish landscape watercolours, as in the contemporary landscape studies of Thomas Sandby, the influence of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Netherlandish landscape drawing is evident, while in many of Sandby's figure drawings, especially those in pencil and chalk, eighteenth-century French examples come to mind. Dutch and French influences are also seen in the elegant landscape etchings that Sandby executed while in Scotland and immediately after his return to London, though most were not actually published until 1765. While in Edinburgh he was apparently instructed by an engraver named Bell, and was said (in the memoir written by his son) to have ‘etched a number of scenes in the neighbourhood, which were done on the spot on the copper’ (Oppé, ‘Memoir’, 145).

Sandby returned to London for some months in 1751, spending the summer with Thomas at Windsor, and left Scotland permanently in the autumn of 1752. For a time he shared lodgings with his brother in Poultney Street, where they gave sketching classes, and in the next few years he probably continued to live with his brother and his growing family. Proof of the brothers' close collaboration at this time is found in the series of eight engraved views of Windsor Great Park, published privately in 1754 and reissued by John Boydell in 1772. All are inscribed as drawn by Thomas, but it is likely that Paul, who engraved three of the plates, was responsible for the figures and staffage and perhaps also some of the landscape. The brothers produced a further set of engravings, Six London Views, in the later 1750s, though this was not published until 1766, in which the drawing is ascribed to both of them. During the 1750s and 1760s it is often difficult to differentiate between the landscape work of Thomas and of Paul, but there is no doubt of the younger brother's superiority in the depiction of figures.

Satires and other early work

Sandby's skills in drawing figures are seen in his series of eight remarkably powerful satirical etchings published in 1753–4 under the title The Analysis of Deformity. These constitute an attack on William Hogarth, whose influential book The Analysis of Beauty was published in 1753. There is no convincing explanation why the young Sandby should so viciously have burlesqued his renowned senior, though it has been suggested that Thomas Sandby's attachment to William Augustus, duke of Cumberland, the butt of the satire in Hogarth's much publicized painting of 1749–50, The March to Finchley, motivated Paul in his own attack (Herrmann, 19). A few years later, in 1760, Sandby published his Twelve London Cries, which actually show something of the influence of Hogarth, especially in the crowded title-page. Though only twelve etchings were issued, there are many more Sandby drawings of street characters, of which large collections are in the Yale Center for British Art and in the Museum of London.

It is possible that Sandby published no more of these etchings because he was increasingly occupied with painting landscape both in gouache and watercolour, as well as in oils. In 1760 he showed two oils, including the fine View of Lord Harcourt's Seat at Newnham (one of a pair of views of the earl's new house at Nuneham Courtenay, Oxfordshire, now priv. coll.), and three watercolours at the first exhibition of the Society of Artists. In the following year Sandby's lost Historical Landskip Representing the Welsh Bard in the Opening of Mr. Gray's Celebrated Ode was shown at the Society of Artists, where it was well received. This was his only recorded major historical landscape, probably painted in response to Richard Wilson's acclaimed The Destruction of the Children of Niobe of the previous year. Until 1768, when the Royal Academy was founded, Sandby showed annually at the Society of Artists, and though only a few of his canvases of this period survive it seems likely that many of his exhibits were oil paintings. In 1768 Sandby became a founder member of the Royal Academy, and he showed four works at the first exhibition in 1769 and then up to nine works almost every year until the year of his death [see Founders of the Royal Academy of Arts].

Years of success

Sandby's early work in oils has been largely forgotten as so few examples are now known, but these few prove him to have been a gifted and skilful landscape painter. It is likely that when Thomas Gainsborough wrote to Lord Hardwicke in 1764 declining a commission to paint ‘real Views from nature in this Country’, and recommending Paul Sandby as ‘the only Man of Genius … who has employ'd his pencil that way’ (Herrmann, 23–5), the senior artist was thinking of Sandby's work in oils. There is no doubt that it was also in the 1760s that Sandby was at the height of his powers as an artist in watercolour and bodycolour and produced some of the best of his great series of drawings of Windsor Castle and its surroundings. An outstanding group of these, many formerly in the collection of Sir Joseph Banks, is in the Royal Collection at Windsor. There is no record that George III himself acquired any works by Paul Sandby, and the foundations of the Windsor Sandby collection were laid by the considerable purchases of George IV when prince of Wales. In his Windsor compositions, many of them panoramic views, Sandby combines delicacy of colour and meticulous detail to provide informative and telling records of the scenes he is depicting, and it was probably the high quality of these drawings and others like them, as, for instance, the set of views of the marquess of Bute's Luton Park in Bedfordshire (ex Christies, 3 July 1996), that earned Paul Sandby the description of ‘father of English watercolour’. Though he is best-known for his watercolours, in the earlier and final decades of his career Paul Sandby regularly used bodycolour, both on its own, most frequently in strongly coloured imaginative and often romantic compositions, as well as in conjunction with watercolours.

From early in his career Sandby was also busy as a drawing master, counting several of his patrons, such as Lord Harcourt and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, among his pupils. In 1768 he was appointed chief drawing master at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, at a salary of £150 per annum, a post that he retained until his retirement in 1796, and when there he lived in lodgings at Old Charlton in Kent. Officers in the Royal Artillery and the engineers were trained at Woolwich, and Sandby was able to introduce a wide range of the sons of the aristocracy and gentry to the practice and appreciation of landscape drawing. Through some of his Woolwich pupils Sandby's influence spread as far afield as Canada.

Another way in which Sandby helped to popularize the art of watercolour and the appreciation of landscape was by his pioneering use of the recently developed printing technique of aquatint, which is especially suited to the reproduction of watercolour drawings. Though it can no longer be claimed that Sandby was the first British artist to use the new process, it was he who named it and popularized it. In 1775 he published XII views in Wales in aquatinta from drawings taken on the spot in south-Wales dedicated to the Honourable Charles Greville and Joseph Banks esquire, and a similar set of views in north Wales, dedicated to Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, followed in 1776. Sandby had collected the material for these series on sketching tours in 1771 and 1773 in the company of his dedicatees. In his depiction of the Welsh landscape in the mid-1770s Paul Sandby was breaking new ground not only from the point of view of technique but also of subject matter, for it was not until the end of the 1770s and the following decades that Wales became a popular area among travellers and artists in search of the picturesque and the romantic. Sandby published two more series of aquatints of Welsh subjects in 1777 and 1786, and in all he was responsible for over one hundred prints in that medium, most of them after his own landscape designs.

Sandby also continued to make drawings for engraving on copper, and his major series of landscape and topographical engravings, the 108 plates of The Virtuosi's Museum, was published in parts, each containing three small engravings, between 1778 and 1781. During the same years Sandby made drawings for numerous plates in the Copperplate Magazine, of which forty-two were added to the Virtuosi's Museum plates, which were reissued by John Boydell in 1783 as A Collection of one Hundred and Fifty Select Views in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, with texts in both English and French. Thus in the 1760s and 1770s Sandby was the master of several media and was in the van of British landscape art, for the development and growing appreciation of which this period was of great importance. He was an active member of the Royal Academy, and a popular, knowledgeable, and influential figure in London's artistic and literary society. In 1772 he and his family moved to his final London home, 4 St George's Row, Bayswater, close to the Bayswater turnpike on the Oxford Road and with fine views over Hyde Park. A studio at the end of the garden, probably designed by his brother, was used for teaching and for his weekly conversazioni. Sandby:

drew round him a circle of intellectual and attached friends, comprising the most distinguished artists and amateurs of the day. His house became quite a centre of attraction … when, on each Sunday, after Divine Service, his friends assembled, and formed a conversazione on the arts, the sciences and the general literature of the day. (Life of James Gandon, 39)

The final years

The three final decades of Sandby's long career were far less auspicious than the first three, though he maintained his active London life for much of them. In June 1780 many of the troops called in to deal with the anti-Catholic Gordon riots were encamped in Hyde Park, and Sandby made numerous studies of the encampments. In 1781 he exhibited seven views of the various encampments at the Royal Academy, and he also issued four large aquatints and two sets of small aquatints of these scenes. Some of Sandby's encampment drawings are rather crude and loose in detail, both in the rendering of figures and of trees and other landscape features. This change and apparent decline in his manner was probably deliberate, and may be associated with a conscious policy to produce landscape rather than topography, for despite their weaknesses many of the encampment compositions retain a good overall effect. In his later years Sandby worked mostly in this freer style, which he combined with greater fluency in the rendering of light and shade. He also worked more frequently in bodycolour and at the end of his life he returned to painting in oils, usually somewhat vacuous compositions on a small scale, in this case because he could no longer afford the high cost of the glass needed when framing watercolours. Perhaps because in his old age he could not travel in search of subject matter, much of Sandby's later work consists of imaginary compositions, many of the grander ones reminiscent of Rubens's landscape paintings. In 1793 he completed an unusual commission from Sir Nigel Gresley for the decoration of the dining-room (distemper on plaster) at Drakelow Hall in Derbyshire. The house was demolished in 1934 and only one end wall survives (V&A). The central scene in this is reminiscent of Welsh mountain scenery, and the whole composition is in a mood of harmonious tranquillity, showing that the artist could work with complete authority on this large scale.

Most of what we know about Sandby's closing years comes from the frequent references to him in Joseph Farington's invaluable Diary. Many of these are concerned with Sandby's active involvement in the affairs of the Royal Academy, others with the artist's poor health and failing eyesight and his financial difficulties. In 1794 Farington noted that some of Sandby's watercolours were exhibited in Poggi's saleroom, priced from 24 to 2 or 3 guineas, and that ‘they are admired but do not sell’ (Farington, Diary, 1.220, 26 July). Five years later Sandby was anxious to succeed the Royal Academy librarian, Edward Burch, who was ill, as ‘he had no business now as a teacher & the income would be an object to him’ (ibid., 10 Dec 1799); a few days later he was appointed deputy librarian. On 11 July 1801 Farington noted that ‘P. Sandby it is probable will come upon the Academy,—so much has his fortune been reduced by expenses incurred for his Children’, and on 20 January 1808 he recorded that Sandby's son Tom informed the president, Sir William Beechey, ‘that His Father was in such circumstance as to stand in need of assistance from the Royal Academy’; Sandby was granted a pension of £60 per annum. During these difficult final years there were, however, only three, 1803–5, when Sandby did not take part in the academy's summer exhibitions.

Family, character, death, and reputation

On 5 May 1757 Sandby married Anne Stogden (d. 1797), and they lived in Dufours Court, Broad Street, Carnaby Market. They had three children, two sons and a daughter. The elder son, Paul, was an officer in the army and died at Barbados in 1793. The second son, Thomas Paul (d. 1832), also became an artist and succeeded his father as drawing master at Woolwich. In 1766 Sandby took a house in Poland Street, but at this time and throughout his life he and his family spent much time at Windsor, with his brother, Thomas. In 1782 Thomas Paul married Harriot, Thomas Sandby's second surviving daughter, and had a large family.

There are several records of Paul Sandby's friendliness and generosity. He had a strong sense of humour and wrote and conversed fluently and effectively. That he was also good-looking is shown by several portraits, especially that of 1761 by Francis Cotes (Tate collection), in which he is shown seated at a window and sketching. Sandby died at home at 4 St George's Row on 8 November 1809, and was buried at St George's, Hanover Square. His will, drawn up in November 1797, made Thomas Paul his sole heir and executor, but gives no details of his estate. It was Thomas Paul who arranged several sales of his father's collections and work, the first at Christies on 2–4 May 1811, and three more in 1812, 1817, and 1824. Before the first of these T. P. Sandby had written to his Bristol friend George Cumberland, indicating his difficulties ‘in getting into something like an arrangement, the mass of papers he [Paul Sandby] has left of every kind, and indeed it appears that, the more I sort them, the more I confuse myself, and them too’ (BL, Cumberland papers, Add. MS 36516, fol. 257). The sale catalogues are imprecise and uninformative; it is impossible to identify specific lots and it is certain that the work of the two brothers was often conflated. Sandby also had a considerable collection of paintings, drawings, and prints by other artists of all schools, including many of his British contemporaries. Most significant among these were his drawings by Richard Wilson, many of them purchased to help his older fellow artist when in financial difficulty, and a large number of works by Marco Ricci.

In the last years of Paul Sandby's long life his mature work was very influential on the next generations in the development of the British watercolour school. Since then his reputation as a pivotal figure in that development has never been disputed, and in the vast literature on the subject he has always been regarded as a leading figure. At the close of the twentieth century his standing was as high as ever, and his drawings fetched record prices in the salerooms, one of the Bute views of Luton selling for £340,000 in 1996.

Paul Sandby's work is represented in numerous museums, galleries, and private collections in Britain and abroad. The outstanding collection is in the Royal Collection at Windsor, and the next most notable assembly of both prints and drawings is at the British Museum, with important work also in the map library of the British Library. There is a large collection at the Castle Museum in Nottingham, the artist's assumed birthplace, which is, however, of rather mixed quality. Representative groups of Paul Sandby drawings are in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the National Museum and Gallery of Wales in Cardiff, and the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, which includes an important selection of his early Scottish drawings. The outstanding collection of Sandby drawings in America is in the Yale Center for British Art at New Haven, and in Australia there is an important group of Paul Sandby's later gouache drawings in the City of Hamilton Art Gallery, acquired in Australia in 1971.

Luke Herrmann  DNB