Attributed to William Marlow, 1740-1813
Elegant company in the ruins of Wricklemarsh House, Blackheath, Greenwich
The Ruins of Wricklemarsh House, Blackheath
oil on canvas
46 x 80 cm. (19 x 32 cm.)


Christie's, London, 22nd July 1988, lot 186


Wricklemarsh was designed by architect John James, built for £90,000, and stood in a 250 acres (100 ha) park, once the property of Sir John Morden. It was built for Sir Gregory Page, 2nd Baronet (c. 1695 – 1775). A ground plan and cross-section through the mansion's rooms were included in Vitruvius Britannicus in 1739, and according to a contemporary description, Wricklemarsh was:

"one of the finest houses in England, resembling a royal palace rather than a residence of a private gentleman. The gardens are laid out in the most elegant manner and both the paintings and furniture are surprisingly fine. All rooms are hung with green or crimson silk damask and the cornices, door-cases and chair-frames are all carved and gilt. The chimney pieces are all of fine polished marble."
The surrounding land later formed part of the Blackheath Park housing estate created by John Cator, after he purchased, stripped and eventually demolished Wricklemarsh between 1783 and 1800. After its owner, Sir Gregory Page, died in 1775 the house was considered a white elephant and suffered some vandalism.

In April 1783 the well-connected timber merchant, John Cator of Beckenham and Southwark, bought the Blackheath Park and mansion of the late Gregory Page. It was about 110 hectares (275 acres) and comprised a substantial house (Wricklemarsh, of 1723, designed by eminent architect John James [1672 - 1746]), a landscaped park and about 81 hectares (200 acres) of quality agricultural land on its northern and eastern edges. Cator (1723-1806) had no need for the house - his own mansion, Beckenham Place Park, at Beckenham, about five miles distant, was more than adequate. Also, the Page estate had come on the market because it was surplus to family requirements and the house was a white elephant. Cators intention was to use the land for a hopefully profitable investment: the price he paid was so small that it was recouped by the sale of the materials of Wricklemarsh, which Cator set about dismantling in the late 1780s. He was later to grant development leases on its north and west fringe of the land where it was contiguous with the open ground of Blackheath, but essentially the bulk of the ground remained in agricultural use for the next 30 years. It was only on the descent of Cators estate to his nephew, John Barwell Cator that the residential population of the Park, still known today as the Cator Estate, started to grow.

Wricklemarsh Park - almost certainly the Witenemers in Domesday - had descended through a series of owners to its purchase by John (later Sir John) Morden (1623-1708) in July1669 from the Blount family trustees, in which family Wricklemarsh had been held since the late 16th century. There was a substantial house on the land but by the time it was sold by the Morden trustees, in 1722, it was in bad repair and untenantable. Morden remains distinguished today for his great benevolence in establishing a charity from his wealth to provide a College or hospice for elderly merchants, communicants of the Church of England, down on their luck through no fault of their own. The College, at Blackheath, was opened in his lifetime, and flourishes today, supported by considerable land investments, many made in Mordens time. After the death of his wife Susannah in 1721, the trustees of the charity decided to liquidate the Wricklemarsh estate to provide an investment fund in cash to sustain the College. The sale took time to realise, but when it did the taker was neighbouring landowner and multi-millionaire Gregory Page, made hugely rich from brewing, land and South Sea stock.

The old manor house was torn down and the new - Wricklemarsh House - erected across what is now the junction of Blackheath Park (west to east) with Pond Road (to the north) and Foxes Dale (to the south). These roads marked the principal drives to the mansion, although both were intercut with ornamental waters. Before landscaping and the maturity of avenues of trees the house would have been visible to travellers crossing the Heath. It was huge, cost over £100,000 in construction and fittings and was never occupied fully in Pages time because, although married (to Martha, died 1767) he was blessed with no issue. Pages estate passed to his great nephew Sir Gregory Turner (1747-1805), who took the additional name of Page to satisfy the inheritance. He enjoyed a good house of his own at Ambrosden, Oxfordshire, and decided in 1783 to sell Wricklemarsh House. The sales started in April 1783 when the content of the house was dispersed. The house and land were sold for £22,500 plus £90 for timber and a little more for fittings John Cator paid £23,502, less a little for a broken fence.

Cator came into his inheritance aged 35, in 1763, having been born to money and position. His straight business sense increased the family fortunes and earned him the friendship of many of the noted literary, business and political men of the day. His attempt to enter Parliament was a failure and he was unseated for bribery. But he suffered no shame and continued to enjoy the company of people like Samuel Johnson and Mrs Hester Thrale. Initially, he attempted to find a tenant for the Wricklemarsh estate. There was one investigation into its purchase for an army officer training college (for the infantry, to match the nearby engineering college at Woolwich) but the notion was rejected and the army went to Sandhurst instead.

A growing demand for houses for professional men near, but not too near London, encouraged a number of landowners on Londons inner boundary to consider development. Indeed, at Blackheath the Dartmouth family, the Ashburnhams and the trustees of Morden College, had made a modest inroad in this respect. Cator decided that Wricklemarsh could be profitable as agricultural letting, but the land to the north and west of the holding could be more usefully engaged, To that end he granted development leases to architect Michael Searles and builder William Dyer. By the time of John Cators death in 1806, his park had been cleared of the great mansion - the materials sold off for a considerable profit, and the colonnades went to his own house at Beckenham (Beckenham Place Park, now a municipal golf course where the portico can be seen to this day)

Wricklemarsh attracted a number of artists who made paintings and drawings of the House, during the course of its demolition between the late 1780's and 1803 . Artists such as Joseph Mallord Wiliam Turner and others were attracted to its ruinous state. Examples of these paintings can be seen in the collection of Tate Britain and the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester.

Sir Gregory Page, 2nd Baronet (c. 1695 – 4 August 1775), was an English art collector and landowner, and a baronet in the Baronetage of Great Britain.

He was the eldest son of Sir Gregory Page, 1st Baronet, and his wife Mary, the daughter of Londoner Thomas Trotman. He followed his father in becoming a director of the East India Company, and from 1717 began expanding his land holdings in Kent and London.He succeeded to his father's baronetcy on 25 May 1720. He married on 26 May 1721 Martha, third daughter of Robert Kenward, of Kenwards in Yalding, Kent. They had no children. She died on 30 September 1767 and was buried 7 days later at Greenwich.

Page invested a substantial part of his fortune into further property, particularly in what was then north-west Kent. In 1723, he built a manor house in the Westcombe Park area, just north of Blackheath, but later preferred to live in a huge mansion at Wricklemarsh nearby. In 1733, for £19,000, Page bought the dilapidated Elizabethan manor house at Well Hall Place, Eltham, demolishing it to build a new mansion home, Page House (eventually demolished in 1931).

Page's fields of interest were said by the Dictionary of National Biography to include "scholarship and languages, engineering, construction, naval architecture and surveying, collecting and building". The Wricklemarsh mansion was lavishly furnished and housed Page's art collection, which included works by Rubens, van Dyck, Claude, Poussin, Veronese, Salvator Rosa, Nicolaes Berchem, and Adriaen van der Werff. Sir John Soane's Museum boasts eight Dutch East India Company wood chairs inlaid with the coat of arms of Page and Kenward in mother of pearl. Page founded and patronised the Free and Easy Society, a dining club for gentlemen, for which Qianlong era Chinese armorial punch-bowls were made c. 1755.

He supported the creation of a new charity in London called the Foundling Hospital. In its Royal Charter, issued in 1739, he is listed as one of the original governors. The charity worked to save abandoned children from the streets of the capital.

Upon his death in 1775, Page's fortune was bequeathed to his great-nephew Sir Gregory Turner, 3rd Baronet of Ambrosden, Oxfordshire, who added 'Page' to his surname to become Sir Gregory Page-Turner. Page-Turner was the grandson of Page's sister Mary by her husband Sir Edward Turner, 1st Baronet.

Page was interred in the family vault at St Alfege's Church, Greenwich, on 14 August 1775.

Artist biography

William Marlow, (1740/41–1813), landscape and view painter, was born probably in London or Southwark. He was apprenticed to the marine painter Samuel Scott, in whose London studio in Covent Garden he trained for five years from 1754 to 1759 and from whom he learned to paint carefully observed London scenes and river views in oil and watercolour which, like his teacher's works, clearly show the influence of Canaletto on English topographical painting at the time. Marlow probably also studied at the St Martin's Lane Academy. In the early 1760s he extended his repertoire to include picturesque landscapes which reflect seventeenth-century Dutch influences. He exhibited regularly at the Society of Artists from 1762, showing London scenes and views of east Wales, Twickenham, Worcester, and York which indicate that he was touring the countryside in search of landscape and topographical subjects. In his early years he also showed a number of 'country house portraits' (among them Ludlow Castle in Shropshire and Burton Agnes Hall near Bridlington) and associated views of local scenery, indicating that he was finding patrons among the landed nobility and gentry as well as in London. At an early date in his career he was employed by the duke of Northumberland, who was also a patron of Canaletto and Samuel Scott. Later Marlow 'went on his travels to France and Italy in 1765 by the advice of the late Duchess of Northumberland' according to an obituary notice which appeared soon after his death in January 1813 (Whitley papers, BM); a group of eight Italian paintings of Tivoli, Arriccia, and scenes in the Bay of Naples by him at Alnwick Castle suggests that the duchess was the principal sponsor for his tour of France and Italy. The earliest note of his departure is found on a drawing of an English river scene inscribed 'William Marlow the Author of this Drawing is now studying in Italy—July 8th 1765' (Sothebys, 1 April 1976, 166); the only other dated record of his absence occurs in Richard Hayward's list of artists in Rome in February 1766. The itinerary he followed through France and Italy is well documented by drawings and paintings, and after his return to London later in 1766 he largely specialized in producing watercolours and paintings of continental subjects which evidently proved popular as grand tour souvenirs. He showed his first such pictures at the Society of Artists in 1767, and the great majority of his 134 paintings and watercolours exhibited with the Society of Artists, the Free Society of Artists, and the Royal Academy from then onwards were of French and Italian subjects together with London views which continued the CanalettoScott tradition. He was one of the first English painters to exhibit views of Vesuvius erupting (Society of Artists, 1768) and dramatic alpine mountain scenery (Society of Artists, 1769).

Marlow's early success is evidenced by the painter Thomas Jones who recorded in his Memoirs for 1769 that when he was beginning his own career Marlow was one of the artists 'in full possession of the landscape business' (Oppé, 20), and later the Royal Academician Edward Garvey recalled to Joseph Farington that when he had first arrived in London in the 1760s he found Richard Wilson and William Marlow especially successful, and that 'Marlow's work captivated him so much that … he thought that as a Young Man he would rather be Marlow than Wilson' (FaringtonDiary, 14 Feb 1804). In 1782 Marlow was listed among the 'six most eminent landscape painters of our country' by Joseph Pott in his anonymously published Essay on Landscape PaintingMarlow continued to enjoy some critical success until the end of the 1780s, and the large number of views he painted between 1767 and 1790 earned him an income large enough to move from his studio premises in Leicester Fields to the manor house at Twickenham in 1775. His patrons in the 1770s and 1780s included the dukes of DevonshireGrafton, and RutlandFrederick Howard, eighth earl of CarlisleLord Palmerston, and Horace Walpole, but business seems to have declined later and he resorted to selling his pictures at Christies St James's salerooms. Professionally he achieved recognition by his election to the Society of Artists in 1765, and he became one of its directors in 1768. His loyalty to the society led him to decline to seek membership of the Royal Academy when it was founded in the same year. Towards the end of his career, apparently in an attempt to restore his fading fortunes as an artist who had been overtaken by a new, more accomplished and adventurous generation, Marlow ventured into publishing etchings and prints, but without success. Among his last works was a series of six etchings of Italian coastal scenes (Baiae, Civitavecchia, Naples, and Pozzuoli), and two engraved London views reproducing pictures he had painted in 1792; both sets were issued by his pupil John Curtis in 1795. He virtually retired from painting about 1796 (the year he ceased exhibiting, apart from two pictures shown at the Royal Academy in 1807).

Very little is known about Marlow's personal circumstances, other than what was reported intermittently by Joseph Farington. In 1808 he recorded that:

Marlow resides at Twickenham with a man whose name is Curtis. He was a Butcher when Marlow first became acquainted with his wife, who he met at Vauxhall. He has lived more than 20 years with them, & there are now 6 or 7 children, some of them very like Marlow. A strange instance of infatuation. He still applies to painting, but with very little of his former power.

Farington, Diary, 28 June 1808

In 1813 he was told by the painter James Northcote that 'Marlow died possessed of property which brought him in £100 per annum' and that 'He was charitable, so as to expend the whole of his income. He had long given up painting for an amusement more agreeable to Him, the making of Telescopes & other Articles' (ibid., 10 Feb 1813). When he died at Twickenham in early January 1813 aged seventy-two Marlow's estate was valued at less than £1000, and probate was granted to a sister, Eleanor Northorp. His one pupil, the same John Curtis who published his etchings in 1795 and who was part of the artist's Twickenham ‘family’, painted London views and river scenes on the Thames around Twickenham and Richmond which closely imitated those of his teacher. The Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, British Museum, and Tate collection have a number of his works.