Built as a garden pavilion
Like so many Landmarks, plenty of questions remain unanswered about the Music Room. It was built in about 1730 as a garden pavilion, probably for Oliver Marton, a prosperous lawyer of the Middle Temple, London. He lived at 76 Church Street, Lancaster, an early 18th century house, which he had purchased in 1723. As well as a garden behind this house, he owned a much larger one behind the Sun Inn on the opposite side of the street.
We do not know who the architect was for the Music Room. Oliver Marton was on friendly terms with Edward Harley, the 2nd Earl of Oxford (his will records that Lady Oxford gave him a present of a silver cup), and although there is no evidence for it, this aristocratic connection may account for the unexpected sophistication of the Music Room. Marton died in 1744 and the house and its gardens were inherited by his eldest son Edward, who remained a bachelor until his death in 1758 when the property passed to his youngest and only surviving brother, the Rev. Dr Oliver Marton, who was vicar of Lancaster and squire of Capernwray Hall.
The Music Room was almost certainly not built for listening to music - indeed its name is probably a corruption of ‘Muses Room’ as the nine Muses decorate the walls. Instead, it would have been used simply as an outdoor sitting room from which to view the garden, and also possibly to watch the playing of bowls (a bowling green is marked on a map dated 1776). Being on the first floor it would allow family and guests to look down onto a comparatively formal garden which was still the fashionable style in the early 18th century, before the arrival of ‘natural’ theories of landscaping when such formal gardens were swept away all over England, and with them very often such similar summerhouses.
We are also not sure who was responsible for executing such splendid plasterwork but a strong contender is the ‘stuccadoro’, Francesco Vassalli, who is known to have been working at other houses in Lancashire in the 1730s. The uncertainty remains because such Italian craftsmen often worked as partners in a team and it is equally possible that Vassalli’s assistant, Quadri, or the Franchini brothers were responsible. Zeus and Mnemosyne’s nine daughters grace the walls - the Muses: Calliope (eloquence), Clio (history), Euterpe (music), Urania (astronomy), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (rhetoric), Terpsichore (dancing), Thalia (comedy) and Erato (amorous poetry). Apollo presides over the fireplace and Ceres commands the ceiling.
After Dr Marton’s death, the garden overlooked by his Music Room was sold for development and by the end of the 18th century there were plots that went right up to its walls. During the 19th century the Music Room was owned by the Seward family, who ran a stained glass, leaded lights and ironworks business in Sun Street that had been established in 1778. Despite the first floor being used at one stage as the local Masonic lodge, the Music Room declined from 18th century elegance into 19th century industrial mire and it was used as a factory. When A Seward and Co. went into liquidation in 1934, the Misses Seward bought a parcel of land which included the Music Room. Eventually the site, including several buildings, was bought by the Willans in the 1950s and they were the owners when the Landmark Trust first heard of the property in the early 1970s.
A short history of The Music Room
Read the full history album for The Music Room
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Monday 13th February 2014