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William Capon 1757-1827
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William Capon 1757-1827

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A view of the house and grounds of J. Garcias Esq., at Richmond, Surrey


Oil painting on canvas 25 x 30 inches, and contained in a fine carved and gilded George III “Maratta” frame


Exhibited: Royal Academy 1817, no.514


William Capon was born in Norwich on 6 October 1757, the son of Christopher Capon, portrait painter, and his wife, Anne, and was baptised at St Stephen's Church, Norwich, on 19 February 1758. At first he studied under his father but, preferring architecture, he moved to London and became a pupil of Michael Novosielski (1750–1795), under whom he learned the art of theatrical scene-painting. He assisted Novosielski in building and decorating the Italian Opera House in the Haymarket, London (1790–91), at that time the largest theatre in Europe after La Scala, Milan, and in designing some buildings, including the theatre, at Ranelagh Gardens. In 1780 he designed a small theatre off Wells Street, north of Oxford Street, and in 1794 a theatre for Edward Stratford, second earl of Aldborough, at Belan House, co. Kildare. In the same year he was engaged as scene-painter at the newly completed Drury Lane Theatre by the actor–manager John Kemble, whom he greatly assisted in his efforts to represent plays with historical accuracy.


Both at Drury Lane and, after 1802, at Covent Garden Capon's reconstructions of medieval buildings, based on his studies of historic English architecture, were greatly admired. Among these were a view of the Old Palace of Westminster in the fifteenth century; the Tower of London for Richard III; an ‘Anglo-Norman hall’ for Hamlet; the council chamber at Crosby House for Jane Shore; a state chamber at the time of Edward III; a baronial hall in the reign of Edward IV; and a Tudor hall of the period of Henry VII. He made drawings of the interiors of Drury Lane and Covent Garden, which were exhibited in 1800 and 1802. His Drury Lane sets were destroyed when the theatre burned down in 1809 but many of his surviving drawings are in the local history collection of Westminster City Library, and others are in the British Museum. Some of these were reproduced by the London Topographical Society as A series of drawings by William Capon (1757–1827) of the central part of the City of Westminster (1923) and A Series of Views of Westminster 1801–1805 by William Capon (1924), and others, by H. M. Colvin, in ‘Views of the Old Palace of Westminster’, in Architectural History, volume 9 (1966). Two typical theatrical scenes, from Capon's drawings subsequently held by the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford upon Avon, were illustrated in the Magazine of Art, volume 18 (1894–5). From 1805 onwards he also worked for the Royal Circus and for the theatre at Bath. In June 1804 he was appointed architectural draughtsman to Frederick, duke of York (1763–1827).

Capon lived in Westminster for over thirty years. He shared the antiquarian interests of his friend and fellow architectural draughtsman John Carter (1748–1817) and both artists made extensive studies of the antiquities of the palace and abbey. Capon was one of the earliest of such draughtsmen to distinguish the architecture of various periods by representing them using different colours. His colour-coded ground plans of the Old Palace of Westminster and the substructure of the abbey are said to have occupied him for thirty years. The plan of the former was purchased by the Society of Antiquaries in 1826 for 120 guineas, and was engraved by James Basire (1796–1869) and published by the society in 1828.

From 1788 until his death Capon regularly exhibited chiefly architectural drawings and some landscapes at the Royal Academy, and also sent topographical drawings to the School of Artists, the British Institution, and the Society of British Artists. Though his main interest was Gothic architecture his last work is said to have been a design for a Doric church. His earlier ambition to become surveyor to Westminster Abbey was never realized.

William Capon married Lucy, daughter of the decorative painter Morris Marsault and his wife Mary. Marsualt Sr. features in the early accounts of decoration of the British Museum from 1773 (BM Archives CE86/1). He was also the Churchwarden of St. John the Evangelist, Westminster in 1784 and 1786, and occasionally served on juries at the Old Bailey


Capon died at his house in North Street, Westminster, on 26 September 1827, aged sixty-nine. A portrait of him, engraved by W. Bond from a miniature by W. Bone, appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine (GM, 98/1). The background shows Capon's design intended for a national monument, comprising a pyramidal building 205 feet high to be erected on Shooter's Hill, Kent.


Morris Marsault's Residence off Richmond Green.

In 1770 Lucy Lowe granted to her husband Morris Marsault a life interest in the property that she had inherited in 1759 from one George Lowe [? her father- or first husband]. This was a large house at the northern end of the triangle of land which lay between the Kew Foot Road and the royal estate, together with two fields adjacent, between Kew Foot Road and the main (horse) road to Kew [now called Kew Road] (nos 418-19-20-21 in the 1771 manor survey).

Morris's tenure of the property was confirmed after Lucy's death in 1788. It passed to three heirs in 1795: Mary Marsault, Morris Edward Marsault and Amanda Marsault. M.E.Marsault surrendered his 1/3 share to a William Cartwright in 1808..
No other early picture of the house seems to be recorded, and the Capon depiction seems to fit the 1771 plan, except that the printing shows a lower building on the right side of the main house. This is probably a wing, set a bit back from the main facade, which appears in the 1849 Sewers Commission map (held in the Richmond Local Studies Collection)
As the ground around the house, on the west side of Kew Foot Road, was very limited, the extensive lawn shown in the painting must have been made from the two fields in front (nos 420-421) developed with a perimeter drive (which was presumably accessed from some point on the Kew Road), although the lawn and the house would still have been separated by the Kew Foot Road. (By 1849 the fields had been built up with St John's Grove, of which only a few houses now remain. Most of the site is under the 1930s development of the Great Chertsey Road and Richmond Circus, as further changed in the 1980s).
The Richmond Poor rate books show Marsault's house as occupied (from 1768) by Gray Cooper Esq (who has become Sir Gray Cooper Bart. by 1780); in 1790 by Henry Bunbury, in 1800 'late Lady Langham' and in 1810 by John Garcias Esq. So it would seem that the picture exhibited by Capon at the RA in 1817 was almost certainly this one - perhaps the house was still known locally as 'Mr Marsault's'. And this probably indicates that the extra block on the north side had been built by 1817.
Obviously the railings were to keep the cow (just one?) in or stray pedestrians out

We are very grateful to the Richmond Local History Society for their exemplary help in preparing this note




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