Sunday 18 November 2018

John Vanderstein at Queen's College, Oxford. Part 4. The Statues on the West Front of the Library. Sir Joseph Williamson.

John Vanderstein 
at Queen's College, Oxford. 

Part 4. 

The Eight Statues on the West Front of the Library. 

Sir Joseph Williamson (1633 - 1701).

A few rough note.

Joseph Williamson was a student at Queen's College, Oxford, and received his BA in 1654, becoming a Fellow in 1657 and was called to the Bar in 1664. He went on to hold many public offices.

He had been admitted as a poor boy and went on to become a fellow, rose to Secretary of State and amassed a fortune. He funded a new range on Queen Street built in 1671–72. Following a bequest of books from Thomas Barlow, a new library was built between 1693 and 1696 by master builder John Townesend. A further bequest from Williamson of £6,000, along with purchase of the buildings along the High Street, allowed a new front quad to be built and for the remaining medieval buildings to be replaced. This was completed by 1759 by John's son William Townesend

He is chiefly remembered in the college for planning the Williamson building in response to a shortage of rooms. 

He was one of the most generous benefactors that the College ever had. 

Among Williamson's papers in the Public Record Office, there are several relating to the erection of his new building at Queen's. In January 1671 Dean Fell wrote to inform him that 'Since Mr. Surveyor (i.e. Christopher Wren, then Surveyor of the King's Works) desires a more exact measure of the ground, Mr. Crosse will take care to have it sent', and in March he was assured by the same correspondent that 'Mr. Surveyor will assist you in the particulars of your contract, besides the measures of the whole building and order of it, with reference to strength and ornament; the scantlings of your timbers, the thickness of your walls, and binding them with porpine stones'.  There can therefore be no doubt that the Williamson Building was designed by Wren, and its architectural features are closely paralleled in his work elsewhere.  The 'undertaker', or contractor, was Anthony Deane of Uffington, a well-known master-mason who built several great houses, including Horseheath, Cambridgeshire (1663–5), and Battlesden, Beds. (1672)

The plan for the new quadrangle hung fire for twenty years until a large bequest of books from Bishop Barlow made the provision of a new library an urgent necessity. 'Antiqua bibliotheca ex occidentali veteris capellae situ posita tot voluminum incapax', the Liber Benefactorum tells us,  'ardens omnium animis excitavit desiderium ut nova aedificaretur.' 

The college lengthened the site for the new building by acquiring a strip of New College Lane 20 in. wide;  the foundation stone was laid in May 1692 and the exterior was finished in 1694; the fine stucco ceiling by James Hands, which cost £148 9s. 8d., bears the date 1695: it was altered in 1756 when Thomas Roberts was employed 'to add new ornament in the oval space in the middle and the compartments at the ends'.  The master-mason employed was John Townesend, the carpenter was Thomas Heughes, the joiner-carvers Thomas Minn, senior and junior, and the eagles on the pediment, with the carved keystones with the statues of benefactors in the niches on the west front were done by J. Vanderstein. Chains and locks for the books cost £67 11s. 8d. and remained in use until 1780,  with benches and desks between the bookcases. Modern cases were fitted into the recesses in 1871 but were removed in 1938. The eastern half of what is now the lower library was originally an open loggia, and the enclosed western half was divided into two rooms by a tunnel leading into the garden. Provost Halton's account of expenditure on the library shows that the total expenditure was £5,427, of which Halton himself contributed nearly £2,000. 

The two paragraphs above from -

Elected Fellow of the Royal Society 1663,  president 1677 - 1680.

All photographs above taken by the author.


Sir Joseph Williamson
Godfrey Kneller (1626 - 1743).
Oil on Canvas.
127.4 x 103.1 cms.

The donation is given in one early museum catalogue as being 3 December 1683. [Royal Society Manuscripts General, MS/414/11, p.20]. This must be a clerical error, since no meeting were held on that day in 1683. 1684 was meant and a Journal Book minute states that: “The Society having received the Picture of Sir Joseph Williamson, formerly their President, ordered it to be placed in their Meeting Room, and desired Mr.Hill, and Dr, Gale, to wait upon Sr. Jos. Williamson with their thanks.” [Royal Society Journal Book, Original, JBO/7, meeting of 10 December 1684, p.278].
info Royal Society.

Royal Society.
Presented by the sitter.
Image from Art UK


Sir Joseph Williamson
Peter Lely (1618 - 1680).

Oil on canvas 
125 x 101 cms.

Presented to the University by Dr Joseph Smith, Provost of Queen’s College, 1754; engraved anon.
Queen's College, Oxford.

There are at least four versions of this portrait.

see - Mrs Rachel. L. Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in the possession of the University, Colleges, City and County of Oxford, I, p 73, no.182; 

Catalogue of Portraits in the Bodleian Library by Mrs R .L. Poole completely revised and expanded by K. Garlick, 2004, p 337; 

A wash-drawing by T. Athow in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Sutherland collection, Burnet i, 324) was copied from the Bodley picture.

Another version in the Clothworker's Hall see  Amy B. Atkinson 1899-1900 (D. E. Wickham, Clothworkers’ Hall Portraits, 1997, pp 168-69, no.84, illus.).


Sir Joseph Williamson
After Lely
Oil on canvas.
127 x 101.5 cms.
Gift from Joseph Smith 1754
Bodleian Library

Sir Joseph Williamson
After Lely 
Oil on Canvas 
75.6 x 62.2 cms
Purchased 1897.
National Portrait Gallery

notes -

see - D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, p 381.


A. Whitcombe, Cheltenham Fine Arts Gallery, Cheltenham,1 from whom purchased 1897.
 Whitcombe stated that it was by Lely and had descended through the sitter’s family. Probably the portrait sold anonymously, Christie’s, 25 July 1896, lot 92A (‘Sir P. Lely. Portrait of Sir Joseph Williamson’).


Sir Joseph Williamson
oil on canvas 250 x 152 cms
Guildhall Museum, Rochester.
Image courtesy Art UK

Williamson gave a portrait of Queen Anne by Kneller to Rochester Town Hall.


From the Oxford Almanac 1762
346 x 448 mm.

British Museum

Queen's College, with the cupola and main building in the background in the centre, with the founder John Michael of Richmond standing alone to right gesturing to a plan which he holds in left hand, and Sir Joseph Williamson pointing out something on a plan held by Dr Lancaster with 

Bishop Barlow and the provost Dr Halton, holding an elevation of the library, beside them, in left foreground next to an archway and pillar draped in an embroidered cloth.


The West front and South Front of Queen's College.
with scale.
Michael Burghers (1653 - 1727)
c 1710 - 20
British Museum

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