Architecture Biography

Roger Morris


Roger Morris was one of the two architects of Marble Hill House. The other was Lord Herbert, the future 9th Earl of Pembroke. Morris appears to have been Colen Campbell’s assistant at some point, possibly in the building of Pembroke House Whitehall for the future Earl of Pembroke and this is where he may have met Lord Herbert. Morris worked as a collaborator with Lord Herbert not only at Marble Hill, but also at (inter alia) The White Lodge, New Park (Richmond Park), Wimbledon House and the Palladian Bridge at Wilton. Morris also built a number of other important houses such as Adderbury House, Oxfordshire, Whitton Park, Clearwell Castle, Gloucestershire and Inveraray Castle, Argyllshire.

Roger Morris described himself as a bricklayer when he took a lease on the Harley estate in Marylebone in 1724. He already had an account at Hoare’s Bank and had been employed as a surveyor in measuring up buildings to price other builder’s work. He was also employed as a surveyor in the building of Covent Garden theatre in 1731, where he described himself as an architect.  Strictly speaking there was no such profession as an architect at this date. Anyone who was involved in building could describe himself as an architect, but the profession of Surveying went back to the 16th century.  He appears to have been successful in developing and speculating in land. By 1730s he was living in a house, which he built, in Oxford Street and describing himself as a “gentleman.” So it is difficult to place Roger Morris in the social hierarchy. He married first a girl called Mary and she died in 1729, and he married secondly in 1731 Elizabeth the daughter of Sir Philip Jackson. She died in 1744

Marble Hill is an important example of the English Palladian style. Did Lord Herbert or Roger Morris have the greater “say” in the overall design? This is difficult to say. The Great Room is clearly based on Lord Herbert’s house at Wilton. However, Roger Morris’s cousin, Robert Morris, was probably the leading Palladian theoretician.  In his thesis An Essay in Defence of Ancient Architecture, published in 1728 he illustrated his ideal house which bears a close resemblance to Marble Hill. He also discussed the ideal Palladian house in his Lectures on Architecture (1734) and acknowledged Roger Morris’ help in the introduction so it is highly probable that he was involved at Marble Hill. Robert Morris based his ideal, design on a cube subdivided into smaller “cubic” modules and according to Lees-Milne (The Earls of Creation), these cubic proportions can be found in the elevations and apartments of Marble Hill, right down to the proportion of windows and chimneypieces.  Although the architecture of the house was based on Palladio’s designs, it is not really possible to say which of Palladio’s villas were copied and it is more likely that the architects based Marble Hill on an amalgam of various of Palladio’s designs. It has the classic fenestration of Palladio’s villas, namely 1-3-1, with a central saloon (or sala) lit by three windows and side rooms lit by one window. One reason for the popularity of Palladio’s villas in the sixteenth century was that they were relatively cheap to build and these considerations might also have applied in England in the eighteenth century as building a country house was a major financial commitment. Economy would have appealed to Henrietta Howard.

The patronage of the Duke of Argyll had been extremely useful to Roger Morris throughout his career and the Duke may have recommended Morris to Henrietta Howard. His brother Lord Islay was in effect Henrietta’s agent when she was building Marble Hill.  The Duke of Argyle also commissioned him to design his houses at Whitton Place, Adderbury and Inveraray and he obtained the office of Master Carpenter to the Office of Ordnance for Morris, which proved to be a very useful perquisite. Morris was also Surveyor of the Mint and these various posts brought him in a sizeable income. Morris showed originality in his architecture and did not just stick to the then fashionable Palladian style. Clearwell Castle and Inveraray Castle are early examples of the Gothic revival style and shows that Morris had a proper understanding of mediaeval gothic architecture.  He died in 1749 and had two sons by his second marriage.

John Moses

Writing for the Marble Hill Society