In the early years of the reign of George I (1714-27) natural wood panelling almost completely disappeared from English houses. When deal or pine wainscot was used, its surface and yellowish colour were disguised by painting or graining, a legacy from a fashion current in the first few years of the eighteenth century. The popular conception of the interior of a Queen Anne house c. 1710 is still of one with pine-panelling, painted in 'Georgian green' (which represents a different hue to almost every eye). The truth is always somewhere between the extremes, and may be represented by the panelling in the gallery of Nicholas Hawksmoor's fine house of Easton Neston, Northamptonshire, built for William Fermor, 1st Lord Lempster, 1699-1702, and in the hall at Hanbury Hall, Hereford and Worcester, c. 1705. The date 'MDCCII' (1702) appears on the east front of Easton Neston and '1701' appears above the stone centrepiece of the east front at Hanbury Hall. However, in both houses the painted decoration by Sir James Thornhill dates to a few years later - 1702 to 1713 at Easton Neston, and c. 1710-12 at Hanbury Hall.
Wainscoting in various forms, formed in a slightly old-fashioned way, is found in most of the houses designed by Francis Smith (1672-1738), the IVarwick architect, and in wall panelling and oak panelling interiors by the elder John Wood of Bath (1704;4). This is not surprising in Smith's case, as his family had been active as builders in the Midland counties for a long time. He was out of his own `raining as a mason by the early 1690s and, with the family's help, had completed a number of houses by 1710. As the Smiths had control of a stone and marble yard in Warwick and also dealt in timber, it was easy to offer to patrons a complete service of carpenter's, bricklayer's, mason's, oiner's and plasterer's work. They did this for the 1st Earl of Cholmondeley Cholmondeley Hall, Cheshire, dem. 1805) and for Sir Roger Cave at Stanford Hall, Leicestershire, 1697-1700. Whilst some of the tasks were sab-contracted, it was all done within their overall control: the Smith 'team' rose to exceptional heights of accomplishment by the 1720s, and this is evident in their work, 1725-30, at Ditchley, Oxfordshire and, as noted earlier, at Davenport Hall and Mawley Hall, both in Shropshire.
At Ditchley, Smith was working to the wall panelling and oak panelling designs of James Gibbs but at Davenport and Mawley he acted as architect, although there is no surviving documentation to confirm this. These houses are reliably attributed to Smith; some of his team of craftsmen, who were noted on a lead rising plate at Sutton Scarsdale, Derbyshire," including joiners, carpenters and stuccoists, are assumed to have travelled from one house to the other. At Davenport (1726) and at Mawley (1730) the splendid inlaid rooms, done to a high standard of decorative woodworking, were in an outmoded style for their dates. Furthermore, the entrance hall at Davenport is decorated in painted wood to represent channelled ashlar, with the imposing rusticated wall panelling and oak panelling and doorways having dominant keystones and bearing a similarity to those on the west front of James Gibbs's London Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields (1726). Some of the same wood channelling is present on the arches of the staircase hall at Mawley Hall, and the wainscoted Large Drawing Room there has rather old-fashioned swags and other carvings in oak above the overmantel. The same sort of 'Wren tradition' in woodwork is apparent in the oak panelling-at Smith's Ombersley Hall, Hereford and Worcester (1723-30). Until the discovery of the bills" it was thought to have been decoration of the 1690s.
In March 1729 the elder John Wood wrote to William Brydges of Tibberton, Herefordshire (a cousin of the imperious James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos), to give full details of fitting up the saloon there with woodwork." He wrote:
If the Salon is executed after this new design the wall panelling and oak panelling Panels must be one Inch thick at least & Canvass shou'd be Glewed at the back of the Joynts, the Panels ought to be glewed up [for]th with & planed over, and if they were planed over the Backside primed with Oyle & Coulour it would not be money ill layed out ... the Architrave Base & Sur Base & the Ornaments round the Pannels ought not to be put up untill the wood has done shrinking] (which will be in one years time) the work must be painted twice in Oyle as soon as it is fastend up against the walls...
A feature of many early-eighteenth-century interiors was a shelved recess or cupboard framed in as part of the wainscot. Such recesses were often given a semi-hemispherical head, fluted or carved as a shell and framed by pilasters. They tended to disappear as the fashion grew for papered or fabric-hung walls from the middle years of the eighteenth century.
When the provision of elaborately carved and pierced additions to overmantels and wall panelling and oak panelling cornices died away in the early years of the eighteenth century, the carver rose again as a specialist joiner who enriched fixtures with a variety of mouldings. Working to a high standard were those who embellished interiors, particularly James Richards (d. 1759), the 'Master Carver and Sculptor in Wood' of the Board of Works.' He had succeeded to this post in 1721 at the death of Grinling Gibbons and became one of the most accomplished carvers of the Palladian years, working in particular for the architects Colen Campbell and William Kent. Campbell used him from 1718 and Kent was ready to give him work more or less as soon as Campbell died, in 1729. The carving Richards did on the Royal State Barge, which Kent had designed for Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1731-2, is of a consummate quality, with riotous sea-creature motifs. On some of the overdoors at Lord Burlington's Chiswick villa a few years previously Richards had again demonstrated his considerable skill in his carved swags, masked faces and precise scrolls.
The richest woodcarving wall panelling and oak panelling belongs, however, to the late 1750s; some of the most accomplished was done for the 9th Duke of Norfolk at Norfolk House in London. Norfolk House was demolished in 1938 and the collections dispersed but, fortunately, the Music Room was saved and reerected at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The richly gilded woodcarving was started in 1752 by the French carver, John Cuneot, who received over £2,643 for carving and gilding, 1752-56.
For Ralph, 2nd Earl Verney at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, the erratic joiner and wall panelling and oak panelling carver, Luke Lightfoot (c. 1722-89), took charge in 1759, acting as master builder, surveyor, mason and carver. Soon he was charging the earl for work done on materials he had sold elsewhere - over £30,000 for some £7,000 worth of goods - and he was finally taken into the Chancery Court in 1771 to redress the matter.' However, Lightfoot's carved woodwork in the Rococo and Chinese styles at Claydon is of such a high quality, including the wood ceiling of the North Hall, that much might be forgiven him by the present-day viewer. Claydon is the only known setting for his mercurial talents and he ended his days keeping an ale-house in Southwark.