The Prints of Henry Winstanley

Booksurfer home

The Prints of Henry Winstanley 

Henry Winstanley of Littlebury is best remembered for building the Eddystone Lighthouse in which he lost his life in 1703, during what has been described as the most violent storm in English history. His local legacy, however, survives in the form of 24 detailed intaglio prints of Audley End House, published in 1686 when the House was a “Royall Pallace”. A set of these prints was recently donated to the Town Library in Saffron Walden.

Born in Saffron Walden in 1644, Winstanley’s father (also named Henry Winstanley) was land steward to the Earl of Suffolk during the years 1652-1656. The young Henry Winstanley was also employed at Audley End House, initially as a porter and then as a secretary to the Earl. When the House was sold to Charles II in 1666 he continued to work there under Clerk of the Works, John Bennett, and following Bennett’s death, Winstanley was appointed Clerk of the Works at Audley End in 1679 - a post he held until 1701. He subsequently obtained some “notoriety” for the house he built for himself in Littlebury that he filled with bizarre gadgets and amusing mechanical contrivances. This preoccupation with unusual mechanical and hydraulic devices caused him to design and build a sensational ‘Mathematical Water Theatre’, also known as 'Winstanley's Water Workes' in London’s Piccadilly at the end of the 17th Century.

Between 1669 and 1674 he went on a grand tour of Europe, visiting France, Italy, and Germany, where he was inspired by the architecture of the grand houses and the use of engraving to portray them. He started work on the engravings of Audley End in 1676, two years after his return, using newly acquired skills of engraving and etching in combination. The task appears to have taken him ten years to complete, and was dedicated to James II. In addition to this folio edition, Winstanley engraved a set of ten prints in quarto size, and sold both sets of prints from what Richard Gough described as his “gimcrack” house at Littlebury.

The larger set of prints also included separate dedications to the Earl of Suffolk and to Sir Christopher Wren. The first of these explains Winstanley’s motivation:

"Although it might be the Subject of a learned Pen to describe the Architecture Symmmitry and Scituation of it I have performed the best of my Endeavours in Delineating of the same according to the Rules of Perspective, and having seen the most renowned Palaces of France, Germany, and Italy, especially from whence Architecture is brought over, and those making so great Noise as to encourage many to make Journeys to observe them, and this lying obscure and not took notice of, I thought it injustice to the Founder that he had left such a Monument to Posterity [yet] had not the same advantage as to have his work exposed to the view of the World"  (quoted in H.W. Lewer. "Henry Winstanley, Engraver", Essex Review, Vol. 27 (Oct 1918) 161-171)



                                    Audley End


According to his biographer, Alison Barnes, Winstanley learnt the techniques of etching and engraving from Wenceslaus Hollar. Hollar worked in England from 1635 onwards and was for a time drawing teacher to Prince Charles, later King Charles II. Campbell Dodgson, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, was able to detect Hollar’s influence on Winstanley, writing dismissively in 1901 that he was "no landscape painter; his efforts to represent clouds ended in lamentable failure, while the undulating park-like country, dotted with little trees, and the distant view of the town of Saffron Walden in the concluding 'General Prospect' savours more of the map-maker than of the artist", but concluding "The influence of Hollar is apparent in the technique".

In fact Campbell Dodgson misses the point, as Winstanley’s prints were not intended as works of art but as an architectural survey, and are important for the accuracy with which the buildings at Audley End were delineated. As archaeologist Peter Drury has noted, they provide “probably the earliest full pictorial record of any English Country House” and include a plan of the house and the immediately adjacent grounds, including the cherry garden, the Mount garden, the cellar garden, the brewhouse garden and yard, and the bowling green. The quality of the prints and the level of detail recorded in them varies considerably. The engravings of the Stables are plainly delineated, lacking in detail and unsigned, whereas those of the House provide a detailed architectural record of the building at its largest extent.

In particular, the massive Great Court, subsequently demolished, is faithfully reproduced with its ornate main entrance, curious wedge-shaped windows and slender chimneys. The prints are even detailed enough to make out the unusual feature John Evelyn noted in a diary entry made in 1654: “instead of railings and balusters, there is a bordure of capital letters, as were lately also on Suffolke House”.

Winstanley includes human figures in is work to give an impression of the sheer size of the building, sometimes as devices to indicate the imposing scale, but occasionally to illustrate aspects of life at the house. One print depicts a solitary servant carrying brushwood from large stacks of wood in the woodyard, dwarfed by the massive building.


During his visit to the continent Winstanley had been impressed with the use of engraving to depict the great houses of the wealthy, and in enthusiastic imitation invited subscriptions for a book of the “prospects of the principal houses of England”, printing an “advertisment” of his own house in Littlebury with lengthy inscriptions setting out the terms:

“All noble men and gentlemen that please to have their mansion houses design’d on copper plates, to be printed for composing a volume of the prospects of the principall houses of England, may have them done by Mr Hen. Winstanley by way of subscription, that is to say, subscribing to pay five pounds at the delivering of a fair coppy of their respective houses as large as this plate; or ten pounds for one as large as royall paper will contain. He likewise obligeing himselfe to furnish as many prints of all sorts, at 4d and 6d a print as any that subscribe may require.”

There were few takers, and this ambitious project was never completed, although in his advertisement Winstanley claimed to have made “some progress in this worke allready”. “This worke” may refer to prints of Ricott in Oxfordshire and Tythrop in Buckinghamshire copies of which are included in the Town Library set in addition to the Audley End engravings.

After Winstanley’s death most of the original copper plates were acquired by the publishers Groenwegen and Prevost who re-used them to reproduce the majority of the Audley End engravings in a special supplement to the Nouveau Theatre de la Grande Bretagne published in 1728. The plates subsequently passed to the descendants of the Earls of Suffolk, who sold them “for old copper, and the prints are become extremely scarce.”

Later in his life, Winstanley engraved another, larger, version of the “general prospect” of the “Royall Pallace of Audley End” that was sold at his “Water Workes” in London. It consisted of six sheets, which when joined together, formed a plate of five feet two inches long by three feet deep. In the background is a view of Saffron Walden. This massive print, believed to be contemporary with a lost engraving of the Water Theatre and the familiar engraving of the Eddystone Lighthouse still survives, displayed on the first quarter-landing of the south stairs at Audley End, although it has been damaged by prolonged exposure to light.

The Town Library set is not quite complete as it lacks plates 4 and 17. It was sold as a set, but contains prints from both the folio and the quarto editions described above, as well as some prints from the supplement to the Nouveau Theatre. It also lacks the dedications to King James II, the Earl of Suffolk and to Sir Christopher Wren, who was Surveyor General to the King. It does, however, include an unattributed print of the Innermost Court similar to those engraved by Winstanley, and a smaller general prospect of “Audley End with the Courts and Cuntry adjatient [sic]”that bears his name.

Virginia and Bobby Chapman, who donated the prints to the Library, moved from their London house near Holland Park to Debden Manor in l974. Bobby continued to work in London, commuting from Newport to his architectural practice, Chapman Taylor Partners in Kensington. The firm designed flats, offices and housing projects and specialised latterly in shopping centres such as Lakeside. They now have offices all over the world, including Russia.

One day Bobby, who has always had a great interest in pictures and books, was fascinated by a large display of magnificent prints of Audley End in the window of a bookshop-cum-printseller, Southerans in Sackville Street. Living close to Audley End he found their appeal irresistible. Because of their size the prints lived in a stout portfolio under the Chapman’s sideboard for many years until hearing that the Town Library did not possess a set, Virginia and Bobby decided that this would provide a better home for the prints. They were presented to the Library last November at a reception organised by the Town Library Society.

Martyn Everett.

Select Bibliography

Barnes, Alison, Henry Winstanley: Artist, Inventor and Lighthouse-Builder, 1644-1703. Saffron Walden: Saffron Walden Museum, 2003.

Braybrooke, Richard, (Lord). The History of Audley End, London: Samuel Bentley, 1836

Drury, P.J. & Gow, I.R., Audley End, Essex. London, HMSO, 1984.
Griffiths, Anthony, The Print in Stuart Britain 1603-1689. London, British Museum Press, 1998

Gough, Richard, 1735 -1809 British topography : Or, an historical account of what has been done for illustrating the topographical antiquities of Great Britain and Ireland. London, printed for T. Payne and Son, and J. Nichols, 1780 2 vols.

Lewer, H.W., "Henry Winstanley, Engraver", Essex Review, Vol. 27 (Oct 1918) 161-171.

Supplément du Nouveau Théâtre de la Grande Bretagne, etc. (Thomas Badeslade delin. Henry Winstanley ... fecit. J. Harris sculpt. J. Kip sculp) Publisher: Londres : J. Groenwegen & N. Prevost, 1728

 (Originally published in Newport News, May 2006)