Mansion House Doncaster

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james-payne-and-sonJames Paine

James Paine 1717-89

In 1745 Doncaster Corporation appointed a young aspiring architect named James Paine to design a Mansion House to be used for ‘civic hospitality and celebrations’. Paine chose, as his inspiration for the facade of the building, Inigo Jones’s unexecuted design for a Royal Palace at Whitehall for King James I ‘A facade fit for a king’. At the age of 27, Paine’s career was launched and over the next 40 years he established himself as one of the great architects of the Palladian Revival and an early exponent of rococo interior decoration in the mid 18th century.

Paine was much admired for his ability to design and decorate grand houses with magnificent staircases to suit the needs of the aristocracy and compact, manageable houses for the landed gentry. He was equally accomplished at remodelling existing houses and providing functional estate buildings or decorative temples, gazebos and bridges. Although London based for most of his career, his buildings are mainly to be found in the north of England. Paine took his inspiration from the buildings and writings of the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508 – 1580) and of Inigo Jones (1573 – 1652).


The son of a carpenter from Andover in Hampshire, Paine studied life-drawing at St Martin’s Academy in London. The Academy, founded by William Hogarth in 1735, was an important meeting place for the artists, designers and patrons of the time. It is likely that Paine came to the attention of Lord Burlington’s circle during this period as a promising new talent. Lord Burlington (1694 – 1753), the champion of the Palladian Revival, was well known for furthering the careers of young aspiring architects from humble backgrounds.

Early Career

Paine’s first commission was in 1737 as the clerk of works at Nostell Priory, a large house designed in the Palladian style by the amateur architect Colonel James Moyser for Sir Rowland Winn. Moyser was one of Lord Burlington’s circle. The work took seven years to complete, during which time, Paine’s responsibilities gradually increased until he was designing the interior decorations of the house ‘much to the satisfaction of his employer’.

In 1745, he was appointed by Doncaster Corporation to design a Mansion House for ‘civic hospitality and celebrations’. Paine chose, as his inspiration for the facade of the building, Inigo Jones’s unexecuted design for a royal palace at Whitehall for King James I.’A facade fit for a king’. At the age of 27, his career was launched in Yorkshire and the Midlands.

An Established Architect

On the death of Daniel Garrett in 1753, Paine took over Garrett’s well established architectural practice in London and the north-east. Garrett had been Lord Burlington’s ‘man of business and clerk of works’ and had a number of other aristocratic clients on his books. Paine was soon carrying out alterations and repairs to the town houses and country seats of the Dukes of Northumberland at Alnwick Castle, Norfolk at Worksop Manor and Devonshire at Chatsworth.

Paine combined his new northern practice with some other prestigious London based appointments, including the post of Clerk of Works to the Queen’s House at Greenwich and the Royal Mews at Charing Cross. Other commissions in London included work on Lincoln’s Inn and Coutts Bank and a grand house in Whitehall for Sir Matthew Featherstonhaugh (now called Dover House and home to the Scottish Office).


During the 18thcentury, the roles of the architect, surveyor and clerk of works were not as clearly defined as they are today. Paine believed that an architect should be properly trained – ‘an architect should be bred an architect’ – and he helped to put this into practice by employing articled apprentices himself. He was also concerned with ‘the dignity of his profession and the establishment of proper modes of conduct among its members’ and with their clients.

In order to promote his achievements and express his own views on architecture, Paine published his ‘Plans, Elevations, Sections and Other Ornaments of the Mansion House, Doncaster’ in 1751 and in 1767, he published the first volume of ‘Plans, Elevations and Sections of Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Houses’. This was followed by a second volume of plans, elevations and sections in 1783. These books contain magnificent engravings of all his most important projects with accompanying explanations.

In 1789, James Paine died in France at the start of the French Revolution.


James Paine: A Local Perspective.

If you would like to know more about Paine’s work in the Doncaster area, we have unearthed a very interesting article by local historian Peter Coote taken from the March 1987 edition of Doncaster Civic Trust’s Newsletter.

Please click here to read the article.