Colen Campbell (15 June 1676 – 13 September 1729) was a pioneering Scottish architect and architectural writer who played an important part in the development of the Georgian style. For most of his career, he resided in Italy and England. As well as his architectural designs, he is known for Vitruvius Britannicus, three volumes of high-quality engravings showing the great houses of the time.

Colen Campbell
Born(1676-06-15)15 June 1676
Died(1729-09-13)13 September 1729
Resting placeWestminster Abbey
BuildingsMereworth Castle
Houghton Hall
Burlington House
Wanstead House
Palladian revival: Stourhead House, south facade, designed by Campbell and completed in 1720; a print from Vitruvius Britannicus

Early life


A descendant of the Campbells of Cawdor Castle, he is believed to be the Colinus Campbell who graduated from the University of Edinburgh in July 1695.[1] He initially trained as a lawyer, being admitted to the Faculty of Advocates on 29 July 1702.

He travelled in Italy between 1695 and 1702, and is believed to be the Colinus Campbell who signed the visitor's book at the University of Padua in 1697. He is believed to have trained in and studied architecture under James Smith,[1] a belief strengthened by Campbell owning several drawings of buildings designed by Smith.

Vitruvius Britannicus


His major published work, Vitruvius Britannicus, or the British Architect... appeared in three volumes between 1715 and 1725. This was the first architectural work to originate in England since John Shute's Elizabethan First Groundes. In the empirical vein, it was not a treatise but basically a catalogue of design, containing engravings of English buildings by Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren, as well as Campbell himself and other prominent architects of the era.

In the introduction that he appended and in the brief descriptions, Campbell belaboured the "excesses" of Baroque style and declared British independence from foreigners while he dedicated the volume to Hanoverian George I. The third volume (1725) has several grand layouts of gardens and parks, with straight allées, for courts and patterned parterres and radiating rides through wooded plantations, in a Baroque manner that was rapidly becoming old-fashioned.

Buildings were shown in plan, section and elevation, and some in a bird's-eye perspective. The drawings and designs contained in the book were under way before Campbell was drawn into the speculative scheme. The success of the volumes was instrumental in popularising neo-Palladian architecture in Great Britain and America during the 18th century. For example, Plate 16 of Vitruvius Britannicus, a rendering of Somerset House in London, was an inspiration for American architect Peter Harrison when he designed the Brick Market in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1761.[2]

Campbell was influenced as a young man by James Smith (c. 1645–1731), the pre-eminent Scots architect of his day, and an early neo-Palladian whom Campbell called "the most experienced architect" of Scotland (Vitruvius Britannicus, ii).

The somewhat promotional volume, with its excellently rendered engravings, came at a propitious moment at the beginning of a boom in country house and villa building among the Whig oligarchy. Campbell was quickly taken up by Lord Burlington, who replaced James Gibbs with Campbell at Burlington House in London and set out to place himself at the centre of English neo-Palladian architecture. In 1718, Campbell was appointed deputy to the amateur gentleman who had replaced Wren as Surveyor General of the Royal Board of Works, an appointment that Burlington is certain to have pressed, but a short-lived one. When Benson, the new Surveyor was turned out of office, Campbell went with him.

Later volumes


There are later volumes also published under the name ‘Vitruvius Brittanicus’, but they are not connected to Colen Campbell's work. In 1739 a volume was issued by Badeslade and Rocque, described as ‘Volume 4’.[3] However, this had little in common with Campbell, comprising mainly topographical perspective views of houses (54 plates). Between 1765 and 1771, Woolfe and Gandon published their ‘Volumes 4 & 5’ (79 and 75 plates).[4] They discounted Badeslade's volume, believing their work to be a more correct continuation of Campbell, hence their numbering. The plates are indeed mostly plans and elevations of buildings largely in the Palladian style, most dating from after 1750. The various Volumes are fully described in Harris.[5]

Campbell's main commissions

Wanstead House, as built, illustrated in Nathaniel Spencer, The Complete English traveller, London 1771
  • Wanstead House, Essex, c. 1713/4–20 (illustrated left). In the first volume of Vitruvius Britannicus, the most influential designs were two alternatives for a palatial Wanstead House, Essex, for the merchant-banker Sir Richard Child, of which the second design was already under way when the volume was published. (Campbell claimed that Wanstead House had Great Britain's first classical portico, but this accolade probably belongs to The Vyne, Hampshire.)
  • Burlington House, London, 1717. Remodelled the front and provided an entrance gateway for Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (Remodelled in 1868 and the gateway demolished.)
  • Stourhead, Wiltshire, 1721–24, as a seat for the London-based banker Henry Hoare. Wings were added in the later 18th century, and Campbell's portico was not executed (though to his design) until 1841. The famous landscape garden round a lake, somewhat apart from the house, was developed after Campbell's death, by Henry Flitcroft.
Marble Hill House, Twickenham
Blue plaque on 76 Brook Street, London W1
Title page, Vitruvius Britannicus; or, The British architect, containing the plans, elevations, and sections of the regular buildings, both publick and private in Great Britain, with variety of new designs, written by Campbell

List of architectural works



  • Shawfield Mansion, Glasgow (1712) demolished 1792
  • Wanstead House, Essex (1714–15) demolished 1822
  • Hedworth House, Chester-le-Street (1726)
  • Hotham House, Beverley (1716–17) demolished c.1766
  • Burlington House, London, south front, and west wing (1717) subsequently extended and several occasions
  • Burlington (Ten Acre Close) Estate, London, layout (1717–18)
  • Burlington House, Great Gate and Street Wall (1718)
  • Rolls House, Chancery Lane, London (1718), demolished 1895–96
  • Ebberston Lodge, Ebberston, Yorkshire, including cascade (1718)
  • 34 Great Burlington Street, London (1718–19)
  • 33 Great Burlington Street, London (1719–20)
  • 32 Great Burlington Street, London (c.1720); this was Campbell's own house
  • 31 Great Burlington Street, London (1719–24) rebuilt
  • Burlington Girls' Charity School, Boyle Street, London (1719–21)
  • Wimbledon Manor House, Surrey, for Sir Theodore Janssen (1720); completion uncertain
  • Newby Park, (now Baldersby Park), near Topcliffe, Yorkshire (1720–21)
  • Houghton Hall, Norfolk; one of several architects to work on the building (1721–22)
  • Stourhead, Wiltshire, the portico part of Campbell's design was only added in 1840 (1721–24); interiors destroyed by fire 1902
  • Mereworth Castle, Kent (1722–23)
  • Pembroke Lodge, Whitehall, London; executed Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke's design (c.1724), demolished 1756
  • Plumptre House, Nottingham (1724)
  • Hall Barn, Buckinghamshire, garden buildings: Great Room (only partially survives), Temple of Venus, Obelisk & Doric Pavilion (1724)
  • Waverley Abbey House, Surrey (c.1725), extended 1770, damaged by fire and rebuilt 1833
  • Greenwich Hospital, Greenwich, London; additions to Queen Mary block and Queen Anne block (1726–29)
  • Compton Place, Eastbourne, remodelled house (1726–29)
  • 76 Brook Street, London, internal alterations (c.1726); became Campbell's new home
  • Hackney House, Hackney, London (c.1727), demolished before 1842
  • Althorp, Northamptonshire, new stables, loggia gate (c.1729–33)
  • Studley Royal Park, Yorkshire, the stables (c.1729) built after his death by Roger Morris


  1. ^ a b page 7, Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects: Colen Campbell, John Harris 1973, Gregg International Publishers Ltd
  2. ^ The Center for Palladian Studies in America, Inc., "Palladio and Patternbooks in Colonial America." Archived 23 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Badeslade & Rocque. "Royal Academy Library".
  4. ^ Woolfe & Gandon. "Royal Academy Library".
  5. ^ Harris, Eileen (1990). British Architectural Books and Writers 1556–1785. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 139–148, 467, 145 note 27, 496–498. ISBN 1-57898-223-5.
  6. ^ Howard Edward Stutchbury (1967). The Architecture of Colen Campbell. Manchester University Press. pp. 145–147.
  • Howard Colvin, A Biographical dictionary of British Architects, 3rd edition
  • Robert Tavernor, Palladio and Palladianism 1991