Rural Residences by John B. Papworth

Quite serendipitously, I discovered that the original edition of one of my favorite books on Regency architecture was uploaded to the Internet Archive just last week. I first encountered this delightful little book when I was conducting research for my article on the construction of cottages orné. Fortunately, there was a copy of the original 1818 edition of this book in the rare books collection at my local library, since, at the time, the only copy available online was the reprinted edition of 1832 on Google Books. As many of you know, the books made available at Google are often poorly scanned, making some pages illegible. Not so with the superior method used by the Internet Archive, by which each page is carefully scanned so that every page and image is fully legible at any magnification.

Some of the delights of Rural Residences . . .

The full title of this book is Rural Residences, consisting of a Series of Designs for Cottages, Decorated Cottages, Small Villas and other Ornamental Buildings; Accompanied by Hints on Situation, Construction, Arrangement and Decoration, in the Theory & Practice of Rural Architecture; Interspersed with Some Observations on Landscape Gardening. It was first published in 1818, yet that first book is essentially a reprint. The plates, plans and some of the text which comprise this book where first produced by the architect, John B. Papworth, for publication as "Architectural Hints" in Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts magazine between the years 1816 and 1817. According to his Introduction to the book, Papworth explained that Ackermann had received numerous requests to republish the designs in a single volume. Papworth notes that he has taken this occasion to expand and improve the text which accompanies the illustrations in order to correct " . . . the many deficiencies which necessarily occurred from so desultory a manner of publication."

Rudolph Ackermann was a shrewd businessman and he would not have bothered to publish a book of material previously published in his Repository unless he believed he had a ready market for it. So, it does seem highly likely that many people did request that Papworth’s "Architectural Hints" be gathered and published together in a single volume. In so doing, Ackermann would have pleased many of his subscribers, maximized his investment by reusing the plates which had been made to print the illustrations in the magazine, and ensured himself a tidy profit with minimal additional cost. It seems that Ackermann did not restrict the sale of this new book to his own establishment in The Strand. The book was also available from a number of booksellers in London and around the country. It sold, in boards, for one pound, eleven shillings and six pence. As was common at the time, most buyers would then send the book off to their bookbinder to be bound to their specifications. Rural Residences must have been very popular, since it remained in print into the mid-1830s.

Initially, it appears that the target market for this book was the landed nobility and gentry. However, it may well have appealed to the monied middle classes as well. Papworth did not just provide an image of each building, along with a floor plan, he also included advice on how to site the structures within the land on which they were to be built, suggestions for the most appropriate materials to be used in construction, and ideas for exterior and interior decoration. But he did not stop there. He also offered landscaping advice for the area surrounding the structure once it was built, as well as his opinion on the residents who would be most appropriate for each of these buildings. Woven into the text is his philosophy on the types of housing which should be provided to various classes of people and the activities in which he believed they should engage once they took up residence in a building constructed to his design.

Since Papworth provided so much supplementary detail on building siting, construction and materials, along with the floor plans and elevation images of each structure, his book could be used as a pattern book, thus eliminating the need for the costly services of a professional architect. Anyone wishing to build a cottage or modest country residence could choose a design from the book which their builder could then construct, with guidance from Papworth’s text. Most builders at the time were so used to working from simple drawings and their client’s verbal instructions and wishes that they, too, were probably delighted with the more detailed information provided in Rural Residences. With such clear plans and illustrations available, there would have been fewer misunderstandings between builder and client as to the expected end result, thus ensuring a more satisfied client. Builders who owned a copy of the book would also be able to offer more sophisticated and fashionable designs to their prospective clients.

Though the title of the book is Rural Residences, it actually includes a number of other structures which would be appropriate as outbuildings or even garden follies on the grounds of a large country estate. The book includes designs and plans for cottages for bailiffs and stewards as well as common laborers, along with a selection of cottages orné and Gothic cottages. It even has plans for vicar’s residences, a chapel, a bathhouse, farmhouses, a fishing lodge, and several villas, some of which are intended to be "adapted to park scenery." There are also plans for an ornamental dairy, an ice house in a classical style, a Gothic conservatory and even a design for a set of entrance gates "adapted to the residence of a nobleman." Nor are more ephemeral structures ignored. Papworth offers two designs for "garden seats" which are intended for use as "embellishments to the lawn or shrubbery." Whether or not you have seen this book, or the issue of Ackermann’s Repository in which the "garden seats" designs were originally published, if you have seen the 1996 film of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam, you have seen one of Papworth’s "garden seats" constructed and in use. The tent-like structure on the lawn at her home in which Emma entertains her guests with tea and conversation, as well as engaging in some stitchery, is taken directly from Papworth’s design.

Rural Residences is an excellent resource for Regency authors. It provides a wide range of structures which would have been popular during the Regency, in a number of styles which were considered quite fashionable. The plans for each structure include names for nearly all of the rooms, names which were contemporary to the Regency. The book also provides details on the type of construction materials which would have been considered appropriate for each building, as well as information on construction techniques, with warnings against certain types of materials in certain areas for any number of reasons. The information provided on siting a building also includes details on the problems a structure might suffer if incorrectly sited. Papworth’s somewhat paternalistic philosophy on who should inhabit these structures and how they should behave while in residence is a rich source of detail on attitudes at that time. Not to mention that the illustrations, all hand-colored, are quite lovely.

There are original copies of Rural Residences to be had, but they are quite expensive. The 1818 edition can run anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000USD. The 1832 edition is available at the slightly lower cost of $4,000 to $5,000USD. Most Regency authors would find the price of either edition well beyond their budget. But now, they have access to a digital copy of the original edition. The copy of the book which was scanned is from the collection of the Getty Research Institute and it is in excellent condition, with no damage to any of the pages. The scanning system employed by the Internet Archive produces clean scans of every page, so every page is clear and free of defects. It is the next-best thing to holding an actual copy of the book in your hands. And, the digital copy is available for free download in a number of different formats.

If you would like to add a copy of the 1818 edition of Rural Residences to your Regency research collection, you can find it here: Just scroll down to the section below where the book is displayed to select the format you prefer. Or, if it is more convenient, you can also read the book online. Regardless of how you choose to read it, do treat yourself to this lovely book which would have been owned and read by many of our Regency ancestors.


About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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4 Responses to Rural Residences by John B. Papworth

  1. May I also add that Elibron Classics do a full colour reprint for ten quid, about $15.

  2. This is great source, I am already loving it. How immensely helpful it will be when I have to make up the hero’s/heroine’s residence the next time I begin writing a novel. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      My pleasure! You may also find this book useful if you are writing a story in which you need a house to have some kind of problem. Papworth points out a number of problems a house might have, based on how it is sited on the property to the types of building materials used in its construction.



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