Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Clappersgate, near Ambleside
Pencil, pen and brown and grey inks, watercolour
  • image width 146mm,
  • image length 229mm
  • sheet, verso
  • “No.16. Clappers Gate near Ambleside evening light from the right hand / August 10 1786. / Francis Towne”
  • in brown ink
Part of
  • Partially-disbound sketchbook sold by Judith Merivale to H. B. Milling of Squire Gallery
Object Type

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Christie’s records (image); Paul Oppé records


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it reverted to Towne’s residuary legatee John Herman Merivale (1779–1844) and his successors. Merivale’s granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 within a partially disbound sketchbook containing FT455, FT462, FT470, FT471, FT472, FT475, FT476, FT477, FT478, FT480, FT494, FT495, FT496. In February 1945 Judith Merivale sold the book to H. B. Milling of Squire Gallery for £25. Milling must have sold this drawing to the Fine Art Society, which on 18 April 1945 sold it to Agnew’s (no.4099), where on 23 January 1946 it was bought for £50 by Joseph Hawksley Elliot of Sheffield (1884–1978), whose daughter sold the drawing at Christie’s on 14 March 1978, lot 78, for £4,200 to Agnew’s, on behalf of a client, whereafter it is untraced.

Associated People & Organisations

Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 14 March 1978, GBP 4200, no.4099
Purchased on behalf of a client, whereafter it is untraced.
Christie's, London, London, 14 March 1978, lot 78
Joseph Hawksley Elliot (1884 - 1978), Sheffield, 23 January 1946, £50
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, 18 April 1945
The Fine Art Society, London, London
Horace Bernard Milling (1898 - 1954), February 1945, GBP 25
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
73rd Annual Exhibition of Water-Colour Drawings, Thomas Agnew & Sons, 1946, no. 30
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 126
James Clarke, A Survey of the Lakes of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire: London, 1789, p. 145


This is a south-west view on the road west from Ambleside and shows Clappersgate, a hamlet beyond the western fringes of the town. The River Brathay flows in the far left of the view and the prominent building at the left is Brathay Hall, at the time of Towne’s visit the property of the Brathwaite family. The brow of Coniston “Old Man” looms over the trees at right of centre—although Towne has greatly exaggerated the prominence of the mountains. A visitor ca. 1788 described the scene thus:

From Ambleside, towards Hawkshead and Consiton, we pass through Clappersgate . . . and then having crossed the bridge, we enter Lancashire. Close to the end of the bridge . . . is Brathay, the seat of George Law, Esq, a delightful place, situated at the high-end of a meadow almost as smooth as a bowling-green, with the river half-surrounding it.1

This drawing is the right-hand portion of a two-sheet composition from the 1786 sketchbook. The left portion, on the verso of a drawing of Buttermere (FT470), is itself divided in two, with one half containing only an outline in pencil and the other worked up in colour. The left part of Towne’s drawing would have included a view over the fields of Waterhead, perhaps somewhat like the left portion of FT465. The image in the sketchbook following the drawing catalogued here is FT472

This sketch was noted in a review by John Russell of the 1945 Fine Art Society exhibition, which was published in the Listener of 10 May 1945: 

The watercolourists assembled at the Fine Arts Society are in large part a dawdling, straw-sucking crew, barely ankle deep in the great stream on which Girtin, Turner and Cotman are the prize watermen . . . The real point of watercolour, however, is that it will bear, lightly and in little room, the full weight of a fully evolved personal style; in Francis Towne’s little “Clappersgate”, for instance a brief precise statement is made about the whole world.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Clarke 1789, p.145.

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