Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Holnicote
ca. 1785
Oil on canvas
  • canvas length 1000mm,
  • canvas width 1510mm
Object Type
Oil painting

Holnicote, Somerset, the seat of Sir Thomas Acland
Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Wilcox 1997 (image)


Presumably commissioned by Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 5th Bt (1752–1794), in ca. 1785 and now at Killerton House (now owned by the National Trust).

Associated People & Organisations

Killerton House, Broadclyst, Exeter, 1995, NT 922290
[?] Lady Henrietta Anne Acland (née Hoare) (1765 - 1841), Exwick, Exeter, 1785
[?] Sir Thomas Dyke Acland (1752 - 1794), Exwick, Exeter, 1785
Timothy Wilcox, Francis Towne, Tate Publishing: London, 1997, p. 131


Holnicote was a seat of the Acland family just west of Minehead, looking over the Bristol Channel with the prime deer-hunting land of North Hill behind the house. Holnicote had burned down in 1779, and the building seen here is its replacement. By family tradition,1 among the destruction of all his household goods, the fanatical Master of Hounds Sir Thomas Dyke Acland (1722–1785), 3rd Bt, most regretted the loss of his collection of stag heads.

In 1745 Sir Thomas had married the rich heiress Elizabeth Dyke of Tetton, upon which the family name became Dyke Acland; she brought as dowry the Somerset estates of Dulverton, Holnicote, and Tetton near Taunton. As a consequence, in the second half of the eighteenth century the Aclands entered their period of greatest prosperity and made plans to rebuild their main residence at Killerton near Broadclyst, a few miles north-east of Exeter (FT440). Shortly before the 1779 fire at Holnicote, however, Sir Thomas had suffered the death of his son and heir John (1746–1778), a celebrated officer in the American War of Independence, and in the aftermath the Killerton plans were scaled down. The modest building at Holnicote seen in Towne’s picture was instead produced.

Sir Thomas died in February 1785 and was succeeded by John’s young son John (1778–1785), 4th Bt, who himself survived for only a few weeks beyond his grandfather’s death. The child’s uncle, Sir Thomas’s indebted and estranged second son, also Sir Thomas Dyke Acland (1752–1794), 5th Bt, then succeeded. In July 1785, shortly after succeeding, the new baronet married Henrietta Ann Hoare (d.1841), daughter of banker Sir Richard Hoare (1734/5–1787), 1st Bt (and sister of Peter Richard Hoare [1772–1849], who, judging by the style of his drawings, may have been taught by Towne). Economy forced the couple to live mainly at Holnicote and at the family’s hunting lodge at Highercombe, near Dulverton. Like his father, the 5th baronet was a keen huntsman and Master of Hounds, and Towne makes reference to this with the hunting scene in the foreground of this picture.

Wilcox calls the picture Holnicote 1785, but as it is based on a sketch of 3 October 1785 (FT437), perhaps it was completed in 1786 or even later. For comparison, Towne gave his large Powderham oil painting, commissioned in October 1774, the date 1777 (FT065).

As the Aclands had organised for Towne to sketch their land only a few months after Sir Thomas’s marriage and inheritance, the creation of works of art must have been something of a priority in the establishment of their household. After a year of such change and loss, it was perhaps deemed important to create new images in celebration of the new ownership and of the continuity of the family’s sporting and land-owning traditions. There is certainly a sense of homecoming in Towne’s oil, with its depiction of huntsmen returning to Holnicote as the sun sets over the Bristol Channel. Equally, it is likely that much of the family’s images perished in the Holnicote fire of 1779 so that there would have been a requirement to replace them.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Acland 1981.

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