Stephen Wright (d. 1780) was Deputy Surveyor and Master Mason to the Office of Works when Kirby was appointed as Clerk of the Works at Richmond and Kew. Wright was a protégé of William Kent, although exactly how and when they first came into contact is not known. Wright’s DNB article speculates that he is the ‘Stephen’ referred to in some of Kent’s letters from 1738, and he was certainly working for Kent by 1741. In the beginning he was chiefly employed as a `measurer’, gradually taking on more significant responsibilities. That Kent and Wright had a close personal as well as business relationship is clear. When making out his will in October 1743, Kent singled out Wright for a legacy of £50. This is the only monetary legacy Kent left outside of his family (there is a great long list of paintings and busts to be given to specific friends). Shortly before his death in 1748, Kent added a codicil giving more gifts to friends, including half a dozen members of the Office of Works, and the codicil was witnessed by Wright (PROB 11/761/245). Kent’s residual legatee was his nephew William Pearson who only outlived Kent by a few months. Pearson in turn left all Kent’s pictures and drawings to be disposed of by Wright (and John Ferrett), and Wright was named as one of Pearson’s pall bearers. Pearson also left £10 to, “Mrs. Wright the wife of the said Stephen Wright … to buy her Mourning and a ring” (PROB 11/762/373).
Wright’s first appointment in the Office of Works, presumably on the influence of Burlington, was as Clerk of the Works at Hampton Court in December 1746 in the place of John Vardy, who was promoted to Clerk of Works at Whitehall, St. James’s, and Westminster. Along with his government position, Wright began building a private practice. Late in his life, Kent was working on renovations to Henry Pelham’s London house, 22 Arlington Street. When Kent died in 1748, Wright took over the completion of the work.
The Pelhams must have been pleased with Wright’s work, because they became his greatest patrons, especially the Duke of Newcastle. Wright worked for him at Claremont in Surrey, and, in his capacity as Chancellor of Cambridge University, Newcastle ensured that Wright got the commission for the new University Library in 1754.
Also in 1754, Wright added the Clerkship of Richmond New Lodge to that of Hampton Court. In 1758, he appealed unsuccessfully to Newcastle (then Prime Minister) for the post of Comptroller on the death of Thomas Ripley. The post instead went to Henry Flitcroft, but as a consolation, Wright got Flitcroft’s former positions of Master Mason and Deputy Surveyor. In the 1760s. Wright worked at Milton Hall in Berkshire, and then for the second Duke at Clumber House, and for his nephew at Oatlands. In these large country estates, Wright built various garden buildings, often following in the style of William Kent. Wright did not have a wide circle of patrons, but he produced some very successful buildings, interiors, and gardens.
Stephen Wright seems to have been a decent man that people could rely on. He was named as executor for at least two of his in-laws family, and Colvin records a letter from Kenton Couse (then Clerk to the Board of Works) to the widow of Thomas Worsley, former Surveyor General, “It will give you Pain to hear that Mr. Wright of the Board of Works died this morning. A total Breaking up of his constitution has been coming on for some time, but flattering hopes have supported his through a lingering though not very painful illness. As an honest and worthy man I feel for his loss” (Colvin, 89).
Of his personal life, we know little; of his background, nothing. In his will (PROB 11/1070/40) he left £20 for the “poor of the parish of Oxburgh” (Oxborough) in Norfolk, so perhaps he had some connection there. He mentions two married sisters and the children of a deceased brother in his will. We don’t know anything about them, either. His wife must have predeceased him; we don’t know her name. However, his mother in law was called Hannah Brown and he made provisions for her. She died in 1785 at the reputed age of 103.
He had a daughter Mary, who married Thomas Pratt, son of Joseph Pratt, Master Bricklayer at the Board of Works, in 1760, but so obscure was Stephen Wright that at least two newspapers recorded the marriage as: “Mr. Wright, of the Board of Works to Miss Pratt, daughter of Mr. Pratt, his Majesty’s Bricklayer”.
For related posts, see the Office of Works and Kew category.
Campbell, P, ed. A House in Town: 22 Arlington Street, Its Owners and Builders. London: Batsford, 1984.
Colvin, H.M., et al. The History of the King’s Works, Volume 5. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1976.