This site is dedicated to Joshua Kirby (1716–1774), his life, times, friends, and anything else I find interesting about mid-18th century England.

Kirby was from Suffolk, an artist and author, writing on perspective in art. He was the author of Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective Made Easy, which ran through three editions, and the lavishly produced Perspective of Architecture. He was tutor in perspective to the Prince of Wales (the future George III), and Clerk of Works at Kew and Richmond.

He was a friend of Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth.  Gainsborough painted a portrait of Kirby and his wife in the late 1740′s.

Gainsborough's portrait  of the Kirbys

32 thoughts on “About

  1. Stephen Govier.

    Hi, apart from the 12 prints of Suffolk and the 12 on the Kirby Ryland 1766 map of Suffolk, Kirby also produced two drawings of the Scole Inn, Norfolk and its sign and a view of Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, does anyone know of any other engravings attributed to Kirby of Suffolk and Norfolk, thanks, Stephen Govier of Hoxne.

      1. dmelville2012 Post author

        Interesting. Felicity Owen has a footnote in her Gainsborough’s House Review article on Kirby mentioning “Dr. Blatchly has identified an original drawing of “St. James, Dunwich” (private collection, Ipswich). Other views are the “West View of Walton Priory”, “Old Heveningham Hall” (1754) and “Henham Hall”.

  2. gina

    Joshua Kirby , I purchased a beautiful Wood make -up compact with a hand painted drawing of Kirby and his wife done by Kirby, & signed … It’s a gorgeous piece of his art work in Victorian era (1700c) I’m told … Kirby is leaning againest a water fountain I have seen in other prints, his wife leaning on him holding a flower basket ? Does anyone know if this water fountain is on one of his properties in Suffolk County ? I can post pictures on request …. I am selling this piece, but I’m having a hard time putting a price on a heirloom I’m told was made from Kirby to his wife ? Can anyone supply information, or lead me in the right direction ? It is starting to look like a Museum might be the best way to go ?

    1. dmelville2012 Post author

      Thank you for your note. I have not heard of such a piece. It sounds very interesting and I would be interested in seeing a picture. It sounds like you should have it professionally evaluated.

    2. gregpfinch

      Hi, I realise this over a year later now, but do you by any chance have an image of the work you could let me see – and the basis for your information identifying it as being of Kirby and his wife. I might be able to help.

      1. Stephen Govier

        Hi, the armorial for Kirby is Argent [White or Silver] two bars Gules [Red] on a canton of the second a cross moline Or [Gold]. This comes from the Kirby family of Kirby of Lancashire. Joshua Kirby’s wife Sarah Bull the daughter of Abraham Bull of Framlingham, Suffolk family arms are Argent [White or Silver] a chevron Gules [Red] between three bulls head couped Sable [Black]. The Bull arms are corrupted from Bullen of Brabant, Belguim. Any chance of a better image of the Kirby grave at St Anne’s Kew.

  3. brianlynch731

    Kirby had a connection with the Italian artist and architect Vincenzo Valdrè (1740-1814), also known as Vincent Waldré, who did a great deal of work on Stowe House in Buckinghamshire (see online the recent World Monument Fund restorations of the Marble Saloon and the Music Room there). The English architect Richard Norris (1750-1792) went to Rome in late 1770 with a letter of introduction from Kirby, but how they had come to each other is unknown, and it’s surprising too since Kirby, as far as I know, was never in Italy, and Valdrè did not come to England until 1774. For a book I am writing on VV, I would be glad to hear from anyone with information on the connection. Brian Lynch (brianlyn@eircom.net).

      1. brianlynch731

        Thanks for this. Valdrè was in Rome in 1767-68, a student at the French Academy. I wonder was William an artist.

      2. dmelville2012 Post author

        Yes, he was. Mostly architectural drawings and views, I think. The King paid for his trip, and a collection of his drawings of ancient buildings in Rome is at Windsor (I haven’t seen them). Unfortunately, he died not long after his return to England.
        One reference for his time in Rome is: Stainton, L. (1983). Hayward’s List: British Visitors to Rome 1753–1775, The Volume of the Walpole Society 49, 3–36.
        Note that Stainton does not have the correct Norris, so it would be good if you could point that out.

        I would be interested to hear anything more you might find out about his time in Italy and connections with Valdrè. Good luck with the book! Let us know when it comes out.

      3. brianlynch731

        A 2016 update, slightly edited, from the biography of Valdrè which is now being written:

        François Jacquier (1711-1788), the French Franciscan who had been appointed tutor in mathematics to Ferdinando, the future Duke of Parma, in 1763 was a major figure in mathematics: he and Thomas Le Seur (1703-1770), professor of mathematics at La Sapienza University collaborated on ‘Parere… sopra i danni che si sono trovati nella cupola di S. Pietro sul fine dell’ anon 1742′, a book about cracks in the dome of St Peter’s. Jacquier and Le Seur had produced an annotated edition of Newton’s Principia Mathematica and, with the help of Ferdinando’s tutor Auguste Keralio, they published a three volume ‘Elemens du Calcul Integral’ in Parma, dedicated to the Duke, in 1768.
        Jacquier and Le Seur’s study of the laws of perspective, ‘Elementi di perspettiva secondo li principii di Brook Taylor, con varie aggiunte spettanti all’ottica e alla geometria’, was published in Rome in 1755. The book was a response to ‘Dr. Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective Made Easy’ by John Joshua Kirby published in Ipswich and London in 1754, with a famous frontispiece by William Hogarth. Kirby, through his son, was Valdrè’s first definite link to England.

      4. dmelville2012 Post author

        Thanks for the update. I didn’t know about the book by Jaquier and Le Seur. It seems to be mostly a translation of the second edition of Brook Taylor’s work, with the addition of some extra appendices.

  4. Erik Von Norden

    I very much enjoyed your blog, Kirby and His World. I am working on a history book-blog of my own, which can be seen at [one word] theoryofirony.com, then clicking on either the “sample chapter” or “blog” buttons at the top. My Rube Goldberg brain asks with an odd, well-caffeinated kind of logic: Why is there an inverse proportion between the size of the print and the importance of the message? Art. Literature. Science. Military. Religion. I call this eccentric thinking the Theory of Irony and if your busy schedule permits, give a read, leave a comment or create a link. In any event, best of luck with your own endeavors.

    P.S. It concerns Classical, Medieval and Modern eras.

    1. Stephen Govier

      Any idea of Joshua Kirby’s residence in Ipswich, was it attached to his house and coach painting business taken over by Andrew Baldry.

      1. David Gobbitt

        The following announcements in the Ipswich Journal indicate that Joshua Kirby’s house was on the south side of Tavern Street, between the Cornhill and Dial Lane, which used to be called Cook(‘s) Row.

        7 May 1757 (page 4, column 1):

        JAMES LILLY, is now removed to the House late in the Occupation of Mr. Joshua Kirby, near the CORN HILL in IPSWICH; where he intends carrying on his PAINTING Business, as usual, which will be perform’d in the best Manner, at the lowest Rate.


        28 October 1758 (page 4, column 1):

        To be LETT or SOLD.
        A Large commodious HOUSE, with a pleasant Garden, situate between the Corn-Hill and Mitre Tavern in IPSWICH, Part in the Occupation of Mr. James Lilly, Painter, and Part in the Occupation of Joseph Hudson, School-Master.
        For further Particulars enquire of the said Joseph Hudson; who continues to carry on the School-Business, in all its Branches, as usual.

        Joseph Hudson and his wife Esther Lay were married in the nearby church of St Mary le Tower in 1737 and had several children christened there between 1739 and 1755. In 1767 Joseph was buried in another Ipswich parish, St Mary at Elms, but it seems reasonable to suppose that he would have been well placed to play a part in the education of Joshua Kirby’s daughter Sarah (1741-1810) and son William (1743-1771), even if not occupying the same house during their pupillage.

        The painter (and former draper) James Lilly (d. 1786?) probably came from the parish of St Nicholas, where his son Edmund was baptized in 1750. If he was relocating in 1758, when the house was to be let or sold, he does not appear to have advertised his removal. He was certainly not far away in the 1760s, when his premises were “over-against” (1764) or opposite (1767) Dod’s Coffee House. This was on the north side of Tavern Street, at the corner of Tower Street (Lilian J. Redstone, Ipswich through the ages, 1948/1969, p. 107).

        An engraving of the picturesque “Old Coffee House” from John Glyde’s 1889 book, Illustrations of Old Ipswich (https://archive.org/details/illustrationsofo00glyduoft/page/n5), is reproduced on Borin Van Loon’s Ipswich Historic Lettering website (http://www.ipswich-lettering.co.uk/tollyhouse.htm). The accompanying text confirms that the coffee house “occupied a site in Tavern Street, at its junction with Tower Street, on the Eastern side”.

        In Borin’s extract from Pennington’s 1778 map (http://www.ipswich-lettering.co.uk/northgatemap1778.jpg) the letter “n” at the end of the word “Tavern” in Tavern Street can just be seen near the bottom left (south-west) corner. A few steps to the east, Tower Lane (now Tower Street) leads to the north (towards John Kirby’s property) shortly before Cook Row (now Dial Lane) goes to the south.

        The Suffolk CAMRA website (http://www.suffolkcamra.co.uk/pubs/pub/3644) puts the Mitre Tavern on the western corner of Dial Lane, at 30 Tavern Street. Assuming that James Lilly remained in Joshua Kirby’s old house for at least five years after 1758, it must have been much closer to the Mitre than to the Corn Hill.

  5. Sue Rudland

    I am researching the building that I am working in and know that it was owned by John Kirby – Joshua’s father – Tower House, 17 Tower Street, Ipswich (not far from the Cornhill) Formerly known (I believe) as Grimstone/Grymstone House. The Grimstone family owned it before John Kirby. A beautiful parquet vaulted ceiling remains and I am hoping to apply for heritage grants for restoration works. So if anyone has any further insights re: the Kirby family please let me know as it would be not only useful, but of personal interest.

    1. David Gobbitt

      Good luck with your project, Sue.

      Looking at the Sparrowes Nest website (https://sparrowesnest.co.uk/sparrowe-family/), I see that Grimston House was once the home of Devereux Edgar (1651-1739), who married Temperance Sparrow(e) in 1681. It was among several properties bequeathed to her by his will (dated 1739; proved 1742, PCC): “my Mansion or Capital Dwellinghouse called Grimston House Situate in St Mary Tower Parish in Ipswich aforesaid wherein I now dwell with all the Houses Outhouses Stables & Buildings Orchards Gardens and Appurten(an)ces”.

      Temperance is reported to have died in her 101st year in December 1754. That was twelve months after John Kirby’s death, which occurred at his son William’s house in Ipswich, according to John Blatchly’s introduction to the Suffolk Records Society publication, John Kirby’s Suffolk: His Maps and Roadbooks (2004, p. xv). It seems that both John Kirby and Temperance Edgar had left Grimston(e) House before passing on, and Blatchly suggests that Kirby may not have been there longer than three years: “By 1751, the Kirbys had moved to Ipswich”. But Blatchly appears to have relied heavily on (or perhaps collaborated with) Tony Copsey, whose book, Suffolk Writers from the beginning until 1800 (2000), provides no evidence of John Kirby’s location between 1741 and 1751.

      John’s youngest son, Francis Kirby (c.1727/28-1745/46), was “of Wickham” when he was admitted to Seckford Grammar School, Woodbridge, in April 1741 (Liber Admissionum, F. A. Crisp, 1900). John’s address was “Wickham-Market” at the head of a letter sent in June 1741 to his son Joshua about the death of another son, Stephen (1717/18-1741). The letter is transcribed in a biography of Joshua’s daughter Sarah (1741-1810), entitled Some Account of the Life and Writings of Mrs. Trimmer, first published in 1814. Also transcribed there is a letter dated September 1738 from Stephen Kirby at “Bisely” [possibly the Norfolk village of Brisley?], telling his brother Joshua: “when your business calls you to Schole [presumably Scole], I hope you will come on to Bisely, and stay a few days, where you will be heartily welcome”.

      Another letter written by John Kirby from Wickham Market in June 1741 was addressed to his eldest son, John (1715-1750), a London lawyer who was to become Under-Treasurer at the Middle Temple in 1747/48. This letter was printed in John Freeman’s book, Life of the Rev. William Kirby, M.A. (1852, p. 5).

      Those 19th-century texts are freely available online. I’d be glad to learn of any others that may throw more light on the early history of the Kirby family.


      1. David Gobbitt


        Are you sure it was Joshua’s father who owned Tower House? Today I noticed John Kirby’s name in that vicinity on Pennington’s 1778 map of Ipswich (http://www.ipswich-lettering.co.uk/bethesda.html). I think this was Joshua’s cousin (c.1737-1797), an attorney. Although the house is not named in his will (PCC 1797), the properties to be sold include a “Capital Messuage with the Outhouses Yards Gardens Hereditaments and Premises thereto belonging … in the … Parish of Saint Mary Tower in Ipswich … now in my own Occupation” as well as a piece of land called Copt Hall, probably near the Tower Ditches. These sound very much like those described in Devereux Edgar’s will, which I mentioned yesterday.

        I know of no kinship with the Edgar family to explain how John Kirby might have acquired Tower House but the Edgars’ estate manager was Joshua’s brother William Kirby of Witnesham and Baylham (1719-1791). His will (Suffolk Archdeaconry, 1791) left an escritoire (writing desk) to one of the Milesons in that family: “I give to Mileson Edgar Esqr my Escrutoire [sic] which was his great Grandmother Bridgmans.”

  6. linoblbl

    The Royal Collection at Windsor website now illustrates all its William Kirby’s drawings made in Rome. It is as yet unexplained why they are associated with the name of Giovanni Stern, the interior decorator now little known, except for designing the offices of Italy’s Prime Minister in the Palazzo Chigi.

  7. Sue Rudland

    Amazing information, thank you all for sharing. I am liaising with the Ipswich Society as we speak and whose chairman has more to add. I will be sharing the above information with them and investigating how they may be able to assist. I will post updates on here. Some of the information and email correspondence we have obtained, between a local historian and the late John Blatchly himself, makes for an interesting read and references the aforementioned Temperance and Deveraux to name but a few. And your comments highlight the need for me to revisit, read again and create a tree of owners/inheritors and residents.

  8. brianlynch731

    See the link below to ‘Anecdotes of Painters’ by the artist Edward Edwards (1738-1806), who did a lot of work for Horace Walpole. Edwards describes the fractious meeting at the Castle Tavern in London at which Joshua Kirby was elected President of the Society of Artists. The subsequent entry on Kirby is very dismissive of his abilities as an artist and his character as a man, probably because Edwards opposed what he called ‘the malcontents’ who were trying to take over the Society. In a footnote Edwards refers to the death of William Kirby and the fame of Sarah Trimmer.


      1. brianlynch731

        William Kirby was in Rome at the same time as James Paine junior, son of Kirby’s rival James senior. The Paines were at odds with each other as can be seen in this article:

        James Paine Junior: An Unbuilt Architect
        Author(s): Peter Leach
        Source: Architectural History, Vol. 27, Design and Practice in British Architecture: Studies in Architectural History Presented to Howard Colvin (1984), pp. 392-405
        Published by: SAHGB Publications Limited
        Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1568481

        If you have difficulty accessing it please email me at brianlynch035@gmail.com

      2. brianlynch731

        Paine was extremely irascible. On one occasion he shouted from his window at a passerby, George Stubbs, so loudly that the whole street heard him. See p.128 of Hargreaves. It would appear that as soon as James Jnr reached 21 (and inherited some money from his mother) he went to Rome, in part to get away from his father.

  9. David Gobbitt

    If Sue Rudland is still researching Tower House, the following details may be of interest.

    From “The East Anglian; or, Notes and Queries”, new series, vol. X, p. 118 (Aug. 1903): “Thomas Edgar, Esq., Recorder of Ipswich, eldest son of Lionel Edgar, of Framsden, born 20th November, 1602, married Mary, daughter and heiress of Philip Powle, Esq., of London, 1635, died April 12th, 1692, at Grimstone House, in Tower Street, Ipswich, where he had lived…”

    His will (dated 1690; probate Suffolk Archdeaconry 1696) is abstracted in Frank Grace’s 2017 compilation of 17th-century Ipswich wills, “In The Name Of God Amen” (pp. 106 & 107). After the death of his wife in 1695, their son Devereux Edgar (1651-1739) would inherit the capital messuage in the parish of St Mary le Tower, Ipswich. The will also refers to Devereux’s brother Thomas (c.1646-1677), deploring the trouble and expense caused by the oversight and folly of the latter’s widow (Agatha née Mileson) who had married again “improvidently with a man deeply indebted and of small or no estate” (John Bruce or Brewes) and died without assets in 1683.

    Thomas and Agatha’s son, the first Mileson Edgar (c.1677-1713), married Alice Shaw at St Clement’s, Ipswich, in 1698. Her second husband was Orlando Bridg(e)man of Combs Hall, Suffolk, M.P. for Ipswich 1714-15 (https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1690-1715/member/bridgeman-orlando-ii-1680-1731). They married at St Bride’s, Fleet Street, London, in 1716 and were both buried at Combs in 1731. Alice was the great-grandmother of the fourth man named Mileson Edgar (c.1760-1830), to whom her escritoire was bequeathed by William Kirby in 1791, as noted here last year.


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