The elegance and simplicity of Killerton House
Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 7th baronet, hired John Johnson to build him a home he would knock down when his new grand house was complete. Yet that house was never built, and it's Johnson's that remains today.
Johnson began his career as an architect in London, designing a number of country houses in the Neo-Classical style.
He began working on Sir Thomas’s house in 1778, collaborating with a local builder named Spring. They used Elizabethan-era foundations and materials in building the new house.
Work progressed quickly and the house was completed by June 1779, the Aclands moving in soon afterward.
Georgian architecture at Killerton
Although Killerton has changed over the years, visitors can still see the original entrance on the south front. This is a fine recessed stone doorway, with a pediment (a triangular section above) supported by columns.
Other aspects of Johnson’s design also remain, such as the Long Corridor with its shallow domes, the frieze of urns and anthemion (a palm-like image) in the Dining Room, and the domed upper corridor with its frieze.
Following a fire in 1924 Sir Francis, 14th Bt, rebuilt this as an open space suited to this large, hospitable family.
Sir Charles, 12th Bt, built the study in 1900. Tenants and employees used the door at the far end so they would not disturb the household. Later generations used the study for more light-hearted activities including wood-turning, boat-building and darts.
Originally the Dining Room, the room is named for the chamber organ installed for Lydia Acland, new wife of Sir Thomas, 10th Bt. They also added the bay window to make room for their family of ten children.
In the 1920s and 1930s this room was the centre of family life. Sir Francis and his family had breakfast and tea here, and gathered after dinner for music and conversation.
The long corridor runs through the house from the original front door. Hardly altered since 1778, it shows Johnson’s simple, elegant design.
Sir Charles created this room for balls and grand functions, moving the front entrance away from here and opening out the front lobby into the adjoining room.
However, the family used it properly only once.
The library and the current dining room were the principal rooms in the original house. The library was the ‘Little Parlour’. It was so light that Henrietta Acland, the 9th Bt’s wife, considered putting paper panels over some of the windows.
The dining room was the ‘Great Parlour’ – the only room Johnson decorated elaborately, with a frieze and columns. Sir Charles added images of agricultural work and silhouettes of himself and his wife, Gertrude, to the ceiling.
Designing the Stable Block
Once the house was completed, Johnson turned his attention to building stables. These were finished in early 1780. The stone stables were built as a quadrangle, with a pedimented archway topped by a cupola (a small dome).
Killerton may only have been meant as a temporary house, but Johnson designed with an excellent feel for elegance and light. Killerton’s long association with the Aclands is a testament to this.