James Paine 1717 – 1789: Architect of Doncaster Mansion House

In 1717, in the small market town of Andover in Hampshire, James Paine was born into an obscure and humble family. From his modest beginning as the youngest son of a carpenter, he became one of the greatest Palladian architects of his generation. He moved to London at the age of 18 to study at St. Martin’s Lane Academy. While there, Paine was introduced to the elegant Rococo style by prominent figures including the artist William Hogarth. From the start of his career he is largely credited with bringing this style to the North of England and popularising it in ornamental architectural plasterwork. English taste in architecture during Paine’s youth was Palladian, a style strongly based around the classical temple and symmetry. From the beginning of his career, he demonstrated a natural grasp of these architectural features.

At the age of just 19, Paine left London for Yorkshire on his first professional commission at Nostell Priory in 1737. From this stepping stone, he began a fruitful career not only in the North, but throughout England.

As his fame spread, he published two volumes of ‘Plans, Elevations, and Sections, of Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Houses’ in 1767 and 1783, a publication of his works to which many influential figures subscribed, including King George III. These volumes included plates of his work accompanied by explanatory text that offer a rare insight into the mind of the architect himself, discussing architectural processes and how he worked with patrons.

One of James Paine’s most significant and lasting impacts has been left on the profession of the architect. Along with his contemporary Sir Robert Taylor, Paine was among the first English architects to take articled (trainee) pupils into his office; from this period, we can date the real existence of an architectural profession, in which young men were trained. Prior to this, architects either progressed from another trade or entered the profession through a combination of circumstance and enthusiasm, often late in life.

His death in 1789, at the age of 72, did not take place in England, but in France where he retired to live out the last of his life. It is certainly odd to choose France during its revolutionary years to seek peace, and the site of his grave is, regrettably unknown.

While we can attribute 104 projects to his name throughout England, many more may be hidden, waiting to be discovered.

Take a tour of the Mansion House with James Paine.