The Bucks stopped here…

detail from A Prospect of Carmarthen

For about three decades in the mid-18thc two  brothers from Yorkshire, Samuel and  Nathaniel Buck, toured Britain every summer. They sketched towns, landscapes, estates and antiquities, and every winter they turned their sketches into engravings for publication.

Their work is an important source of evidence of what there was, and what has gone – including gardens – but it is also an important factor in understanding the development of the whole idea of what it meant to be British in the 18thc.

The Buck Brothers, 1774, British Museum

detail from Chirk Castle

Unless otherwise stated the images in this post come from Robert Sayer’s 1774 compilation and re-issue of the Buck’s work – Buck’s Antiquities or Venerable Remains of above four hundred Castles, Monasteries, Palaces etc etc in England and Wales. As Sayer said in his Preface “as this undertaking was carried on by the sole effort of Two Men it will rather excite astonishment at their progress than admit of cavil at any omission.” It is not on-line as far as I can see, however many of the original prints can be found via google searches.

detail from Buckland Priory

I’m going to start with a brief philosophical diversion: how does a nation define itself?  [Skip the next couple  paragraphs if you like!]  One way is definitely by  writing [or rewriting or even inventing]  its own history, and fixing that  in the public consciousness.  The way we perceive our past helps us find our future.  It has parallels even today with the way we regard Br*****  with one side choosing to see our past in one way, and claiming it points the way to the future, while the other side sees exactly the same things but believes they  foretells  a very different future.    Envisaging a new Britain was  almost as important in the early 18thc when the idea of Britain was, believe it or not, a new “concept”. The Scottish and English Parliaments were only united in 1707 and  our  victory in the wars against the French in the War of the Spanish Succession which made us a world power both altered our self-perception.   Our national history had to be “adapted” to new circumstances.

detail from Belso [ie Belsay] Castle

At the forefront of this  were antiquarians who revived an interest in  the monuments of the past and tried to weave  them into a coherent national story. It wasn’t necessarily accurate – indeed it often wasn’t – but that didn’t matter.  The Buck brothers provided visual evidence to support this process. Between 1726 and 1753 they  published  81 prospects of towns,  as well as views of well over 400 antiquities such as ruined abbeys and castles. These constitute, argues Andrew Kennedy in his PhD thesis on British topographical prints,  “the most significant print series produced in Britain in the first half of the 18th century” and provided the imagery for what the rising British middle class thought of as “our history.”

The South East Prospect of Leeds

It all started in 1719 when a group of Yorkshire antiquarians including Ralph Thoresby and John Warburton encouraged Samuel, the elder brother, then just 23,  to sketch views  for a history of the county that Warburton was writing.  While they wanted drawings of antiquities  they also wanted modernity, and asked him to draw urban centres too,  including Leeds [Thoresby’s home town] which was already becoming industrialised.

from Samuel’s first known sketch book, 1719/20 British Library

Samuel was soon introduced to  William Stukeley and  began attending meetings of the Society of Antiquaries which had been founded in 1707. He also began accompanying Stukeley and other fellows of the society on their horseback tours of  the country  investigating monuments and landscapes. His job was to record the scene for them, in much the same way a photographer would today. At first his efforts, as can be seen in a very early sketch book now in the British Library, were “amateurish” to put it mildly but Stukeley saw his potential.

Samuel’s drawings of the ruins of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire were shown at a Society meeting in 1723, and that led to the publication of his first sets of engravings of Yorkshire antiquities and ruins in 1724 and 1726. Some of these were however not based on his own drawings but those in the collections of  his patrons.

detail from a prospect of York

Nathaniel, his younger brother, was also a capable artist  but he had even greater talent  as a salesman. Soon he   began a marketing campaign  looking for subscribers for these sets of engravings and commissions for future possible ones.  Amongst his ploys was  offering  to feature the properties of subscribers or to add flattering inscriptions, and the campaign worked, because  15 out of the 24 plates published in the 1726 Yorkshire series  were dedicated to owners, who may even have contributed towards the production costs. The print-seller Robert Sayer later commented  that a ‘more respectable list of Subscribers is rarely seen’. It crossed all strands of  the country’s elite – aristocrat and commercial, rural and urban and covered all its political and cultural interests.

Stukeley’s Itinerarium Curiosum published in 1724  included a plea for the recording of all of Britain’s antiquities, and this seems to have inspired the Bucks  to pursue a more ambitious project  of  doing just that.  Nathaniel even drummed up business by making  house calls on potential subscribers. A set of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire scenes  was issued in 1727 , and Lancashire and Cheshire followed in 1728, and then the brothers announced they would visit and record all the northern counties.   After that their summer tours visited the Midlands, the South and then Wales,  eventually leading to  a total of 17 sets of views, usually of 24 plates each. These were  generally arranged by county or groups of neighbouring counties, and included every English and Welsh county except Radnorshire.

Between 1728 and 1753 they also produced a separate series of smaller single sheet prospects of the country’s towns, sold in sets of six, at 15 shillings a set, and one much larger 5 sheet panorama of London from the Thames that was about 4 metre long when joined together.

We know from the sketches and notes that have survived that these summer  trips were always well prepared. Adverts soliciting subscriptions were taken out in the areas they were to visit although there were often problems because of the poor state of the roads.  In any case travel on horseback with servants and a packhorse for the equipment was  uncomfortable and slow.   They sketched initially in pencil, blocking in rather including all the details, and often did drawings of any important buildings separately.

By the autumn they were ready to return to London to turn these into engravings. This often included assistance from other artists to transfer the drawings onto copper plates, or add detail such as figures in the foregrounds. That process took all winter and publishing usually was not until the following March or April. Once the subscription list had been provided with their prints any spares would be available to the public.

They were, however, not cheap.   At 2 guineas a set they were much more expensive than the run-of-the-mill topographical print of the time, which tended to be smaller in scale but only about a shilling a set.  The Bucks clearly aimed at an elite clientele of  the wealthy and dedicated antiquarians, but while this exclusivity might initially have limited their wider influence,  as so often happened they were later copied for a more general market.

Panorama of London, 1774 edition Plate 1, New Westminster Bridge to Treasury Building.


Yet despite their price they were often not particularly well drawn or engraved, and Ralph Hyde catalogues a list of probable inaccuracies. However, the one print that has been comprehensively analysed – the London series – has been proved to be very close to what we know from other sources.[Hugh Philips The Thames about 1750, 1950]. The only “inaccuracy” is that the Thames is shown “straight” rather than “curved”this was done by stitching together a series of drawings taken from different high points along the south bank. A set of this London panorama was was recently on  sale at Peter Harrington Books for £12,000.

Panorama of London, 1774 edition Plate 2, Whitehall to Somerset House.

The Bucks moved their base to the Middle Temple in London in 1735 where they remained for the rest of their working lives. Nathaniel died sometime between 1753 and 1759 but Samuel continued working, teaching drawing, watercolours  and perspective. He also exhibited his work at the Free Society of Artists, the Society of Artists and the Royal Academy. He was however poor and his friends had to support him financially too once he reached his 80s. He died in August 1779 and was buried in St Clement Danes churchyard  on the Strand.

Panorama of London, 1774 edition, Plate 3, Somerset House to Bridewell

So what made the Bucks  influential? It was partly because gradually their subscribers  included the middle class, professionals and better-off tradespeople who were becoming more interested in our national past as well as showing off contemporary prosperity which came largely from the  trade  and industry they were running.

Wetherall Priory, with the gardens of Corby castle behind, British Library

In many instances the past and present are combined. History and modernity  can be seen side by side, for example, in the 1739 view of Wetherall Priory in Cumberland. Behind the historic gatehouse are the contemporary gardens and grounds of Corby Castle, with its cascade to the left and  neo-Palladian garden temple to the right.  Mind you to make the image work visually  the Bucks had to  ‘shift’ the gatehouse about 150 yards.

detail from Waverley Abbey

This is an early sign of the importance of the historic ruin in the landscape. It was a way of rooting the present landed elite in the landed traditions of the distant past, suggesting continuity and stability as well as the march of ‘progress’. Similar things can be seen in some earlier posts:  Mounts and Mounds and Torrington.

detail from Chirk Castle


Contemporaries recognized that what the brothers  were doing was capturing ancient sites before they fell victim to the ‘inexorable Jaws of Time’.  Joseph Strutt’s 1785 Dictionary of Engravers noted that “in many instances [these] are the only views we have of the places represented; and in some the only views e will ever have as several of the ruins engraved have since that tome been totally destroyed. Although as will be seen from the full dictionary entry Strutt wasn’t as flattering as they might have liked.

Clattercote Priory, Oxfordshire.                                                                                                                            Just one small rather plain formal garden, top left, all the rest of the grounds rough grass

From a garden historian’s point of view they show how little garden many houses, like Clattercote Priory, actually had…

how boringly plain others were ,and how little they had changed…

Hartlebury Castle, Worcestershire, 1731


with the Elizabethan-style plain great court still surviving in many cases with very little modification

Drayton House, Northamptonshire


There are few signs of the grand baroque gardens we are used to seeing in Kip and Knyff engravings of  grander country houses in Britannia Illustrata just a couple of decades earlier.  Powis Castle is probably the best example in the series…

Powis Castle
National Trust


But there were a couple of other surprising gardens. Probably most notable were the grounds of Belvoir Castle where the slopes were laid out with walks and  a line of statues…


The Bucks foreshadowed the picturesque too.  They were the first to illustrate Dolbarden Castle  on the Llanberis Pass in Wales with its rugged mountain backdrop, almost like a theatrical stage set.   But at the same time Dolbarden is described  ‘an ancient British fort’ once again rooting the site and the view in a long and continuing national history.

Dolbarden Castle, 1742

Their townscapes are equally carefully contrived. These were towns for tourists,  the new wave of genteel visitors who travelled the country to see the sights for their own sake.

South East Prospect of Bath

detail from Derby

At the same time the brothers  often include  local  industries including factories – in their images, but, without any of the associated grot!  Towns and suburbs are always neat and tidy, well-ordered and  pleasing to the eye. Kennedy is clear this “is ‘industry’ in the sense of pleasing ‘industriousness’ “,  rather than the dark satanic mills of  William Blake.

Would you guess, for example,  that their view of Derby has a huge new silk factory, which ran on the latest mechanical technology, slap-bang in its centre.

detail from Bristol

Even in views of Bristol which was the country’s second city and an industrial and commercial centre with large docks, tobacco and sugar factories there is little sign of the smoke and pollution there undoubtedly was.  Industry here is almost genteel and, like the port, drawn from a viewpoint which separated it from the city proper.

They even manage to make London look like it had clean air and no real industrial detritus. Their  1749 five-sheet panorama  of the capital, makes it look neat, tidy and unpolluted, pretty much the exact opposite of reality.

Panorama of London, 1774 edition, Plate 4, Fleet Ditch to St. Michael’s Church – Bassingshaw.


In 1774  long after Nathaniel was dead and Samuel had stopped work,  Robert Sayer, a  leading London print seller  acquired the plates and made a killing by reissuing prints in a whole series of different forms from more affordable single sheets  at 18 guineas a set , to collections bound into 3 volumes for 20 guineas. Sayer’s reissue meant that the Bucks images spread far wider than the original largely elite circle  – they have been found in India and China – whilst , as Ralph Hyde argued, also  becoming  “embedded in the public consciousness” in Britain.  More than that, Andrew Kennedy believes their style also served as .”the prototypes of thousands of derivatives produced by a community of topographical artists, book and magazine illustrators for years to come” They were still being issued from the original plates as late as 1813

Panorama of London, 1774 edition, Plate 5, Old Street Church to The Tower of London.

detail from Powis castle

The last words should be the poem engraved on the double portrait of the brothers in Sayers re-issue:

Long, Ancient Structures and ennobled Domes The Work of Ages past, neglected lay Till you, O BUCKS! By emulation fired Snatched from th’inexorable Jaws of Time The Mouldering Ruins of each loftie Pile To future Ages shall your fame be known And your great Works immortalize your Names While others, by Misfortune, scarce survive You, Phoenix like, by your own RUINS live.

detail from Chirk Castle

For more on the Bucks see:

A prospect of Britain : the town panoramas of Samuel and Nathaniel Buck / Ralph Hyde. 1994

Charles II’s unfinished and abandoned palace at Winchester



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2 Responses to The Bucks stopped here…

  1. Another wonderful post – thank you. The Bucks’ prospects are of great interest in Norfolk for providing what appears to be the only image of My Lord’s Gardens in Norwich. After Charles II restored the title, the Duke of Norfolk, Henry Howard, engaged John Evelyn to design the first pleasure garden outside London. This was on the opposite side of the city to the cramped and sinking ducal palace. The Bucks’ 1741 prospect shows a large, formal parterre with intersecting walks. However, concerning your point about inaccuracies, although later maps confirm this to be the site of My Lord’s Gardens, the Bucks attributed this to the smaller, competitor – Spring Gardens. See

  2. Georgina Craufurd says:

    Hello, David,

    I was fascinated by your latest post on the Bucks, partly by the views of Chirk Castle (which I visited 2 weeks ago) but also that in the short time between Kip & Knyff and the Bucks’ visit, so many formal gardens had already disappeared. So poor Brown was not to blame!

    So many thanks again for all your work,

    Georgina (Craufurd)

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