William Hustler’s Legacy (The Art of Acklam Hall, Middlesbrough)

The turmoil of the mid-seventeenth-century in England; a period that witnessed the English Civil War, the Protectorate and the Restoration, led to opportunity for those ruthless enough to grab it, and William Hustler: High Sheriff of Yorkshire, MP for Northallerton, and the builder of Acklam Hall (in today’s Middlesbrough) was one such man.

Charles II’s return to Great Britain to claim the crown caused chaos, and as all Game of Thrones fans know, chaos is a ladder. Among the executions and downfalls which hammered the Parliamentarian gentry, ambitious men like Hustler found rewards for their support of the king.

But “unnoble” men like Hustler faced challenges. They came from comparatively modest backgrounds and had none of that so-called “pedigree” or experience of life in the upper classes. What they did have (much more importantly than knowing which fork to use) was money. And they used this money to buy what “noble men” of the past had inherited: houses, titles, royal favour, art – you name it, the merchant class could buy it.

The grandson of a successful draper from Bridlington (i.e. new money) who had bought the Acklam Grange estate, Hustler had supported Charles II during the restoration of the monarchy, and in return he wanted into the ranks of the upper classes as quickly as he could. But to do that he needed all the things that went along it. And so – step one – he commissioned the building of Acklam Hall in 1680.

The hall was a perfect base for Hustler’s upper-class aspirations. Simple yet decorous, it exhibited both classical and fashionably modern European features. Hustler’s choices in the design of his new home were an attempt to craft a cultured façade, leaving the taint of trade far behind.

Just thirty years earlier, the homes of the gentry and nobility were being plundered by the opposing forces of the English Civil Wars. Now it was safe to build again. The very act of building a house is an investment in stability, and Hustler’s wealth enabled him to transform the modest Acklam Grange into the stately Acklam Hall; a place more befitting a man of his ambitions. Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley characterised the country house as ‘the centrepiece of a formidable statement being made about wealth, authority and status’,1 and it’s within this context that we can understand Hustler’s motivations for building one.

Houses of the Tudor period and earlier – for the average gentry family at least – were often laid out in a fairly haphazard fashion. The notion of function over form was in evidence. Architectural expert Trevor Yorke argued that late medieval houses of the 15th and 16th centuries would, ‘appear to be a jumble of buildings of various shapes and sizes, usually looking in upon a courtyard with the latest fashionable accessories, the gatehouse and chimney’2, and the reason for this lack of a unified style was partly due to the vernacular design of the buildings – they had to be useful above all. In an age before professional architects, local masons would construct ‘using local methods passed down from generations’.3

Also important: the difference between seventeenth century homes and those before them was highlighted by the pre-1600 prominence of defensive elements rather than aesthetic values – basically, people might attack you.

By the time Acklam Hall was built the emphasis had shifted completely to favour architecture constructed along the principles of symmetry, display and consistent design – basically, people probably won’t attack you.

The very concept of a country house was transformed in this period. From being a place which looked inwards onto a courtyard where people tended to live communally, residences such as Hustler’s became more private and restricted, with separate floors for master and servant (after all, an aspiring noble didn’t want to be seen living with the help). The landed estate may have become, as Wilson and Mackley declared, ‘a statement of exclusiveness and authority’,4 but seventeenth century estate houses were often much smaller than previous designs due to the decline of large feudal households. It was no longer necessary to accommodate tens or even hundreds of servants.

The design of the previous house on the Hustler estate is unfortunately lost, but A.D. Matthews believes that it probably contained a similar layout to the aforementioned late medieval homes, with a central hall in which families and servants would dine together.5 In the late 1600s this was viewed as deeply unfashionable, even vulgar, and someone as class conscious as Hustler would not make this mistake in his plans for Acklam Hall: distinct areas were built for servants and family.

Acklam Hall is modelled in the Dutch Palladian style of the mid-to-late seventeenth century. Although it has subsequently been remodelled and altered, the contemporary etchings by Dutch artists Leonard Kniff and Johannes Kip show a flat-fronted building, built in a ‘single handsome block, capped with a noble hipped roof’.6 The actual architect is unknown but need not have been Dutch himself; the uncomplicated style of the building would have rendered it relatively straightforward to design and build for any experienced architect.

The Etching (1707)
Etching of Acklam Hall by Leonard Kniff and Johannes Kip (1707).

In the early 1700s, Dutchmen Leonard Kniff and Johannes Kip – who’d already travelled across the channel – made the journey north to Cleveland, and that brings us to our first artwork.

Kip and Kniff (or Knyff) were draughtsmen and engravers who had the plum job of visiting England’s richest estates and drawing them. They’re best known for their Britannia Illustrata; a collection of topographical views of English country houses.7 Their etching of Acklam Hall (see above) is a presumably accurate (if geographically disproportionate) view of the building, which gives us one of the few independent, contemporary depictions of the hall’s appearance. For someone of Hustler’s background to be included would have been a feather in his cap; a bit like landing an Eighteenth Century Hello Magazine spread.

However, Kip and Kniff’s work probably wasn’t quite as prestigious as they’d hoped. The engravings are detailed but massively repetitive (Kip and Kniff engraved over eighty English estates in similar fashion), and compared to the dreamlike landscape paintings of some of the great palaces of the time,8 they’re pretty pedestrian. Nice, but a bit dull.

Nevertheless, for the two engravers to visit Hustler’s own home probably meant more to him than it would to more established members of the nobility, who doubtless couldn’t move for painters and the like darkening their doors.

The engraving itself gives us a distorted view of the surrounding landscape; scrupulously accurate when rendering William’s own land, the outlying reaches are foreshortened to include the River Tees in the background. This may simply have been an aesthetic thing, but it was more likely a subtle attempt to enhance the apparent size of Hustler’s estate, and thus his influence. Kip and Kniff, if following their usual routine, would have been staying at the hall itself, recipients of Hustler’s hospitality and all that entailed, and without an aerial perspective it would have been impossible to say what the view from above really looked like. The overstatement would hurt nobody, but benefit Hustler.

Whatever the truth, an undeniable attempt to exaggerate Hustler’s authority on the banks of the Tees was not far away.

The Lordship of Acklam Plan (A.K.A. Middlesbrough’s Mappa Mundi, 1716)
‘The Lordship of Acklam Plan’ (1716). Restored in the early twenty-first century, the map is now semi-humorously known as ‘Middlesbrough’s Mappa Mundi’. Acklam Hall is circled in red. You can find the map at the Dorman Museum in Middlesbrough.

Estate maps were already important for any landowner worth their salt. They helped the owner to decide on rents and land values, and were invaluable in dividing up land after death.

Hustler – on the up but keen to impress – commissioned one in 1716, but one look at his ‘Lordship of Acklam Plan’ makes it clear that this map is pretty much useless for all of the things mentioned above. Instead it’s a representation of power and authority, and man whose roots in the English gentry were not yet fully embedded couldn’t afford to be without one.

It is the uniqueness of this map that catches the eye, and from it we can work out something of Hustler’s rather elusive personality. The sheer size of the plan is almost ridiculous; in its current form it measures 13 ft, although historians Peter Mitchell and Phillip Bourne say that it was ‘originally some 30cm larger in each dimension’.9 Lord knows where he kept it.

Also noteworthy: the work does not appear to be the work of a professional mapmaker, but of ‘a brilliant amateur’.10 This seems somewhat weird; why Hustler would choose an layman to execute such an ambitious project is a mystery, especially when he spent his money freely elsewhere.

At first glance, the scale and scope of the plan are also a little off. The map shows lands beyond Hustler’s reach, and his great hall is represented in a tiny, sparsely detailed line drawing. Although the map shows most of the enclosed fields of the current Teesside area, Mitchell and Bourne maintain that the document ‘is much too big to be handleable about the property and too crudely rendered for detailed measurement and decision making in office or library’. Therefore their conclusion is that its ultimate purpose was to be ‘an act of propaganda – a gesture of iconic proportions’.11

This seems to have a ring of truth; the map not only shows the property Hustler owns, but that which he intends to own. His home was some 35 years old by the time the map was produced, but his lands were still growing; and they were the focus of the chart. The plan of his estates gave William something to aim for. It’s a 18th Century vision board.

Simply put, the “Mappa Mundi” (“Map of the World” as it was light-heartedly referred to by its restorers after having been rediscovered in 1910) makes it appear as if Hustler owned most of the land around the Tees.

He didn’t.

The map is a document of a growing estate; but it’s also a canny brag. Look at all this land, and it’s all mine (just don’t look too closely).

Unlike the etchings of the two Dutch draughtsmen, the ‘Lordship of Acklam Plan’ was Hustler’s own commission, and presumably his own idea. By 1716 William’s reputation had grown significantly. He had been knighted by the former king, rebuilt his house in a grand fashion, and had it included amongst the foremost seats in the country. Mitchell and Bourne said that ‘the painting, by its size and anonymity, serves as a highly potent symbol’.12 Another piece of the puzzle in cementing the Hustler legacy. Another rung of the ladder.

A Doubtful Visit – The Charles II Crest (1684)
Charles II: William Hustler’s would-be BFF

Before his fancy map and engraving, Hustler made sure the inside of his country pile matched the exterior. And what better way to do this than with a not-so-subtle nod to the man who helped make him who he was?

The popularity of stucco-duro had been growing since it was first brought to England in the 1530s.13 Slow drying and therefore easy to mould and shape, stucco allowed artists to incorporate exquisite ornamentation and intricacy into their work. Henry VIII commissioned a great many ‘artificers, architects, sculptors, and statuaries – Italian, French and Dutch’14 to complete his imperious Nonsuch Palace, and included amongst their numbers were stucco plasterers, whose skills were passed on to English craftsmen.

Henry VII’s Nonesuch Palace was full of stucco duro.

Charles II was an admirer of the form, and in the 1670s he commissioned John Halbert (or Houlbert) and George Dunserfield to create stucco decoration for the rebuilt Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, which had been destroyed during a visit from Cromwell’s troops in 1650.15

The theory is that – on their return from Scotland – Dunserfield and Halbert made stucco decoration for Hustler at Acklam Hall. You can still see this work on the ceiling of the saloon.

The centrepiece of all this is Charles II’s royal coat of arms (dated 1684, a date coinciding with the completion of the work at Holyrood), and numerous repetitive elements of the design work bear a striking resemblance to elements of the work at the King’s palace. A.D. Matthews contends that ‘[t]he modelling of the wreaths, the flying doves and griffons so exactly correspond to the technique at Holyrood that it is reasonable to suppose that Halbert decorated this ceiling on his journey southwards to London’.16

The coat of arms of King Charles II, as represented in stucco on the ceiling of Acklam Hall.

Even if the work was not completed by Halbert and Dunserfield, the choice of design is telling; Hustler not only showing his loyalty to Charles in his choice of design, but also in his decision to use a similar (in some areas practically identical) style of stucco decoration as Charles selected in Scotland.18

Hustler family legend states that the coat of arms decoration was designed to commemorate a private visit from Charles II to Acklam Hall but this seems doubtful. There are no independent records of this, and given the royal personage involved it’s unlikely a visit would have occurred without some mention in the records. Nevertheless – like a selfie with a celebrity – the Stuart coat of arms displayed on the Acklam Hall ceiling would make visitors feel that Hustler was close to the king.

Hustler by name, hustler by nature. William’s support of the king helped him climb the ladder of Stuart society. However, to play the part he needed all the trappings that went with his intended position. This is why these symbols – the hall, the map, the etching, the plasterwork – were so important to him. People of Hustler’s background weren’t supposed to be mixing with kings and nobles, so he had to look the part and create his own legitimacy in his surroundings.

It didn’t last.

Just two generations of his death, William’s estate had been “parcelled up” amongst relatives, and in the twentieth century it passed out of family hands. All that work slipping away within a few decades. Acklam Hall (with the stucco hanging above customers at the steakhouse it’s become) and the huge “Mappa Mundi” both still survive into the twenty-first century and it’s great that we can still appreciate them, but for William Hustler, it’s probably not enough.


1 Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, Creating Paradise: The Building of the English Country House 1660-1880 (Hambledon and London, 2000), p. xvii.
2 Trevor Yorke, The Country House Explained (Countryside, 2003), pp. 12-13.
3 Ibid.
4 Wilson and Mackley, p. 5.
5 A.D. Matthews, Acklam Hall: A House and its History (1997), p. 17.
6 Matthews, p. 11.
7 ‘Johannes Kip’ Artnet Biographies Website.
8 Many English country houses of the seventeenth century were painted in the Dutch or Flemish manner and reflected idealised rural estates. In keeping with the continental influence of the period, it is Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck who is widely credited with founding the “English tradition” of landscape painting.
9 Larry Bruce (ed.), Middlesbrough’s Mappa Mundi: The Lordship of Acklam Plan 1716 (Middlesbrough, 2003), p. 3.
10 Bruce, p. 3.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 George P. Bankart gives the date as 1538, when Nonesuch Palace was built by Henry VIII, in his 1909 book The Art of the Plasterer (London: Batsford), p. 45.
14 Ibid.
15 R. S. Mylne, ‘The Master Masons of Scotland’ The Scottish Review: Vol. 24 (1894), p. 330.
16 Matthews, p. 31.
17 John Burke and John Bernard Burke in A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Colburn, 1850), p. 176. The Burkes give the specific date of 14th May 1673, which corroborates with other sources such as the Royal College of Physicians’ ‘English-speaking medical students attending European universities in the 17th century’, however the date of Sir William’s knighthood is sometimes given as 1678. Either way, Hustler was knighted before he commissioned the decoration.
18 Interestingly given his Italian choice of interior design, William’s father studied medicine at the University of Padua. A Gulielmus (Dutch for William) Hustler of York appears on a list of English-speaking students at the university in 1652.

Primary Sources (as I wrote this over a decade ago, there are a few dead links, sorry)

Calendar of State Papers Domestic: William & Mary 1689-1702
Accessed 22nd March 2010.
House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1695-1730
Accessed 30th March 2010.
‘Etching of Acklam Hall’ by Leonard Kniff and Johannes Kip (1707).
‘Acklam Hall, West Front, the Seat of William Hustler’ drawing by Warburton (c. 1710).
‘The Lordship of Acklam Plan’ (1716).
‘Map of Middlesbrough and Acklam’ presented by Sir Alfred E. Pease (c. 1730).
‘The Will of Sir William Hustler of Acklam’ (Dec 1730).
Sir John Reresby, Memoirs of Sir John Reresby (Royal Historical Society, London, 1991).
William Salkeld, Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Court of King’s Bench (London: Strahan and Woodfall, 1795).
Ralph Thoresby, The Diary of Ralph Thoresby: 1677-1724 (London: Colburn and Bentley, 1830).

Secondary Sources

George P. Bankart, The Art of the Plasterer (London: Batsford, 1909).
Sarah Bendall, ‘Estate Maps’, in Helen Wallis and Anita McConnell (eds.), Historian’s Guide to Early British Maps (London: British Library, 1994).
Sarah Bendall, ‘Estate Maps of an English County: Cambridgeshire, 1600-1836’ in David Buisseret, Rural Images: Estate Maps in the Old and New Worlds (Chicago, 1996), pp. 63-91.
Timothy Brook, Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (Profile: London, 2008).
Larry Bruce (ed.), Middlesbrough’s Mappa Mundi: The Lordship of Acklam Plan 1716
(Middlesbrough, 2003).
John Burke and John Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Colburn, 1850).
John Bernard Burke, A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1853).
Daniel Cochran, Sir William Hustler: Patronage and the Rise of the New Gentry (Teesside University Dissertation, 2010).
Joseph Foster, Pedigrees of the County Families of Yorkshire: Vol 2. North & East Riding (1874).
Claire Gapper, ‘What Is ‘Stucco’? English Interpretations of an Italian Term’ Architectural History: Vol. 42 (1999).
John Gough Nichols, The Topographer and Genealogist: Vol. 1. (London, 1846).
E. Kimber and R. Johnson, The Baronetage of England (London, 1771).
Christopher Long, ‘Architecture: The Built Object’ in Karen Harvey (ed.), History and Material Culture (London: Routledge, 2009).
H. J. Louw, ‘Anglo-Netherlandish Architectural Interchange c. 1600-c. 1660’ Architectural History: Vol. 24 (1981).
A.D. Matthews, Acklam Hall: A House and its History (1997).
R. S. Mylne, ‘The Master Masons of Scotland’ The Scottish Review: Vol. 24 (1894).
William Page (ed.), A History of the County of York North Riding: Vol. 2 (London: Victoria, 1923).
Giorgio Riello, ‘Things that Shape History: Material Culture and Historical Narratives’, in Karen Harvey (ed.), History and Material Culture (London: Routledge, 2009).
E. Ter Kuile et al (ed.), Dutch Art and Architecture, 1600-1800 (London: Penguin, 1978).
Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, Creating Paradise: The Building of the English Country House 1660-1880 (Hambledon and London, 2000).
Trevor Yorke, The Country House Explained (Countryside, 2003).

Online Sources (More dead Links)

‘Johannes Kip’ Artnet Biographies. Accessed 16th April 2010.
‘English-speaking medical students attending European universities in the 17th century’ Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Accessed 2nd April 2010.
Acklam Hall Conservation Area: Appraisal and Management Plan’ Middlesbrough Council Website. Accessed 14th March 2010.

8 thoughts on “William Hustler’s Legacy (The Art of Acklam Hall, Middlesbrough)

  1. Paul Mcintyre March 5, 2022 / 10:33 am

    I remember the “new Town Centre” being built and felt proud that the sculpture was built in Head Wrightsons as my dad and grandfather had worked there.


  2. Ann Thirsk March 6, 2022 / 7:56 am

    I remember discovering ‘Mappa Mundi’ when I started work as an Archivist at Teesside Archives in 1996.I remember going down into the basement and seeing this painting leaning against a wall supported on top of bricks as the basement often flooded. As I also worked part time in the Dorman Museum I mentioned the painting to the Curator who was very intentive when I mentioned to her about this painting as she asked could I describe it, I said that I had never seen anything like it only in books and the only way I could describe it was telling her it had upside down ships.Oh! She said that sounds really old.After our conversation she asked me to ask our Head Archivist next time I was at work at the Archices if she could come along and look at it.So she did and was amazed as on viewing it she realised that it had been a lost painting from the Hustled Estate.The Curator thanked me and the next thing I knew it was being collected to be restored and proudly placed on view at Dorman Museum for the whole world to see.Unfortunately I never got mentioned about discovering this wonderful piece of history but when I saw it hung on the wall in the Museum I felt proud that I played a part of it’s future. Ann Thirsk


    • Daniel Cochran March 6, 2022 / 7:58 am

      That was a fantastic spot Ann. The town owes you a debt. I love the map – it’s so odd and unique. I’d love to know who made it.


    • Daniel Cochran March 6, 2022 / 8:00 am

      Oh, by the way – are there any photos from the restoration?


      • Linda Polley October 14, 2022 / 1:14 pm

        I have contacted the conservators to see whether they have any photos. There were quite a few in the Mappa Mundi booklet.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Daniel Cochran October 16, 2022 / 4:47 am

        That would be fantastic Linda. I still have that booklet in the UK from my MA research somewhere. I’ll dig it out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s