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Although architect John Carr (1723-1807) designed the Hospital Santo António in Porto, Portugal, it has been uncertain whether he ever left the British Isles. He did not for the (1769) Porto commission, it seems. But it has been suggested he did sail to the continent in 1771. Wragg and Worsley write in their monography on John Carr:

A mysterious, and irritatingly unsupported, reference in 1771 suggests that Carr may have visited France. 1)Brian Wragg [edited by Giles Worsley], The life and works of John Carr of York (York, 2000), p49.

Their reference can in part be relieved from its ‘irritatingly unsupported’ qualification: I happened upon a reliable reference that locates Carr on the continent, in that same period of the year. Whether Carr actually went to France, remains uncertain, but it is clear that he was going to visit Holland, probably The Hague.
The reference Wragg and Worsley have, is from a letter dated 30 May 1771:

Mr. Carr is gone (I believe) to France. 2)Wragg/Worsley, p49. This letter was written by John Grimston’s agent, from where and to whom is unclear.

The reference I found is dated two and a half weeks later. On 17 June 1771, Lord Holdernesse wrote to Hendrik Fagel in The Hague, informing him that Carr was going to pay a short visit to Holland. Holdernesse asked Fagel to offer support in order to make his stay in Holland as comfortable as possible:

I beg leave to recommend to your favour and protection my Friend, Mr. Carr, who had the overlooking and management of all my Buildings both at Hornby and Aston. he is a very worthy and very sensible Man, and is taking a short ramble out of England for the first time in his Life. Your Favour and Countenance to Him will be a great Obligation to me. his stay in Holland will be so very short, that he will give you very little Trouble. 3)Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Collectie Fagel, nummer toegang 1.10.29, inventarisnummer 4593.

NPG 4062; John Carr by Sir William BeecheyThe timing of both letters suggests that Carr had already left England at the end of May, and still had to visit Holland two and a half weeks later. That leaves room for a visit to -at least- cities in Belgium, like Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels, before travelling north. But it also leaves room for a (very) short visit to Paris during the first weeks of June.

Some of the mystery remains, because we don’t know anything about his route, or how long his ‘short ramble out of England’ was going to last. It is also not clear why Carr visited the continent, who he was going to meet in Holland, and what he saw. It seems obvious he was not coming to Holland to visit Fagel: in that case the wording would have been different.

John Carr, after 1790 by Sir William Beechey
(© National Portrait Gallery, London).

But architect John Carr’s visit to the continent in 1771 is now confirmed. And we now know for certain that he had not travelled there before.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Brian Wragg [edited by Giles Worsley], The life and works of John Carr of York (York, 2000), p49.
2. Wragg/Worsley, p49. This letter was written by John Grimston’s agent, from where and to whom is unclear.
3. Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Collectie Fagel, nummer toegang 1.10.29, inventarisnummer 4593.
Summary

Afgezien van een opdracht om in Porto een ziekenhuis te ontwerpen, verbleef en werkte de architect John Carr voornamelijk in de noordelijke regio’s van de Britse eilanden. De intrigerende mededeling dat hij in 1771 naar Frankrijk was afgereisd kon nooit worden bevestigd.
Dat lukt na deze post ook nog niet, maar duidelijk is wel dat hij in dat jaar Nederland bezocht, vrijwel zeker Den Haag. De reden waarom, blijft een raadsel.

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