Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • Little Hangman, near Porlock
Pencil, pen and black ink, grey and blue wash
  • image width 164mm,
  • image length 214mm
paper watermarked with a Britannia design
  • sheet, recto
  • “green” towards the right of the largest rock and “yellow” a little below that
  • sheet, verso
  • “light right hand” and either “Small hill near Porlock, Somerset” or perhaps “North Hill, nr. Porlock, Somerset”; probably dated “October 4th 1785”
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Sotheby’s records (image); John Spink


Bequeathed by the artist in 1816 to James White of Exeter (1744–1825), on whose death it passed to Towne’s residuary legatee John Herman Merivale (1779–1844) and his successors. Merivale’s granddaughters Maria Sophia Merivale (1853–1928) and Judith Ann Merivale (1860–1945), both of Oxford, inherited the drawing in May 1915 (BP201). In June 1934 Judith Merivale sold it for £6 6s. to William Wycliffe Spooner (1882–1967), who still owned the drawing in 1962. It was on sale at Colnaghi in 1973 and was sold at Christie’s on 1 March 1977, lot 26, for £650. It was on sale at Agnew’s during the 1990s and was sold at Sotheby’s on 21 March 2001, lot 193, for £3,200. In 2005 it was on sale at John Spink for £37,000.

Associated People & Organisations

Private Collection
Spink & Son, London, London, 2005
Private Collection, 21 March 2001, GBP 3200
Sotheby's, London, London, 21 March 2001, lot 193
Thomas Agnew & Sons, London
It was on sale at Agnew's during the 1990s
Private Collection, 1 March 1977, GBP 650
Christie's, London, London, 1 March 1977, lot 26
P&D Colnaghi & Co, London, London, 1973
William Wycliffe Spooner (1882 - 1967), June 1934, GBP 6.6s
Judith Ann Merivale (1860 - 1945), Oxford, May 1915, BP201
Maria Sophia Merivale (1853 - 1928), Oxford, May 1915, BP201
John Herman Merivale (1779 - 1844), 1825
James White (1744 - 1825), Exeter, 1816
Exhibition History
Francis Towne and his Friends, John Spink at Colnaghi, 2005, no. 5
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 149


This drawing comes from a group that Towne made on the north Devon coast and can be associated with his work for the Acland family.

The drawing shows Combe Martin Bay in north Devon. The grey headland is Lester Point and behind, in blue, is the peak of Little Hangman. Towne was drawing from a coast road that was destroyed by landslips in the nineteenth century. The small dark patch just above and to the right of the waterline above the beach is a silver mine adit (entrance).1 

Until 2005 the drawing was identified as a view of North Hill, Minehead, based on Sotheby’s and others’ reading of Towne’s inscription as “North Hill”. However, Wilcox in the catalogue of John Spink’s 2005 exhibition offered a new transcription, “Small hill”, and omitted the date, at the same time proposing the drawing as a view of Bossington Hill. Assuming this revised transcription is correct, perhaps the “small” hill is “Little” Hangman.

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 This identification was provided by Brian Pearce, Research and Information Officer of Exmoor National Park Authority, in 2005.

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