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Soane and the Grenvilles: Peter Inskip traces the story of Sir John Soane's work at Stowe, Buckingham House, Brasenose College, and Wotton House.

The employment of architects by the Temple and Grenville families of Stowe is characterised by three different periods of patronage. In the first hall of the eighteenth century, under Sir Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham (1675-1749), Stowe became an architectural treasury of the work of the best architects available: Sir John Vanbrugh (1664-1726), James Gibbs (1682-1754), William Kent (1685-1748) and Lancelot Brown (1716-1783). The second, related to the time of Lord Cobham's nephew, Richard Grenville, 2nd Earl Temple (1711-1779), was a period of amateur enthusiasm, supported by professional architects who included exotic figures from Italy and France: Giambattista Borra (1713-70), George Francois Blondel (c. 1730-after 1791) and Vincenzo Valdre (c. 1742-1814). The third, extending over the ownership of George Grenville, 1st Marquess of Buckingham (1753-1813), and his son, Richard Grenville, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1776-1839), was dominated by Sir John Soane (1753-1837) and for more than forty years the family loyally turned to him for advice. Although his Gothic Library is often seen as a somewhat isolated commission, with Stowe House largely finished under Earl Temple, Soane's extensive work for the next two generations of the Grenvilles has to be seen in the context of their estates. (1)

To understand the period of Soane's influence, it is necessary to appreciate the role that Lord Temple's cousin, Thomas Pitt, later 1st Baron Camelford (1737-93), had played during the preceding period. From the mid 1760s Earl Temple had been supported in all his architectural forays by him, and it was Pitt who was eventually responsible for the remodelling the exterior of Stowe House in the 1770s.

On his return to England from Spain in 1762, Pitt became a member of the 'committee of taste' that Horace Walpole (1717-97) had assembled for the remodeling of Strawberry Hill, Middlesex and it was, therefore, natural for him to act in a similar capacity for his cousin. His best work at Stowe is the Corinthian Arch of 1765. (2) The scale of the triumphal arch is gargantuan and this is reinforced by its highly simplified architectural detail. Although keen to design, Pitt was a poor draughtsman and it is significant that Edward Batchelor, the carver from Buckingham, should be charging in November 1765 for 'taking of the Arch 2 1/2 days and Planning the same, and drawing in the House for Mr Pitt to see 1.19.1 [pounds sterling]'. (3) The remodelling of the north font followed Pitt's alterations to several of the garden temples, and brought to the mansion the monumentality that he had introduced to Stowe with the Corinthian Arch. As with the arch, Pitt was supported by a professional, this time a London surveyor named William Ride (c. 1723-78), whose name regularly appears in the Stowe accounts from 1756 until his death in 1778. (4)

The greatest conundrum facing Lord Temple had been how to recast the visually disparate elements of the south front of Stowe House which had resulted from its piecemeal extension over several decades under Lord Cobham. During a period of twenty years, proposals by Borra and Blondel had come to nothing, but the matter was at last resolved in 1770 by Robert Adam (1728-92). He proposed unifying the south front by means of a giant order and treating the elevation of the three-storey house as one palatial floor set on a high basement. By incorporating the triumphal arch motif of Pitt's Corinthian Arch, a mile away across the South Vista, he would have united both house and landscape. Although only an elevation survives in the Soane Museum, the modelling shown by the sciagraphic rendering and discussion about 'Adam's dome' in the family's correspondence (6) leads one to suggest that Robert Adam may also have been responsible for the concept of the Oval Hall that was to be built behind the portico. Indeed, the importance of the plan in Adam's projects means that the elevation would not have been designed in isolation. The windowless, top-lit hall at Stowe has, therefore, a parallel in Adam's proposal for a central rotunda at Syon (c. 1768) and can be related to the blind entrance elevation of the early designs for Luton Hoo (1772). (7) Unfortunately, Adam could not tolerate the Earl's constant meddling with his design. He withdrew his services and the South Front was executed under Thomas Pitt. Pitt modified Adam's scheme, raising the heights of the pavilions, altering the order, and introducing steps up to the portico. On seeing it completed in 1774, Lord Temple's sister, Hester, Baroness Chatham, wrote admiringly of 'the elegant skill of Mr Pitt's architectural genius'. (8) It might be questioned, however, if Pitt's heightening of the roof-line of the pavilions--to match that of the main, central block--was an improvement on the subtly hierarchical scheme proposed by Adam.

It must have been Thomas Pitt who introduced Soane to the Marquess of Buckingham. Pitt had befriended and patronised Soane in Italy in 1778, and the young architect had written to him for advice on his design for a Castello d'Acqua. (9) Soane saw Pitt as his mentor and paid tribute to his memory in his Royal Academy lectures, ranking him with Lords Burlington and Pembroke as leaders of English architectural taste. (10) In the 1780s Pitt employed Soane to undertake repairs to: Boconnoc, his country seat in Cornwall, Petersham Lodge, his Surrey villa, and who sought advice about his own house in Kent. (11) Despite the architect's reputed denial, the commission from the Prime Minister must have helped to secure, two years later, what was to be the most important commission of his career--the rebuilding of the Bank of England.

Soane's greatest work for the 1st Marquess was the creation of Buckingham House, Pall Mall, on part of a site that had been leased from the Crown for more than fifty years. (12) The 1st Marquess's uncle, Earl Temple, was in occupation of No. 91, Pall Mall by 1737, and he wrote to the Countess of Denbigh in 1743 that he 'was upon the point of sending peremptory orders to Duffour to fit up our Pall Mall palace in the most expeditious and the most expensive manner, according to the designs he has shewn you, and which have met with your approbation; but happily for me you have waked me out of that fit of extravagance'. (13) Only minor alterations--by William Ride--were carried out. One can deduce that this was because Earl Temple was preoccupied in helping his uncle, Viscount Cobham, at Stowe, especially with the construction of the Grecian Building from 1747 onwards. After inheriting the estate two years later, the primary focus of his architectural interest was to be the recasting of Stowe House as a great neo-classical palace. It was only with the completion of Stowe House, that the family turned its attention back to Pall Mall. In 1781, the 1st Marquess purchased the lease of the adjoining house and 'laid the said two Messuages together'. (15) The architect employed at this stage may have been Soane's friend Robert Furze Brettingham (c. 1750-1820), but the result was clearly inconvenient, with a difference of a few feet between the floor levels of the two buildings left unresolved. In his negotiations over the extension of the Crown lease of both properties two years later, the Marquess reserved the right to alter his plans for the refurbishment 'as I have been long enough engaged in building to know how often plans are altered in execution'. (26)

Soane developed his designs from March 1790 until work commenced on site in 1792, (17) and the house was completed in 1795 at a cost of about 11,000 [pounds sterling]. The whole project was carried out with many hours of close consultation with the Marquess and it was, as Soane remembered, an entirely harmonious commission. The architect noted that 'Since no departures were made from the original designs and he had been allowed to carry out his architectural intentions fully, the estimates were completely accurate'. (18) It is a tribute to the commission, that Joseph Michael Gandy's (1771-1834) imaginative composition A Selection of Buildings Erected from the Design of J. Soane Esq. RA between 1780 and 1815, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1818, shows the architect sitting in one corner contemplating the plan of Buckingham House whilst surrounded by his other works (Fig. 1). (19)


Soane replaced the western house with a totally new structure. Elements of that on the east were retained and provided the cue for the disposition of the windows in the severe neo-classical facade with which he re-fronted the whole building (Fig. 2). Above the crowning cornice, the balustrade was interrupted at its centre with Buckingham's coat of arms; this was supplied by Mrs. Coade's Lambeth factory at a cost of forty five guineas and is similar to those that had begun to appear on the Stowe estate. Typical of London houses, the plain front concealed the elaborate interior that was needed for lavish entertaining. In the tenth of his Royal Academy lectures, Soane was to note that 'Some of the most expensive and highly decorated houses in London are confined to three windows in front: such is ... Lord Clermont's in Berkeley Square. (20) Who from the sight of this plain confined front would suppose it preceded the magnificent staircase and highly enriched ceilings by the pencil of Kent and other masters? Many other similar examples might be produced, and even in houses whose fronts are more extended, as ... the Marquess of Buckingham's in Pall Mall ...; and in many others there is the same disregard to external appearance'. (21)


The stair, brilliantly inserted across the core of the original house, was the key to the building. By extending the bottom three steps to the full width of the stair

The stair, brilliantly inserted across the core of the original house, was the key to the building. By extending the bottom three steps to the full width of the stair hall, Soane exploited the change of level between the two houses and used it to demarcate the transition between the private rooms on the east side and the public rooms on the west side of the ground floor. In many ways, his scheme surpassed that designed by Kent at No. 44, Berkeley Square. The austerity of the decoration, with plain walls coupled with restrained mouldings, went some way to solving the relationship with the exterior that he had criticised whilst the polished scagliola columns still provided the enrichment appropriate to a house of such status. However, it was the spatial organisation that was so remarkable, with its progression from the oval entrance hall via the lozenge-shaped stair compartment to the principal reception rooms on the first floor, since the opening up of the volume with an arcaded attic storey gave an impression of space extending on all four sides (Fig. 3). This spatial richness was supported by the increasing complexity of the decorative scheme, with the frieze above the first floor decorated with medallions beneath an attic storey supported on caryatids.


The medallions matched a series of terracotta bas-reliefs installed in the Grecian Building at Stowe at the time of its rededication as the Temple of Concord and Victory in 1763, (22) and it is possible that they dated from the time of Lord Temple and that two sets were made: one for Stowe, the other for Pall Mall. The scenes are based on subjects chosen by the Society of Arts for medals commemorating British victories, and for the greater part they were designed by James 'Athenian' Stuart (1713-88). (23) Those at Stowe bear inscriptions, each identifying an engagement in the Seven Years War. However, the lettering does not appear in the photographs of the Buckingham House medallions and, with the restrained frames that replace the more decorative ones in the country, it appears that they were reset when relocated by Soane. The caryatids were Coade stone copies of the version from the Erechtheum held by the British Museum. Sold after the demolition of Buckingham House in 1907, it is believed that they are the figures that now stand ranged along the western side of the Cross Avenue in the gardens at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. The stair placed in the centre of the house represents an early stage in Soane's systematic development of the theme of the top-lit tribune that was to reach its apogee in his design for the National Debt Redemption Office. It anticipates too his central tribune at Tyringham Hall, Buckinghamshire, where the Marquess had taken Soane in August 1792 to visit his neighbour, William Praed, who was then contemplating improvements to that ancient seat. By June 1793 Soane had persuaded the banker to rebuild, and it was 'settled to have a new house'. (24)

The acquisition of new commissions, however, was not always so easy. It must have been a disappointment when the Marquess's younger brother, William Wyndham Grenville, 1st Baron Grenville (1759-1834), employed Samuel Wyatt (1737-1807) in 1792 to design Dropmore House, Buckinghamshire, and especially so as Lord Grenville had married Thomas Pitt's daughter. At the same time, Soane was also continually attempting to secure the commission for rebuilding the House of Lords and his scheme for a a great classical, riverside palace would have outshone Chambers's Somerset House, then still under construction. However, George III was minded that it should be gothic and James Wyatt (1746-1813) was eventually appointed to the job. Later the King was to write 'I never thought I should have adopted Gothic instead of Grecian architecture, but the bad taste of the last forty years has so entirely corrupted the profession of the latter, I have taken to the former from thinking Wyatt perfect in that style'. (25) Soane was bitterly disappointed and had expected the support of the Marquess of Buckingham, but there was not a word despite the architect lobbying him with his proposals. The Marquess eventually claimed that he had no voice in the decision, but he admitted that he favoured a gothic solution where the new House of Lords fronted Westminster Hall and the Abbey, though he was 'not sure whether I should not have preserved a grecian front to the River'. Soane endorsed the letter with an angry: 'So much for Buckingham!' (26)

Soane's involvement with the Gothic Library at Stowe (Fig. 5), in 1805-1807, is well documented, and the room is one of the best in the house. (27) The 1st Marquess needed a repository for his newly acquired collections of early English or 'Saxon' manuscripts following a bequest from Thomas Astle in 1803, subject to the payment of a nominal sum of 500 [pounds sterling]; failing this the collection was to go to the British Museum. Space was adapted by Soane in the basement storey below the main library, to which he connected it with a neat gothic stair. The library was also intended to contain a shrine with a portrait of Astle, and the recess opposite the chimney-piece is identified as such in the architect's drawings. In concept, therefore, the Gothic Library anticipated the Dulwich Picture Gallery with its central mausoleum which contains the mortal remains of the Founders, Noel and Margaret Desenfans and Francis Bourgeois. Buckingham expressly stipulated that the new library at Stowe should be gothic. It was a style seldom used by Soane and the Marquess suggested that he should take advice on the 'various Gothicks' from the antiquary John Carter (1748-1817). (28) However, it was still necessary for him to write to Soane in 1806: 'I think you have departed a little too much from [H.sup.Y]. 7ths Screen [in Westminster Abbey] which I wish to take as the bookcase around the room. I would beg you to be so good as to send one of your draughtsmen simply to sketch one of the upper squares of that composition ...' (29) The space, however, was entirely Soane's. The shallowest of vaults hovered over the bookcases, lead castings formed the intricate canopies over the doors, crimson velvet panels above the fireplace and shrine provided the background for the display of antique jewels, and the polished brass chimney-piece was complemented by ebonised mahogany furniture inlaid with ivory quatrefoils. (30) The decoration recalled its cavernous quality with green and bronzed bookcases, but the stone-coloured, vaulted ceiling was elegantly disengaged from the cases by a sky blue wall. (31) Typical of Soane, and in strong contrast to work at Stowe in the mid-eighteenth century, nearly everything was constructed and decorated by his trusted London craftsmen, and 'Country Workmen' (32) were allowed to work only on the insides of the presses.


It was on his return from Stowe following a visit to see progress with the Gothic Library in February 1807 that Soane recorded in his Common Place Book that the sight of reeds growing gave him the idea that large bundles of them tied together at the top and bottom might have been the origin of fluted columns, and he later describes in his lectures how he developed the use of the sunk mouldings that were to characterise his work from this time onwards: (34)

One easily accounts for the 3 small sinkings on the Doric capital: they represented the strings that tied the original bundled reeds together to make them strong to bear great weight. From considering attentively the three sinkings round the capital of the Doric column and the works of the Egyptians I was led to the practice of sunk mouldings which were at first everywhere abused and now they are as generally often absurdly adopted. (35)

Soane's involvement at Stowe also led to work in Oxford in 1807. The Marquess had already endowed Brasenose College with a number of new fellowships, for the Principal there had been the tutor at Stowe and his son was a member of the college. Despite the experience of the Gothic Library and the fact that he was then working in a gothic style at Ramsey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, Soane's proposals for the alteration of Brasenose were offered in Roman and Greek forms (Fig. 4). (36) None of the schemes was realised, but door and window joinery with their sunk mouldings are surviving evidence within the building that minor alterations were carried out. (37)


Following in the steps of his uncle, Earl Temple, it is clear that the Marquess of Buckingham sometimes played an active part in the design process and this is confirmed in Soane's ninth Lecture to the Royal Academy, delivered in 1815:

General convenience in buildings for domestic purposes must ... always take the lead, and certainly in most cases we shall be justified in sacrificing magnificence and even appearance to convenience. But that both may be obtained, and the grandeur of the entrance preserved, has lately been shown in the north entrance into Stowe House. For this noble conception the lovers of architecture are indebted to the late Marquess of Buckingham, whose taste and skill in designing can only be equalled by the other distinguished talents which that noble encourager of the fine arts so pre-eminently possessed. (38)

The Winter Entrance was introduced soon after the turn of the century. Flanking balustrades conceal carriage ramps that descend to a porte-cochere that was cut in beneath the giant Ionic portico and led direct to a new hall at basement level, whence a tight staircase rose to William Kent's main entrance hail on the piano nobile. It was a very elegant solution and was coupled with the re-planning of the approach to the house and the re-siting of the equestrian statue of King George I in the forecourt. At the same time, a new scheme of external decoration was devised, replacing the pale stone-coloured lime-wash, which had unified the disparate materials used in Thomas Pitt's remodelling of the 1770s, with a slightly richer ochre wash; in parallel the white windows were repainted grey. (39) Stowe must have looked very smart in the first decade of the new century.

The new entrance was described as the Egyptian Hall by 1805 (Fig. 6) and its style follows the interest in Egyptian taste that Napoleon's 1798-99 expedition to that country occasioned. Given that the hall was under construction in 1803, when parts for the stove were supplied, (40) it must count as one of the earliest extant examples of full-blooded Egyptian revival architecture, and is especially important because its impact is not restricted to decoration. (41) Although some of the details might not be sophisticated enough for Soane, it is difficult to imagine that the form of the space with its canted walls was not directly influenced by him. This is especially true of the arrangement of the west end, where the stove is designed as a sarcophagus set behind a screen carrying funereal urns. The wall lantern set flush between the hall and the adjacent passage illuminates the interior through a circular ground glass orb mounted as the symbol for the Egyptian Sun god and recalls Soane's passionate interest in artificial lighting. (42) However, Soane confirms that this was not his work, and one has to accept it as a homage to him by the Marquess.


There are other structures at Stowe dating from this period that may have had a similar genesis and continue the tradition of the tutored amateur at the site. The Buckingham Lodges (Fig. 7) are contemporary with the construction of the Winter Entrance, but their authorship remains unknown. The Coade stone and cast lead bas-relief panels are elements that could have been employed by Soane, and the monumental treatment as two freestanding pavilions each bounded by corner piers terminated with Coade stone chimney pots in the form of Roman altars is distinguished. However, the overall design is less assured; perhaps the 1st Marquess was responsible since there are no references to other architects in the family papers.


After the inheritance of the 1st Duke in 1813, Soane was preparing schemes for rebuilding Vanbrugh's laundry and other offices at the west end of Stowe House by 1817. (43) This was to provide family quarters to replace the nondescript rooms overlooking the Stable Yard that the Buckinghams occupied in the East Wing. Whilst integrated with the house, the scheme would have provided the self-contained private apartment that was becoming popular again in the planning of country houses at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It would have brought a delightful informality to Stowe for it related closely to the Flower Garden, and the adjoining Menagerie and Dido's Cave had become the family's favourite spots in the garden. The proposals were also interesting as they demonstrate the continuing involvement of the Grenvilles in the design of their buildings. Soane's plan is inscribed as 'from a sketch by Lady Grenville', the daughter of Thomas Pitt and aunt of the Duke, and it closely follows her drawing on graph paper that survives amongst his own plans. Soane had blamed Lady Grenville with her brother-in-law for not supporting his proposals for the House of Lords and, as mentioned above, she and her husband had used Wyatt for their own house. Those differences seem to have been set aside in this later collaboration. Leaving Lady Grenville's plan virtually unchanged, Soane's primary contribution appears to have been the elevations (Fig. 8). These were an essay in the gentle tradition of building in the style of the existing structures, but they were also highly original. If the scheme had been built, the adoption of the rusticated basement used by Thomas Pitt in the South Front coupled with maintaining the scale of the simple service buildings that existed on the site would have ensured an appropriate status for the new wing without disrupting the architectural hierarchies of the mansion.


The Gothic Cross (Fig. 9) was erected at Stowe in 1814. It is one of the most ambitious bespoke productions of Coade, whose account for the 'Rich Gothic Monument or Cross with pinnacles' at a cost of 200 guineas was submitted early the following year. (44) The tiered arrangement of the monument and the views through its open arches have parallels in various constructions in the courtyards behind the Museum at No. 13, Lincoln's Inn Fields, and Soane's frequent collaborations with Mrs Coade and the loyalty of the Grenvilles to him as their architect would make it surprising if he had no connection with the monument. What is more, between 1813 and 1814, Soane was remodelling the Library and Dressing Room at Buckingham House to provide a large room on the ground floor (45) and it would have been strange if the subject of the proposed memorial had not been raised in their discussions.


Soane was also involved at other properties belonging to the family. In 1810, the future 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos had bought Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, as it was the ancestral home of his wife's family, having been granted to the Brydges, later Dukes of Chandos, in 1554. Although slighted in 1649, the castle remained in her family's possession after the Civil War, but it was probably completely uninhabitable by the time of the purchase. Soane started to prepare designs for rebuilding in 1819, (46) nothing came of it and the estate was disposed of in 1837.

The most likely reason that the rehabilitation of Sudeley Castle did not proceed is that events were overtaken by the disastrous fire that gutted Wotton House in October 1820. This time, the building was the historic seat of the Grenvilles themselves. It had acted as the second house on their Buckinghamshire estates since 1749, when Earl Temple had inherited Stowe from his maternal uncle and the two properties had been joined. The house had been constructed in 1704-14 and followed the pattern of Buckingham House in St James's Park with the main body connected by discreet quadrants to visually freestanding pavilions that housed kitchens and stables. Wotton had been the Duke's home before he inherited Stowe and the house was held with filial piety. At once, an urgent note was despatched to Soane 'My dear Sir, I beg to see you immediately without a moment's loss of time. Poor Wotton is burned down--Yours truly, Chandos Buckingham. Get one of your foremen ready to set off immediately'. (47) James Cook arrived to find the fire still breaking out in parts of the basement and Soane followed the next day. The main body of the house had been gutted, but the pavilions remained intact.

Soane's designs for rebuilding Wotton were soon ready. Like his father, the Duke appears to have been essentially conservative and he instructed Soane that in his new designs he was to keep close to the appearance of the original exterior. No work was necessary to the wings. At first glance, it appears that Soane followed his client's instruction, but his drawing of the entrance elevation, which allows a comparison of the house as it existed before the fire and as proposed (Fig. 10), demonstrates the degree to which he subtly remodelled it. The main building was transformed into something far more elegant. Soane achieved this by reducing the height of the house and compacting the previously expressed attic storey so that it was contained behind the entablature. The necessary reconstruction of the first floor caused by the fire also meant that its ceilings could be lowered to give space to the attic rooms. The windows of the top storey were concealed within the frieze of the main entablature whilst the heads of those on the first floor were dropped to suit the new storey heights. Thus the house was reduced visually from three storeys to two. Two items were not adopted: the garniture of nine great chimney-stacks that was going to be omitted as part of the strategy to reduce the height was retained, although reconstructed at a lower level, and a low balustrade that was to be introduced to emphasise the five centre bays was not constructed.


Inside, a completely new interior was inserted within the discipline of the main walls that survived the fire. It was decidedly Soanian with cornices made of enriched beads and his favourite sunk mouldings everywhere. His main alteration to the fabric was the conversion of the modest hall into a lofty tribune that cut through the two storeys above, with a rectangular gallery at first floor level, and terminated with a circular dome carrying a glazed lantern. Recalling the spatial richness of the staircase at Pall Mall designed for the Duke's father thirty years earlier, this vertical expansion of space was supported by the opening up of the blind, arcaded wall immediately above the fireplace, thus providing an unexpected view to the adjacent staircase compartment. Soane's preliminary studies show a development from initial grandeur to eventual restraint. In his drawings of November 1820 (Fig. 11), a vast coffered barrel vault--dramatically springing from the dado level of the first floor--encloses the centre of the double-height volume. On either side landings connect the first floor bedrooms, and above these the barrel vault is cut back to allow the space to expand upwards. It was a very remarkable scheme, uniting decorative details and a spatial complexity to give a vast architectural scale within a comparatively modest space. By December, the scheme had focused on a circular oculus to give views up to the first floor, and introduced a domed skylight immediately above it--the double-height space and the offset arrangement both abandoned. The detail was also more austere and the principal decorative features were to be four Ionic aedicules surmounted by bronzed trophies, (49) and the use of the Greek order would have recalled Pall Mall. The Duke was not persuaded by the proposal and wrote: 'I wish you could send me the drawing of the hall as it stood before the alteration which I thought perfect, and which I truly confess I prefer to that which I have now received', (50) However, Soane continued to develop his scheme (Fig. 12), replacing the pendentives on the ground floor with a flat ceiling through which a rectangular opening gave onto an arcaded enclosure supporting a glazed lantern. (51) Possibly as a gesture to his client's respect for the old house, but also as an economy typical of a time when materials were expensive, the early-eighteenth-century wrought-iron balustrading, salvaged from the fire, was reused. Below this, armorial shields with arms painted on canvas proclaimed the ancestry and connections of the Grenvilles, almost as proudly as P. Sonard's display of arms in the centre of the ceiling of their Gothic Library at Stowe completed twenty years earlier. It is possible that these details, coupled with the Duke's wish to have the house finished as soon as possible, led to the eventual acceptance of the design. In the end, his client could not have been more delighted and he wrote 'your plan and execution of it are perfect and beautiful. You have restored to life my old mansion'. (52) In reality Soane had totally transformed a decidedly old fashioned Queen Anne mansion into a very personal work of his own.


By the late 1820s, the Duke was in serious financial problems and in 1833 he turned to Soane to assist him with a loan of 5,000 [pounds sterling] on the score of long-standing friendship. It was all part of the collapse of the Grenvilles' fortunes and anticipated the bankruptcy of the 2nd Duke and resultant sale of the contents of Stowe in 1848. Today, such an approach to an architect might seem strange, but with Soane supported by a lucrative practice and a rich wife there are several instances of his acting as a banker to other clients with whom he had developed close friendships at about this time. One such was Stephen Thornton of Moggerhanger, Bedfordshire to whom Soane provide a loan following the collapse of the Baltic trade. (53) At Stowe, however, he declined the Duke's request, but instead offered to purchase for his own collection illuminated manuscripts and antique gems which the Duke had recently acquired and were then housed in the Gothic Library that the architect had designed in 1805 (Fig. 13). (54) The pieces were brought down to London, where Soane viewed them at Buckingham House, his very first commission for the Grenvilles forty, years before. Soane's acquisition in 1833 at a cost of seven hundred guineas of Cardinal Marino Grimani's Commentary on the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans, together with three other renaissance copies of the Book of Hours, and the purchase, in the following year, of two hundred and seventy five 'antique' Roman gemstones at a cost of 1,000 [pounds sterling], (55) marked the end of the imaginative architectural patronage at Stowe that had spanned five generations of the Temple and Grenville families.


(1) Members of the Grenville family are referred to in this article by their final title rather than by their title at the time of a particular project. Hence, Viscount Cobham refers to Sir Richard Temple 4th Bt., (1675-1749) created 1st Baron Cobham 1714, Viscount Cobham 1718. His heir was his nephew Earl Temple (Richard Grenville (1711-79) who succeeded his mother as 2nd Earl Temple 1752). On Lord Temple's death the estates passed to his nephew 1st Marquess of Buckingham (George Grenville (1753-1813) created 1st Marquess of Buckingham 1784), followed in 1813 by direct descent to 1st Duke of Buckingham (Richard Grenville [1776-1839] 2nd Marquess of Buckingham raised to the Dukedom of Buckingham and Chandos in 1822).

(2) Public Record Office (hereafter PRO): 30 August 1962, part 1 Fol. 91, Stowe, 1764, letter from Earl Temple to Hester Pitt, Countess Chatham: '... Mr T. Pitt has furnished me with a Triumphal Arch which I most extremely admire & shall forthwith begin. I shall furnish it I think with an inscription to the King of Prussia; his statue that of Prince Henry Prince Ferdinand & the Hereditary Prince. Having done Justice to my own Country in the Temple of Concord & Victory I shall with pleasure perform the rest ...'.

(3) The Grenville Family papers including those for the Stowe and Wootton Estates are held in the Henry Huntington Library, San Marion, California. The reference is from the Stowe Garden Accounts (hereafter STG Ac), box 143, bundle 23, 6 November 1765.

(4) For instance, work is recorded by Ride at both Pall Mall and Stowe in 1777: Henry Huntington Library: STG Ac, box 114, bundle 4c.

(5) Sir John Soane's Museum, (hereafter SM), Adam volume XXVIII, no. 56. 8,856 drawings by Robert Adam were acquired by Soane in 1833 for 200 [pounds sterling].

(6) PRO: 30 August 1962. Fol. 220-221, 6 June 1771, letter from Earl Temple to Countess Chatham.

(7) Robert and James Adam, The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, Esquires, London, 1778, vol. I, part I, plate V (Syon) part III, plate III (Luton).

(8) George Clarke and Michael Gibbon, 'The History of Stowe', The Stoic, (1967-77), 1974, section XXII, 'The Rebuilding of the House', p. 147.

(9) SM drawings, vol. XCII, item 183. As well as Soane's drawings, the Sir John Soane's Museum holds the architect's accounts, correspondence and journals.

(10) David Watkin, Sir John Soane: Enlightenment, Thought and the Royal Academy lectures, Cambridge, 1996, p. 531: RA Lectures, First Series, Lecture III, 22 January 1810.

(11) Soane worked at Holwood, Kent for William Pitt the Younger in 1786 and again in 1796-99 when he designed the Library. See SM drawings drawer 2, set 9.

(12) Buckingham House, then the Old War Office, was demolished in 1907 to make way for the Royal Automobile Club, designed by Mewes and Davis.

(13) F.H.W. Sheppard (ed.), Survey of London Vol. XXIX-XXX, The Parish of St James Westminster, Part One: South of Piccadilly, London, 1960, p. 360, note 131, quotes Historical Manuscripts Commission MSS. of the Earl of Denbigh, part V, 1911, p. 241.

(14) The Grecian Building was rededicated by Earl Temple as The Temple of Concord and Victory in 1763.

(15) Sheppard, op. cit., p. 360, note 134, quotes PRO LRR063/82, pp. 85-90.

(16) Ibid.

(17) SM drawings, drawer 33, set 1.

(18) Sir John Soane, Memoirs of the Professional Life of an Architect London, 1835, p. 24.

(19) SM picture p87, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1818, no. 915.

(20) No. 44, Berkeley Square designed by William Kent for Lady Isabella Finch, 1742-44.

(21) Watkin op. cit., p. 630: RA Lectures, Second Series, Lecture X, 9 March 1815.

(22) Soane had an elevation prepared of the Temple of Victory at Stowe as a lecture diagram, but it was not used in the Royal Academy Lectures (SM drawings, drawer 17, set 1). On the drawing, he mistakenly attributed the design of the Temple of Concord and Victory to William Kent. It is now believed to be by James Gibbs, modified by Earl Temple, and executed by Lancelot Brown.

(23) See: George B. Clarke, 'The Medallions of Concord: An Association between the Society of Arts and Stowe', Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. CXXIX, August 1981, pp. 611-16.

(24) SM: Tyringham Accounts, Journal, 8 June 1793.

(25) Gillian Darley, John Soane: An Accidental Romantic, New Haven and London, 1999, p. 140, quoting A. Aspinall (ed.), The Later Correspondence of George III, Cambridge, 1967, vol. IV, item 2799: Windsor, 26 September 1803.

(26) Arthur T. Bolton (ed.), The Portrait of Sir John Soane, RA, (1753-1837), set forth in Letters from his Friends (1775-1837), London, 1927, p. 89; Correspondence: Marquess of Buckingham to Soane, Stowe, 27 July 1800.

(27) SM drawings, drawer 33, set 3; Henry Huntington Library: Stowe Maps and Plans, Box 9, Willis 7 also contains drawings of panelling for the Gothic Library and Vestibule.

(28) See Darley, op. cit., p. 163.

(29) Michael McCarthy, 'Soane's Saxon Room at Stowe', Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. XLIV, no. 2, May 1985, p. 132.

(30) A drawing of 1809 (Stowe School Archive) illustrates pictures and jewels displayed within the overmantle and late nineteenth-century photographs (Stowe School Archive) show looking glass in their place. It is assumed that the crimson velvet panels were replaced with the present glass by the 3rd Duke when he refurbished the house after the collections bad been dispersed. An ebonised table from the Gothic Library is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

(31) Catherine Hassall, The Gothic Library, Stowe: Paint Microscopic Analysis, unpublished report prepared for Peter Inskip and Peter Jenkins Architects, 1993,

(32) See Michael Bevington Stowe, A Guide to the House, Stowe, 1990, p. 48-49.

(33) See Watkin, op. cit., fig. 1, 'Page of Soane's notes, with sketch showing the origin of columns (SM Soane case 168, fol. 186)'.

(34) The change to sunk mouldings is best shown at Moggerhanger House, Bedfordshire where Soane used stepped mouldings on the panels in the doors in 1791-97, but turns exclusively to the use of flush doors with the panels only defined by sunk mouldings in his extension and recasting of the house in 1810-12.

(35) Quoted in Watkin, op. cit., p. 410 (SM Soane case 161/1, Portfolio 2-detached parts of lectures).

(36) SM drawings, drawer 33, set 4, 1804-1808.

(37) Ptolemy Dean kindly drew my attention to the Soanian details that he has identified in the college.

(38) Watkin, op. cit., p. 619: quotes RA Lectures, Second Series, Lecture IX, 2 March 1815.

(39) Catherine Hassall, Stowe House: The North Front--Paint Microscopic Analysis, unpublished report prepared for Peter Inskip and Peter Jenkins Architects, 1995.

(40) Henry Huntington Library: STG Ac, box 14, bundle 8.

(41) Nattes prepared two views of the Egyptian Hall. That looking west is now in the possession of Stowe School; that looking east belongs to the Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury.

(42) See Susan Palmer, The Soanes at Home, Domestic Life at Lincolns Inn Fields, London, 1997, p. 15.

(43) SM drawings, drawer 33, set 2.

(44) Henry, Huntington Library: STG Ac. Repairs box 116, bundle 16.

(45) SM drawings, drawer 33, set 1.

(46) sm drawings, drawer 33, set 3, 1819.

(47) Ptolemy H. Dean, Sir John Soane and the Country Estate, London, 1999, p. 161, fig. 11.17 quotes SM Private Correspondence, VIII.C.2.17.

(48) SM drawings, drawer 33, set 2.

(49) The design of the aedicules was to be developed by Soane in the Privy Council Chamber in Whitehall in 1823.

(50) Dean, op. cit., p. 154, quotes SM Private Correspondence, XIII.C.3.73.

(51) The splayed reveals to the arcade were similar to those used at Moggerhanger, Bedfordshire and the Bank of England in the decade before Wotton.

(52) Darley, op. cit., p. 263: quotes SM Private Correspondence, XIII C.2.B (27), 9 Nov 1823.

(53) SM Private Correspondence, Division 2, Folder 7 Letter 6: Stephen Thornton to Soane, Moggerhanger House, 17 December 1833. Soane lent Stephen Thornton, a banker, friend and long-standing client, 500 at an interest of 5% per annum. It has to be noted that the capital was only a tenth of the sum requested by the Duke.

(54) See Peter Thornton and Helen Dorey, A Miscellany of Objects from Sir John Soane's Museum, consisting of paintings, architectural drawings and other curiosities from the collection of Sir John Soane, London, 1992, pp. 56, 103. The Grimani Commentary was beautifully produced by Giulio Clovio (1498-1578) and had been acquired by the Duke in about 1822. The gems were purchased for Stowe in 1828-29; about half came from the Braschi Collection in Rome and most of the remainder were in the possession of the Archbishop of Tarentum in Naples. Some pieces were antique but others proved to be of dubious authenticity.

(55) Soane consulted W.J. Smith, the Duke's librarian at Stowe, on the antique gems when preparing a revised edition of his Description of the House in 1835-36. Bolton, op. cit., p. 528, transcribes correspondence from Smith to Soane, Stowe, 3 November 1835.
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Title Annotation:architects,works; Grenvilles
Author:Inskip, Peter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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