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Moggerhanger, Bedfordshire: (executed) alterations and additions for Godfrey Thornton, 1790-1799 and Stephen Thornton, 1806-1811 (89)

Signed and dated

  • 1790
    Main Year
  • Other Years: 1799 1806 1811


The Thorntons were a family of merchants who, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, made their fortune in trading in Russia and the Baltic as partners in Down, Thornton and Co. of the City of London. For several generations, members of the Thornton family were directors of the Bank of England. The Thorntons, particularly Henry and Samuel Thornton, cousins and business partners of Godfrey, were also important figures in the Clapham Sect, the Society for Missions to Africa which later became the Church Missionary Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society, and were champions of the anti-slavery movement, evangelism and general social reform. They were also closely associated with William Wilberforce who was related to the Thorntons not only by political interests but also by marriage. Soane began his rebuilding of the Bank of England (q.v.) in 1788 and Thornton joined the building committee in 1790. Soane was to act as architect to many of the directors of the Bank as well as other members of the Thornton family. There are drawings (in the Soane Museum) for Marden Hill, Hertfordshire for Claude George Thornton, 1818-19, Albury Park, Surrey for Samuel Thornton, 1800-09 and 22 St James’s Square, London, 1794-1808 again for Samuel Thornton.

The alterations and additions made between 1790 and 1792 (drawings 3-14) for Godfrey Thornton were modest. They involved the rebuilding of the north portion of the house with basement cellars, a drawing room, hall and stair on the ground floor and on the first floor, a bedroom and dressing room. The entrance was moved from the south side to the east side and given a portico. Not a great deal was gained in extra space, the old and new drawing rooms, for example, being much the same size. In 1797 (drawing 15) a new stair and chamfered reveals for the library were proposed and accepted though not the idea for a bow-fronted breakfast room on the south side (drawings 16-17). Nor the more extensive additions suggested in 1797 and 1799 which included an apsidal-ended room for Mr Thornton with direct access on the north side, a new eating room to the south-west as well as an extensive rebuilding of the kitchen offices (drawings 18-19).

Soane continued to work on Moggerhanger after Godfrey Thornton died in 1805. An early drawing made for Stephen Thornton was an ‘as built’ ground floor plan of 1806 (drawing 22) that was followed by no less than six variant designs for the ‘principal floor with proposed alterations’ (drawings 23-32, 35) dated January and February 1807. Survey drawings of the house and offices ‘previous to the Alterations in the year 1808’ were made in that year (38-41). Then followed a series of designs of which the variations in plan form form can be seen in the drawings for the chamber floor. Some of these are labelled designs 1, 2 and 3. Thus 'Design 1' (49, 51, 57) has an overall rectangular plan with a bow on the south side (drawings 49 and 51 are dated 25 November 1808 and November 1808). 'Design 2' (50, 52, 58) has the same bowed plan but with a large vacant compartment on the north side (drawing 50 is dated 25 November 1808). 'Design 3' (53, 54, 59) is rectangular with a vacant compartment on the south side (not dated). The final or near-final design can be seen in drawings 80 and 81 for the chamber floor and attic, dated 1810 which show a rectangular plan form with a vacant compartment on the north side and this seems to be the built design (see Ptolemy Dean's plan fig.9.15, p.131). The introduction of the vacant compartment (or terrace) at first floor level, from design 2 onwards was a solution to lighting the main staircase together with top-lighting (or a 'tribune') through three storeys.
For the ground floor, variations include a domed hall (drawings 43, dated 13 November, 1808 and 60, 61 both dated 11 February 1809). Other ground floor plans do not show a domed hall though a shallow one was built. Another variation was the addition of a south portico with the consequent removal of the bow. A south portico as well as a north portico appears on designs 1 and 2, that is drawing 47 (30 November 1808) and drawing 48 (November 1808) and drawing 56 (no date). A south portico is not shown on later drawings (for example, 60 and 62 dated 11 February 1809). Originally, the house had a south entrance, Soane moved this to the east side and later still to the north.

Moggerhanger remained in the family until the death of Lt Colonel Godfrey Thornton (Stephen Thornton's eldest son) in 1857. The house was then bought by the local incumbent, the Reverend Dawkins. The Mercer family owned Moggerhanger from 1888 until 1909 when it was sold to a Mrs Fance. In World War I it was occupied by Godwin College and from 1919 it became a TB isolation hospital. Closed in 1987 it was sold to a developer for housing in the park and when planning permission was refused was sold to Harvest Vision for a Christian Prayer Retreat and Training Centre. Seeking a suitable architect, the new owners approached the Soane Museum and Margaret Richardson (then director) suggested Peter Inksip whose father had been a trustee of the hospital. The Moggerhanger House Preservation Trust was then set up and the building was upgraded to Grade 1.

Literature. P.Dean, Sir John Soane and the country estate, 1999, pp.124-131; Julia Abel Smith, 'Focus on Moggerhanger Park', Historic House, autumn 2004 pp.30-32; C.Woodward, 'Moggerhanger Bedfordshire, Country Life, 23 November, 2006, pp.83-86; P.Dean, 'It was unimaginable that this house would emerge as a Soane masterpiece', Architects Journal, 3 May 2007, pp.23-27; Report prepared by Peter Inskip, architect for the Moggerhanger House Preservation Trust, 1999 (copy in Soane Museum's information file)

This catalogue was preceded by a typescript catalogue made by Virginia Brilliant in 1999.

Jill Lever
August 2012



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Contents of Moggerhanger, Bedfordshire: (executed) alterations and additions for Godfrey Thornton, 1790-1799 and Stephen Thornton, 1806-1811 (89)