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Sulby Lodge, Northamptonshire: (executed) designs for a new house for René Payne, 1792-5, for a bridge, 1797 and (unexecuted) designs for additions for George Payne, 1824 (76)

Signed and dated

  • 1793
    Main Year
  • Other Years: 1792 1795 1797 1824


René Payne (who used the French acute accent for his name though Soane's office sometimes did not) was the son of John Payne, a London merchant, linen draper and chairman of the East India Company. With Abel Smith II, he established the bank of Smith & Payne in Lothbury, City of London in 1758. John Payne died in 1764 and was succeeded at the bank by René Payne. In 1799 the Payne family withdrew their connection. (RBSHeritageOnline)
René Payne bought Sulby Lodge (later known as Sulby Hall) in 1792 and initially asked Soane to make alterations to it but soon agreement was reached on a new house. It was not large being three bays wide and two storeys high with a basement and garret. There were two reception rooms and four or five bedrooms. Unusually the kitchen was not in a wing or court but on the south-west end of the house with scullery and secondary stair to the north and occupying both the basement and the ground floor. As well as designs for offices and for a bridge, Soane designed the stables (for which no drawings survive).
René Payne's heir was his grandson George Payne (1803-78) who came into his majority in 1824. In June 1823, his mother Mary Payne wrote to Soane asking for 'a Plan of enlarging the House Built under [your] directions some years since'. Preliminary designs (drawings 44-47) and a site visit were made in September 1824. More preliminary, alternative designs were made the following month during Soane's stay in Harrogate and on his return journey he visited Sulby on 29 October. On 13 December 1824, Mrs Payne wrote to Soane to say that she had heard from Mr Abbot who had seen the designs which are 'extremely handsome' but that 'all the principal rooms look to the North [and] ... my son and myself particularly dislike a Northern aspect in this Cold Clay County' besides which 'to the South the house has great capability, the ground being prettily around a very fine piece of water.' Another objection to the 'sitting rooms' facing north was that they would be too near to the stables. Soane replied (24 December 1824) that he had made three designs while in Harrogate and that by 'adopting either of the designs very little alteration will be necessary to and in the present buildings'. Mrs Payne wrote again (14 February 1825) to say that she was 'most anxious to have the plans concluded you have been good enough to begin'. The office Day Book shows that from the 16 to the 24 February fair drawings were being made by pupils David Mocatta and Edward Davis, none of which have survived. A bill for £157.10s was sent in the same month (and again in September 1829 and again in December 1832). On 5 April 1825, Mrs Payne wrote 'it would oblige me very much if you could let me have the ground plans ... for the additions'. This may be taken to mean the working drawings for the builder and tradesmen. It seems that Soane's designs for additions were not used. George Payne bred race horses (including a Derby winner) at Sulby and presumably commissioned the later additions by an untraced architect. The house was demolished in c.1949.
Intriguingly, the office Day Book records that on 1 October 1824 'Mr Soane left Town for Harrogate with Mr Gandy'. This was J.M.Gandy (1771-1843) who was employed by Soane as a perspectivist from 1798 for two or three years and then from 1811 - in the intervals of a not very flourishing practice. Of their relationship John Summerson wrote: 'One thinks of Soane and Gandy as inseparable. Without Soane, Gandy would have starved; without Gandy, Soane, who was no great draughtsman, would have been at a loss how to give his designs the haunting ambience which makes them live. And there was perhaps a deeper-running sympathy between the two men for both, in their time, had suffered the hazards and cruelties of patronage.' (Architectural Association, op.cit. below). Soane and Gandy reached Harrogate on 3 October and Soane's Notebook records that he took the waters, bathed and worked on 'plan for church', leaving Harrogate on 23 October and making his way back to London, via Sulby and elsewhere. Soane's letter to Mrs Payne (of 24 December 1824) mentions that 'the Cataract has been extracted from my left eye' and that he can see better than he had done for a long time. That may explain the very rough draughtsmanship of drawing 46 recto and verso that can be safely attributed to Soane.
The question is - what did Gandy do while he was in Harrogate? The drawings made there (drawings 48-76) show, on a comparison with other of Gandy's drawings (for example those in SM volume 69) that the elevations and perspectives are in his hand and a single part-plan (p.63) tallies well with the plans made in Harrogate. The inscriptions, that is, titles, dates and room labels are in Gandy's hand and were probably added later on his return to London using pen and brown ink after erasing the earlier pencil inscriptions. Virtually all of the drawings made in Harrogate being in pencil and coloured washes. On drawing 66, the impress of a pencilled date remains and is in the manner sometimes used by Gandy (with strokes between the numbers). Given that the drawings made in November 1824 are by Gandy that raises the question of what his role was in the design process. The earlier designs deal with alternative ways of enlarging the house. Once this was settled (a northwards addition) ideas were firmed up until the final design with its turreted additions (drawings 68-73). What is striking is the un-Soanean character of these additions. They have the congested elevational treatment (though not the detailing) of Gandy's Phoenix Fire and Life Assurance Co., London, built 1805 and demolished in 1924. Gandy's unbuilt designs could be fantastical (and were exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1800 to 1838) or (Colvin) of a 'studied simplicity' as shown in his 1805 publications: The Rural Architect and Designs for Cottages ....
Literature. Architectural Association, catalogue of an exhibition, 1982, Joseph Michael Gandy (1771-1843), p.3; H. Colvin, A Biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840, 4th ed., 2008
Soane Museum: Soane archives including Payne corresondence XIIIB27

Jill Lever 2014

For a design for a chimneypiece inscribed 'René Payne' see: ? Dunton Bassett, Leicestershire: design for a chimneypiece, 1795



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Contents of Sulby Lodge, Northamptonshire: (executed) designs for a new house for René Payne, 1792-5, for a bridge, 1797 and (unexecuted) designs for additions for George Payne, 1824 (76)