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Burn Hall, County Durham: designs for a cow house for George Smith, June 1783 (4)

Signed and dated

  • 1783
    Main Year


A drawing for 'Offices at Burnhall' was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784. It is unlikely to be either drawing 1 or 2. Drawing 2 is not quite finished so that, for example, the lines of the roof slates are not drawn in and the pitch of the roof has been amended. It is probable that a (now lost) perspective was the exhibited drawing and in any case it was the first time that a design for a farm building had been exhibited at the Royal Academy since its foundation in 1768.
The plan is a shallow segment with a central, two-storey, high-arched entrance and pavilion ends. It was published in Soane's book of designs of 1788 along with a plan and elevation for Burn Hall. The house was not built because the owner had meanwhile purchased Piercefield in Monmouthshire (which Soane was to rebuild in 1785-93) but the cow house was constructed and still exists though converted in 1986-7 for monastic use. The raised roofs of the end pavilions that deviate from Soane's drawings were presumably carried out by George Smith's builder in order to better ventilate the haylofts.

The design is related to the earlier farmyard that Soane designed (while in Henry Holland's office) at Cadland, Hampshire (q.v.). Both having in common: lunette windows, high-arched entrances, pavilion ends, covered passages as well as a progressive approach to the design of farm buildings.
Drawings 3 and 4 are close copies to a reduced scale drawn into a vellum-bound volume entitled on cover 'PRECEDENTS / In Architecture / 1784' that was compiled as a record book in the early years of Soane's practice, 1783-8 by his articled pupils. The first of these was John Sanders, articled 1 September 1784 to 1790.

George Smith was a banker who, with John Curre, founded the Monmouthshire Bank, Gwent in 1788. As well as Burn Hall and Piercefield, he also owned Marlesford Hall in Suffolk and a house in London. Soane's Office Ledger has entries for 19 June 1783 'A Journey from Norwich to Marlesford / & drawings of Cowhouse .... 6.6.0' and 21 July 1783 'A Journey to Burnhall & took plans / of Premises & returned with Mr Smith / to Cambridge ... Expences ...5.5.0'. It is not clear whether these drawings were for a cow house at Marlesford or at Burn Hall. D. Stroud (Sir John Soane, architect, 2nd ed., 1996, p.241) writes of a cowhouse at Marlesford that was similar to the one at Burn Hall.

J.Soane, Plans, elevations and sections of buildings ..., 1788, pl. XXXVI; P.du Prey, 'Oblivion for Soane's cow barn?', Country Life, 1976, CLIX, p.84; P.du Prey, John Soane; the making of an architect, 1982, pp.9-10; P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, catalogue of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1985, pp.42-3 (design for the house); D. Stroud, Sir John Soane, architect, 2nd ed. 1996, pp.54, 241; P.Dean, Sir John Soane and the country estate, 1999, p.168; M.Richardson and M.Stevens (eds), John Soane architect: master of space and light, 1999, p.120

Jill Lever, May 2007



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Contents of Burn Hall, County Durham: designs for a cow house for George Smith, June 1783 (4)