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Tendring Hall, Suffolk: (executed) house for Admiral Sir Joshua Rowley, 1783-1789 (55)

Signed and dated

  • 1784
    Main Year
  • Other Years: 1785 1786 1787 1788 1789


P. du Prey (John Soane: the making of an architect, 1982, pp. 296-316) fully discusses Tendring Hall (the house but not the offices). The commission had legal complications related to an entailed estate, a mentally handicapped heir, trustees and the need for a Private Member's Bill in the House of Lords. A result of all this was a fixed price contract and a four-year building term with Soane appointed contractor as well as architect, a source of future problems with the trustees and the Rowley family (for contract see item 4).

The largest of Soane's early jobs, Tendring Hall is a good example of his re-working of both earlier and current ideas. His theoretical design for a casino (see Soane's architectural education...: Alternative designs, and record drawings, for a (hunting) casino, c.1780) provided the bombé garden front for Letton Hall (November 1783 onwards) and Saxlingham (March-April 1784) as well as Tendring (January 1784). Both Letton and Tendring have the central circulation axis of the hunting casino, and each have kitchen courts on a semicircular plan. As du Prey points out (op.cit.p.299) 'Nothing was wasted with Soane'. See also P. Dean, Sir John Soane and the country estate, 1999, pp.25-6, for a discussion of house plans including that for Tendring.

References on drawings to the re-use of details initially designed for one house to be used for another occur several times among the Tendring drawings. In this early period, Earsham , Malvern Hall, Letton Hall, Saxlingham, Taverham Hall as also Tendring Hall, all have shared details in the way of entablatures, architraves, friezes, cornices, doors, chimney-pieces, grooves on pilasters and so on.

Tendring Hall was originally built in the 1630s (an earlier date of 1560s is also quoted) (see drawing 1 for a part-survey plan dated 1783). Soane re-sited the new Tendring on a ridge so as to take advantage of the views. Additions were made post-Soane that eventually enlarged it to almost twice its original size with wings on either side. These additions seem to have begun as early as 10 June 1809 when an entry in Lady Susan Rowley's diary mentions 'the first brick laid wing Tendring Hall' and 'December 1811 Sir William Rowley completed the alterations' (quoted from notes by Dorothy Stroud, 1949, in SM green box files).

Because of the lack of working drawings, there is a doubt as to whether the offices were built or not. However, in Soane's Account Book (SM 'Journal No 2, pp.1-39) there is a summary of expenses from 1785 to 1788 addressed to the 'The Trustees of the late Wm Rowley Bart' which gives the accounts for all the building works until then, including the kitchen offices. Not included are items 6 and 7 in the contract (park palings and cowhouse etc) Another account book, (SM 'Journal No 1) lists bills from 31 August 1785 to 25 March 1797 (sic, two small amounts paid to tradesmen in 1796 and 1797 'for work done in 1785'). Stables are mentioned in these accounts (see note to drawings 27-29). Soane was paid in instalments from 7 August 1784 to 2 June 1792, a total of £10,887.12 against the sum of £12,050 provided for in the contract of July 1784. Presumably a saving was made from the exclusion of the park palings and the cowhouse etc at a cost of £1,530 but there were a considerable number of extras.

Soane's views on the necessity of a professional separation of architects from the building trade was probably inspired by or at least stimulated by the difficulties of being both architect and contractor for Tendring Hall. In the end, owed for money paid out to the various builders, Soane sought advice from his lawyer Mr Norris of Lincolns Inn and Norris, George Dance and a Mr Johnson, as arbitrators, awarded the final sum of £992.13s.9d to Soane which he received on 2 June 1792.

Requisitioned for troops and prisoners of war for seven years during and after World War II the, by then, semi-derelict house was demolished in 1955. Only a portico with its pair of coupled Ionic columns remains. However, this is a later addition and is not Soane's Tuscan portico on a semicircular plan as shown on his drawings.
Soane published the design for Tendring Hall in Plans, elevations and sections of buildings erected in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, 1788 (1789), plates XVIII-XXII. Plate 18 (principal storey plan and front elevation) relates, more or less, to drawing 5, plate 19 (basement plan and NS section) to drawings 3 and 14, plate 20 (chamber floor plan and EW section) to 6 and 14, plate 21 (stable court) to drawing 27, plate 22 (lodges) to drawings 8 and 30. The kitchen court is not illustrated.
See also Soane Museum green box files for photographs, newspaper cuttings and other material related to Tendring Hall.

For 14 drawings for Tendring Hall including some key contract drawings see P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985 in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum' (pp.54-56, catalogue 103-116). There is a section in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries (Earle S32.19) that pre-dates the published EW section (plate 20) and corresponds (though without the cellar storey and inscribed dimensions) with the section at the V&A (du Prey, op.cit., cat.113 and plate 23).

Literature. D. Stroud, Sir John Soane, architect, 2nd edition, 1996, p.124 and see above

Jill Lever, August-October 2009



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Contents of Tendring Hall, Suffolk: (executed) house for Admiral Sir Joshua Rowley, 1783-1789 (55)