George Smith was a banker who, with John Curre, founded the Monmouthshire Bank, Gwent in 1788. When the rival Chepstow bank was established in 1791, competition was fierce and 'Smith found himself in financial difficulties, mortgaged part of Piercefield [estate], and surrendered another part when he defaulted on a loan of £10,000. In the general panic following the declaration of war with France on Feb. 11th, 1793, the Monmouthshire Bank failed and Smith became bankrupt.' (I.Waters, p.19). At this stage building work to a reduced design had begun at Piercefield and a letter from the clerk of works to Soane (14 January 1793, drawing 18) states that the 'the Roof will be on next week for Slaters to begin slating’. Construction work presumably continued for a brief while so that the roof would have been completed and Soane's elevation for the entrance front, a re-use of his design for the front of Shottesham (q.v.) was certainly built and exists in a ruined state today.
Piercefields was sold by George Smith's creditors in December 1793 to Lt Colonel (later Sir) Mark Wood. Wood employed Joseph Bonomi (1739-1808) to add 'saloon and staircase (now destroyed) and addition of wings', 1797 (Colvin). Bonomi’s (not as executed) design for the addition of a portico and pavilion wings, 1795, is in the RIBA Drawings Collection (SA6/2).
There is in Soane's library (record 5072, bound in a collection of estate particulars) 'A description of the celebrated Piercefield Estate situate on the banks of the Wye, ... comprehending nearly the whole of the village of St. Arvans, a magnificent stone-built mansion, park, woods & walks for romantic beauty unrivalled; ... altogether upward of 1,800 acres ...' published in c. 1836. The owner of Piercefield at that time was Nathaniel Wells, of St Kitts, one-time mayor of Monmouth. The particulars to the sale include: 'The Mansion was finished in the year 1800, at a cost of at least 30,000l'.
Today the house, listed Grade II* is a ruin in need of complete restoration. Too dangerous to approach closely, it is the property of the Chepstow Racecourse.
Literature. I.Waters, Piercefield on the Banks of the Wye, 1975; H.M.Colvin, Biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840, 4th ed., 2008 (under Bonomi)
Jill Lever, July- August 2011
Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.
Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).
Contents of Piercefield, Gwent: (executed) alterations and additions for George Smith, 1785-1793 (29)
- Record drawing of unexecuted design for entrance gate, 8 May 1785 (1)
- Variant scheme A, 1785 (2)
- Variant scheme B, 18 December 1785 (5)
- Variant scheme C, 1785 (4)
- Revised design, 6 May 1792 (1)
- Variant elevations for the front (not as executed), 26 May 1792, (4)
- Letter from John Pullinger to Soane with two sketch details, 14 January 1793 (1)
- Working drawings (copies) for the hall, February 1793 (4)
- Working drawing (copy) for the drawing room, February 1793 (1)
- Working drawings (copies) for the dining room, February 1793 (2)
- Working drawings (copies) for the east and west parlours, February 1793 (4)