Soane's Journal No 1 records a preliminary visit to the property on 7 March 1787. Lees Court was the family seat of the Earls Sondes. Soane's client was Lewis Thomas Watson, 2nd Baron Sondes (1754-1806), who inherited his title upon the death of his father in 1795.
The new office court and stables were arranged on axis to the rear of the mansion house, built of local red brick with Portland stone dressings and slate roofs. A screen wall connected the house to the office range and continued further to the stable block. The office court included a dairy, kitchen, washhouse and brew house. The dairy was more modest than the 'cottage orné' type so fashionable in the late 18th century, although Soane's drawings show that he experimented with a Tuscan portico and decorative plaques. One side of the court was occupied by a long and narrow building of nine bays.
The extensive stables at Lees Court were arranged around a court measuring 81 feet by 57 feet 7½ inches, entered through an archway beneath a prominent clock turret rising in two stages. Large urns surmounted the corners of the tower, reminiscent of the 'jars' fixed over chimneystacks at Chelsea Hospital (q.v.). Inside the stables, stalls faced the court on three sides. A ride lay behind the stalls on the north range. Round-headed blind arches with glazed crowns were employed at regular intervals on the elevations, this form of window being promoted by contemporary agricultural theorists for its ventilation properties (G. Worsley, p. 188).
The outbuildings at Lees Court were divided into flats in 1975. The house was rebuilt in 1910 after being badly damaged by fire.
Literature: W. Papworth ed., The Dictionary of architecture, published in parts 1848-1892, volume II; J. M. Robinson, Georgian Model Farms: a study of decorative and model farm buildings in the Age of Improvement, 1700-1846, 1983, pp. 92-100; J. Summerson, Architecture in Britain 1530-1830, 1983, p. 167; D. Stroud, Sir John Soane, 2nd ed., 1996, p.130; G. Worsley, The British Stable, 2004, pp. 185-8.
Madeleine Helmer, 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.
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Contents of Lees Court, Kent: (executed) stables, dairy, office court, and alterations to the staircase for Lewis Thomas Watson, 1788-90 (33)
- Alternative designs for a stair balustrade and working drawing for door beside the stair, 1788 and 1790 (2)
- Designs for a Venetian window, May and July 1788 (2)
- Working drawing for the nursery chimney-piece, c. September 1788 (1)
- Design for a dairy, 9 August 1789 (1)
- Design and copy for interior finishings to the dairy, 16 and 17 October 1789 (2)
- Alternative (unexecuted) design for the dairy showing rusticated portico facing the lawn, and working drawing for the offices (1)
- Working drawing for interior finishings to the dairy and perspective of a similar design, one dated 9 November 1789 (2)
- Alternative designs for the stables, December 1789 (2)
- Design for the stables and a presentation drawing, 12 and 13 December 1789 (5)
- Variant design for the stables, 27 January 1790 (6)
- Design for the roof over the east and west ranges, February 1790 (1)
- Design for the stables roofs, 28 October 1789 (1)
- Working drawings for the stables, November 1790 (3)
- Working drawings for the stables, one dated November 1790 (2)
- Working drawings for the stables, December 1790 (1)
- View of Lees Court, showing stables and office wing (1)