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Halsnead, Lancashire: designs for refacing a house for Richard Willis, 1789 (3)

Signed and dated

  • 1789
    Main Year


John Burke writes that the north front of Halsnead Hall was rebuilt by Thomas Willis (d. 1727) and the west front was rebuilt by his brother Daniel in 1727 (Burke, op. cit.). Richard Willis (1760-1837) is credited with having rebuilt the south front 1788-9 according to designs by Soane. Drawing 1 shows variant designs for the south front, as well as designs for a bowed breakfast room facing east.

It is apparent from the plans that Halsnead Hall is a result of two building schemes, though the dates of these schemes is unknown. A house on a shallow H-shaped plan adjoins a newer building to the south, its corners chamfered to accomodate the circular stairwell of the new adjoining structure. The south building includes a breakfast room, eating room, bedroom and butler's pantry, as well as an entrance vestibule to the south front. It was likely built in the early 18th century, when the above mentioned building works were taking place.

Soane's drawings show variant designs with minor alterations, the recto having a design for a bowed breakfast room on the east front and an altered south entrance hall. The rest of the plan is far too unsophisticated to be by Soane, as the rooms are not integrated with one another and only radiating around the stairwell.

Jill Lever

Soane sent Richard Willis drawings for refacing the south front of Halsnead Hall, but he did not oversee the building works. The executed design is unknown, though photographs and illustrations of the building suggest that the façade was built closely to Soane’s designs.

Halsnead Hall, also known as Red Hall, was purchased in 1684 by Thomas Willis of Berkshire. The west and north fronts of the house were refaced in 1727. In 1788 a distant kinsman Ralph Earle of Liverpool inherited the family's Lancashire estates, Halsnead Hall and Hall of the Hill, and he changed his name to Willis. He died in April 1790 aged 75, passing the properties to his eldest son Richard (1760-1837). A year earlier, in 1789, Soane was commissioned by Richard for alterations to the south front of the house.

Soane’s drawings show a proposed portico with a giant engaged Ionic order fronted by a straight-flight stair. The windows and doors were to be refitted and the entrance hall altered. He charged £37 5s 6d for the designs, receiving the commission on 12 September 1789. The built design (as documented in photographs) included the same engaged Ionic portico as in Soane's drawings, but the doors and windows were to a variant design. It is unclear whether the built design corresponds to one of Soane's drawings or if it was altered on site by the client.

The house passed down through the family until 1929 when it was sold. It was demolished in 1931.

Literature: Burke, John, A genealogical and heraldic dictionary of the landed gentry of Great Britain & Ireland for 1852, 1852, pp. 1602-3; letter from DA Harris, 11 January 1954 in SM modern library archives; Knowsley local history online, http://history.knowsley.gov.uk (accessed November 2011)

Madeleine Helmer, 2011



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Contents of Halsnead, Lancashire: designs for refacing a house for Richard Willis, 1789 (3)