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London: Buckingham House, 91 Pall Mall: (executed) house for 1st Marquess of Buckingham, 1790-1793, (executed) alterations to the library, 1794, and (executed) alterations on the ground and first floors, 1813 (52)


Soane transformed two houses into one large mansion on the south side of Pall Mall. The client’s town house was completely rebuilt and joined with a building to its east. The east building was partly retained, its layout and front elevation helping to determine Soane's final design. The house consisted of two floors of ornately-decorated rooms communicating with a top-lit, round-ended stairwell at the centre of the plan. Soane first visited the site in March 1790 and the house was completed in 1795 at a cost of £10,944:0:11½. Minor repairs to the building fabric were made in 1804 costing £707:15:7½ and further alterations to the property were commissioned in 1813 and 14 at a cost of £2,252:2:1¾, though few drawings for these last building works exist. This catalogue is concerned principally with the initial building work, designed from 1790 to 1792 and finished in 1795.

Although the house is now demolished and documentation is limited, one can be certain that the final designs for Buckingham House show the building as executed in 1795. Soane wrote in his 'Memoirs of the Professional Life of an Architect' (1835) that the commission deserved special mention 'in order to record two circumstances: the first, that no deviations were made from the original designs, from the commencement to the completion of the works; and, secondly, that in consequence of the designs of the Architect not having been interfered with, the estimated expense was not exceeded' (p.24). Soane was pleased that his designs were adhered to faithfully.

Buckingham House is named for George Nugent Temple Grenville (1753–1813), later 1st Marquess of Buckingham, who inherited the house in 1779 from his uncle, Richard Grenvillle (1711-1779), second Earl Temple. As Earl Temple, in 1781 he purchased the adjoining house to the east with the aim of eventually combining the two properties into one. The house's lease was renewed by the Crown in 1783 and Lord Buckingham was elevated to the marquisate in 1785. At this point, he commissioned Robert Furze Brettingham (c.1750-1820) to alter the bulidings. When Soane was given the commission in 1790, the houses had been lightly altered to form a single dwelling. Soane was probably introduced to Lord Buckingham through Thomas Pitt, 1st Baron Camelford, Soane's early patron and Lord Buckingham's distant cousin. Camelford’s great grandfather, Thomas Pitt (1653-1726), had occupied the house from 1710 to 1726 (Survey of London).

Soane met with Lord Buckingham frequently throughout March and April 1790, presenting 3 sets of fair drawings showing proposed designs for the house. Another visit took place on 31 May 1790 but work did not progress much further until two years later, in February and March 1792, when Soane once again had frequent meetings with Buckingham to present further designs (Journal No 1). Materials for the house were settled in April 1792 (Journal No 2) and building works began that summer. Finishings to the rooms were presented in February 1793 and finalised throughout the summer, in May and June. Chimney-pieces from the old house were re-used in some of the principal rooms and the medallions that had previously been in the old drawing room were moved to decorate the new stairwell, on the frieze above the first floor.

The clerk of works was Richard Louch until December 1792 when William Richards took over the position, followed by Henry Provis. Soane’s commission came to £689:14:0 in 1795, at 5% the cost of the house in addition to the estimated cost of re-used materials. Some of the materials from the old house were also sent to Taplow, Buckinghamshire, for building works on a house of Charlotte Grenville, (the recently widowed) Lady Williams Wynn (Ledger B).

Buckingham House was the beginning of a forty-year relationship between Soane and the Grenville family. Later commissions included the Gothic Library at Stowe, 1805, and Wotton House, 1820. The Marquess's son, Richard Temple Nugent Brydges Chandos Grenville (1776-1839), later Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, inherited Buckingham House in 1813. Prior to his inheritange, the Duke had served as MP for Bucks in 1793-1813, and on 7 June 1804 he had opposed Wilberforce's bill for the abolition of the slave trade. This may be explained by his ownership of the Hope Estate and enslaved people in Jamaica, which had come to the family through the Duke's wife, Anna Eliza Brydges. The family struggled financially and the Duke considered selling in the 1820s, at which point Soane made repairs and then a valuation in 1827, estimating the house at £32,000 (Survey of London). The property was eventually sold by the 2nd Duke in 1847.

After serving as the War Office from 1855 to 1906, Buckingham House was demolished in 1908 for the new Royal Automobile Club. Photographs of some interiors exist. Alison Kelly writes that six of the eight Coade stone caryatids are in the gardens at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. Three are marked 'Coade Lambeth 1793', the same manufacture date as the sculptures made for Buckingham House. One of the chimney-pieces is in the War Office building in Whitehall.

Further drawings of Buckingham House were made for Soane's Royal Academy Lectures, showing the staircase, hall and front elevation. See SM 13/4/5-6, 76/2/12-13, and 91/8/1. Eight drawings for Buckingham House by the Soane office are at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. The drawings include five drawings of the staircase, two of the Doric portico, and one of the entrance front (see P. du Prey catalogue). The staircase drawings are preliminary variant designs, with caryatids and balustrade pencilled in on the third storey of the stairwell.

Literature: ed. FHW Sheppard, 'Pall Mall, South Side, Past Buildings: No 91 Pall Mall: Buckingham House', Survey of London, vol.s XXIX and XXX, 1960, pp. 360-363; A. Kelly, ed. G Jackson, 'Coade Stone at National Trust Houses', National Trust studies, 1980, p.106; P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 213-220; G. Darley, John Soane: an accidental Romantic, 1999, pp. 105-106; P. Inskip, 'Soane and the Grenvilles', Apollo Magazine, April 2004, pp. 17-24. ; Legacies of British Slavery database, UCL: www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs

Madeleine Helmer, January 2012



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Contents of London: Buckingham House, 91 Pall Mall: (executed) house for 1st Marquess of Buckingham, 1790-1793, (executed) alterations to the library, 1794, and (executed) alterations on the ground and first floors, 1813 (52)