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 eat 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. 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.
Madeleine Helmer, January 2012
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 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)
- Survey drawing and record drawings showing the site's original buildings, one dated 1790 (3)
- Preliminary designs, 1790 (2)
- Presentation drawings of a preliminary design, 2 and 12 April 1790 (4)
- Presentation drawings of a variant design, showing an alternative bowed rear and an asymmetrical street front, 8 February 1792 (3)
- Presentation drawing of a variant design, 29 February 1792
- Presentation drawings, 10 March 1792 (3)
- Working drawings for the basement of the west building, one dated 12 April 1792 (2)
- Working drawings of roof timbers, 18 October 1792 (2)
- Presentation drawings of finishings to rooms on the ground and first floors, 5 February 1793 with alterations made 22 July and 22 August 1793 (10)
- Design for the entrance front, 11 May 1793
- Presentation drawings for alterations to the library, 5 March 1794 (4)
- Record drawings of the final design, as executed (5)
- Record drawings of the final design, as in drawings 36 to 42, September and October 1796 (5)
- Designs for minor alterations, including partitions in the library, April 1813 (3)