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Reading, Berkshire: Friar Street, house for Lancelot Austwick, 1796 (32)


Lancelot Austwick (died 1829) of Reading in Berkshire, was postmaster of that town in 1791 and was twice elected as Mayor (1803, 1812). Soane had some connection with Reading, attending a private school there from the age of eight (G.Darley, pp.4-5). And from the tone of three surviving letters (SM archives) from Austwick was on friendly terms with him. Soane visited the site in March 1796 and drawings were made from March to May of that year. Apparently, the site was at the western end of Friar Street next to Greyfriars church built by the Franciscans from 1285 and reconstructed in 1863. Austwick was a wine merchant and this is evident in the designs for his house in which the basement was a cellar housing large casks of wine and one of the two ground floor rooms was an 'office'. An important aspect was the separate entrance for the 'pipes of wine' to be rolled through the doors giving access to the cellar. Soane provided three alternative plans and initially a single design for the front elevation. This was for a three-storey, three-bay house (plus basement) with single-storey entrances at each end; the right-hand one for the wine barrels and the left-hand one for Mr and Mrs Austwick. The elevation (drawing [9]) of three bays and three floors was plain and could not have appealed to Austwick for a very different design followed a month later (drawing [15]). Here the building, by taking in the space over the doors and side passages, was now five bays wide and there were three doors - one at each end and one in the middle. The end bays at first floor level had each a niche with an amphora (symbolising wine) and above them, a pedimented and pilastered adornment to the end bays of the (added) second floor. In May, a revised three-story, five-bay elevation was produced (drawing [19 verso]) that substituted windows for the niches with amphorae and removed the twin pediments.

The drawings, completed by 11 May 1796, were billed with the addition of two site visits to the sum of £78.15.0. In fact the bill was not paid until Agust 1811 after Soane had written to Austwick presuming that the bill 'had escaped Mr Austwick's memory'. In fact, Soane's designs as shown in drawings [1] to [31] were not executed. There is one record drawing [32] that shows a design for the front that differs from the earlier ones. This perspective is for a three-bay house of two storeys over a basement with the front area guarded by railings that reach a sentry box-like door on either side. Dorothy Stround (1910-1997) when Inspectress of the Soane Museum, made notes and took a photograph of the house (64 Friar Street) in 1959 before it was demolished in 1961. The photograph shows a brick-built house that is of two storeys and five bays and does not resemble drawing [32] except for the sentry box-like garden doors flanking the building. These with railings attributed to Soane were listed Grade II by English Heritage in March 1957.

Literature. G.Darley, John Soane, 1999, pp.45; G.Tyack, S.Bradley and N. Pevsner, Berkshire, 2010, p.446 ' ... attributed to Soane (drawings at the Soane Museum, but showing a different design)'; D.Stroud, information files at the Soane Museum

Jill Lever
March 2015



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Contents of Reading, Berkshire: Friar Street, house for Lancelot Austwick, 1796 (32)