A house on the site of 21 St Jame's' Square was first built in c.1673 and had many owners. When the 5th Duke of Leeds inherited the old house in 1789 he decided to replace it. The initial architect was Robert Furze Brettingham (c.1750-1820). Those of his drawings that survive in Soane's collection are either 'as built'  -  dateable to July 1794 or slightly earlier drawings  -. The evidence for Soane's contribution to the design of 21 St James's Square is sparse. The sequence of events, as far as it is known, is as follows. In May 1794 the two architects met to discuss 'the Business' (Dean, p.228). In June 1794 Soane made a set of drawings for a completely new design for the house  - . In July 1794 (date on drawing ) a set of 'as built' drawings was made by the Soane office  -  copied, it is assumed, from Brettingham's drawings and checked on site. On 25 March 1795, Soane's Journal 2 records: 'Did not begin the alterations because Mr Brettingham wished some of his friends to see the house in its present state' (Dean, p.228). The only surviving Soane drawings are for fittings and furniture  -  dated 31 March 1794 and 8 August 1797. Soane paid his workmen the modest sum of £430 (Dean p.228). Soane himself was paid a fee of £300 (Survey of London, p.177) which was probably based on a daily rate of three guineas (£3.3s.) rather than five per cent of the building cost. The management of the builders and their costs was presumably Brettingham's responsibility with Soane producing new and revised designs.
The only changes made by Soane that are certain are those he made to the front elevation. A comparison between Brettingham's drawing ( ) and a photograph published in Survey of London, Parish of St. James Westminster, Part 1: South of Piccadilly, volume XXX, 1960 (fig.191b) shows Soane's changes to the window details, the exchange of Ionic for Corinthian for the porch which was now enclosed and the addition of a cast iron balcony.
In 1797 Soane carried out repairs for the Duke of Leeds to North Mymms Park, Hertfordshire, adding a dairy and greenhouse. The Duke died in 1799 and his town house was sold - at a considerable loss - and remained vacant for some years. In 1936 it was pulled down and replaced 'with a facsimile elongation of the neighbouring Adam elevation' (Dean, p.228).
Soane later publlished his design for 21 St James's Square in Designs for Public and Private Buildings, 1828, ff. 46-54.
Literature. F.H.W.Sheppard (general editor), Survey of London: The Parish of St James Westminster. Part One: South of Piccadilly, 1960, pp.174-181, figs 191-3; P.Dean, Sir John Soane and London, 2006, p.228
Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation
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
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