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Pell Wall Hall, Market Drayton, Staffordshire (previously Shropshire): (executed) house, stables and garden for Purney Sillitoe, 1822-1828 (58)

1822
This online catalogue of drawings for Pell Wall was written by Madeleine Helmer in 2011 and is based on Margaret Richardson's typescript catalogue for the Soane Museum.

Pell Wall Hall was the last major example of Soane designing a house with all its appurtenances. To Soane it was an opportunity and a challenge to employ the design technique, construction knowledge and personal aesthetic that he had developed throughout his career: ‘In composing the Plans of this Villa, my best energies have been exerted, intending that, when it was completed, my private professional labours should cease. // The materials used in this Work are of the best and most durable kind, - the construction as substantial as possible- and the interior finishings and fittings keep pace with the exterior. If the situation of the Mansion, with its attached and detached Offices, together with the principal approaches thereto, are not properly connected, it is the fault of the Architect; if the several Buildings, considered together, do not form a suitable and convenient Residence for its liberal-minded, wealthy owner and his family, the faults are not to be charged on Mr and Mrs Sillitoe, further than in their having placed the most unbounded confidence in the professional character of their Architect’ (Soane, p. 43). The house was built for a trusting and wealthy client, Mr Purney Sillitoe, who became good friends with Soane during the villa's construction from 1822 to 1828.

Purney Sillitoe (1772-1855) was a wealthy iron merchant living in London. In 1820, he bought the 338-acre Shropshire property, known as Pell Wall, for £5005 from his father-in-law (partly relieving this father-in-law from bankruptcy) (Jenkins, pp.8-9). Sillitoe's relationship with Soane is first documented on 24 Februrary 1822 (SNB 169) when, presumably, Sillitoe approached Soane about designing his house. Soane and his office made preliminary drawings for Pell Wall in early March. Sillitoe was wary of building ostentatiously, regarding Soane's original designs as 'too extensive for the situation of the place as well as for the rank of the intended occupant, and I think we shall do right to reduce it' (Priv.Corr.VII.B.1.4). According to designs made in May, Soane estimated the house at £10,000 (not counting outbuildings). Eventually, the total costs amounted to £20,976, due in part to the large block of domestic offices attached to the south side as well as the various outbuildings around the estate. The house boasts the most outbuildings by Soane (P. Dean, p. 195), including a coach-house/stables, enclosed garden and gardener's house, brick lodge and stone lodge (also known as the entrance lodge). Ptolemy Dean points out the nearby ‘Sandy Lane Building’ as a likely Soane design, though its construction is not supported by any written evidence (P. Dean, p. 196). In addition, timber posts around the estate were designed by Soane and bear his familiar domical cap design.

Soane first visited the site in April 1822, and he returned for a total of ten visits between 1822 and 1828. Unusually for Soane, a firm of builders, John and John Jr Carline of Shrewsbury, was hired as the contractor for the building works. Reliance on a contractor was atypical for Soane, who usually oversaw the construction of his own buildings using sub-contractors (masons, carpenters, joiners, painter and glazier, plasterers, etc), but it was probably motivated by Soane's old age (nearing 70 in 1822) and the site's distance from London (more than a day's travel). Soane used a clerk of works to oversee the building, employing Thomas Ward from 1822 to 1825, John Hunt for a month in 1825 and Stephen Bumstead from 1825 to 1829. Richard Hall, Soane's clerk of works at Chelsea Hospital, was also relied upon. Hall was sent to Pell Wall eleven times, and Soane seemed to have relied on him, calling Hall to the house when the need for urgent remedial work was discovered in September 1828. Work on site began in August 1822 when John Carline marked out the building and laid the footings at each angle on 2 August (Prov.Corr.VII.B.1.8). The shell of the house was finished by mid-November.

Soane published his plans for Pell Wall House under the heading 'Designs for Villas' (Designs for public and private buildings, 1828, p. 43). Pell Wall may be considered as a villa, having a rather compact plan in a suburban location and serving as the occasional retreat from the city that is 'intrinsically secondary to the great country seat' (Summerson, p.107). As David Watkin points out in his essay 'Soane's concept of the villa', Soane built numerous villas for 'minor gentry', and they included a similar bombé front. In Lecture VII of his Royal Academy lecture series, Soane stated that the projecting form 'increases the variety of the outline, adds to the richness of the perspective, and at the same time occasions the light to be more equally diffused into every part of the room' (Watkin, p.590). Pell Wall has a three-part entrance front and a strong axial plan, also typical aspects of the Soane villa. The principal staircase, a stone cantilevered geometric stair, is in the centre of the house and beneath a large lantern. The building is constructed of load-bearing masonry walls composed of local sandstone bonded to the internal brickwork (J. Wibberly and B. Clayton, p.200).

Among the estate's appurtenances, the stone lodge is a remarkable building. Serving as an ornamental entrance lodge at the northern corner of the property, the lodge is a unique blend of gothic and classical styles. Having decorative parapets at three corners, it is neatly arranged on a compact and innovative five-part plan. The small building served as both an ornamental feature and a house for a worker on the estate.

The occupants of Pell Wall included not only Purney Sillitoe and his wife, Eliza, but two other ladies: Frances Davies was Eliza Sillitoe's younger sister and Elizabeth Hibblethwaite Eliza's old school friend (apparently born in the West Indies). Both ladies lived with Purney and Eliza in London and Pell Wall until their deaths (D. Jenkins, p.14).

Today, ownership of the buildings and land has become fragmented. After extensive fire damage, the house was acquired by the Pell Wall Preservation Trust. With a grant from English Heritage, the house's shell was restored, and the nineteenth-century alterations were removed.

A full size model for the ceiling of the ladies' dressing room was made of plaster and is in the Soane Museum (1363 M).

Literature:
J. Soane, Designs for public and private buildings, 1828, p. 43; J. Summerson, The Unromantic castle and other essays, 1990, pp. 106-120; P.du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 91-99, pp.51-52; J. Wibberley and B. Clayton, 'Pell Wall' in M.Richardson and M.Stevens (eds), John Soane architect: master of space and light, 1999, pp. 200-207; P. Dean, Sir John Soane and the country estate, 1999, pp. 194-196; D. Watkin, Sir John Soane: the Royal Academy lectures, Cambridge, 2000, p.590; D. Jenkins, The History of Pell Wall: its estate and its owners, Pell Wall Preservation Trust, 2003.

Madeleine Helmer, 2011
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