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Lees Court, Kent: (executed) stables, dairy, office court, and alterations to the staircase for Lewis Thomas Watson, 1788-90 (33)

1788
From 1789 to 1791 Soane built a collection of outbuildings at Lees Court, including a dairy, stables and office block. From 1787 he also made minor alterations and repairs to the c. 1640 mansion house, including alterations to the staircase and library, new chimney-pieces, and a ‘Venetian window to [the] new drawing’ room (Journal No 1). The total cost was £4,889.

Soane's Journal No 1 records a preliminary visit to the property on 7 March 1787. Lees Court was the family seat of the Earls Sondes. Soane's client was Lewis Thomas Watson, 2nd Baron Sondes (1754-1806), who inherited his title upon the death of his father in 1795.

The new office court and stables were arranged on axis to the rear of the mansion house, built of local red brick with Portland stone dressings and slate roofs. A screen wall connected the house to the office range and continued further to the stable block. The office court included a dairy, kitchen, washhouse and brew house. The dairy was more modest than the 'cottage orné' type so fashionable in the late 18th century, although Soane's drawings show that he experimented with a Tuscan portico and decorative plaques. One side of the court was occupied by a long and narrow building of nine bays.

The extensive stables at Lees Court were arranged around a court measuring 81 feet by 57 feet 7½ inches, entered through an archway beneath a prominent clock turret rising in two stages. Large urns surmounted the corners of the tower, reminiscent of the 'jars' fixed over chimneystacks at Chelsea Hospital (q.v.). Inside the stables, stalls faced the court on three sides. A ride lay behind the stalls on the north range. Round-headed blind arches with glazed crowns were employed at regular intervals on the elevations, this form of window being promoted by contemporary agricultural theorists for its ventilation properties (G. Worsley, p. 188).

The outbuildings at Lees Court were divided into flats in 1975. The house was rebuilt in 1910 after being badly damaged by fire.

Literature: W. Papworth ed., The Dictionary of architecture, published in parts 1848-1892, volume II; J. M. Robinson, Georgian Model Farms: a study of decorative and model farm buildings in the Age of Improvement, 1700-1846, 1983, pp. 92-100; J. Summerson, Architecture in Britain 1530-1830, 1983, p. 167; D. Stroud, Sir John Soane, 2nd ed., 1996, p.130; G. Worsley, The British Stable, 2004, pp. 185-8.

Madeleine Helmer, 2011
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