Colne Park, Essex: monument to Michael Hills for Philip Hills, 1790 (1)
The drawing shows an Ionic column raised on a pedestal having four couchant lion statues at its projecting corners. In this drawing we see a column is surmounted by a caduceus sculpture with a pineapple finial. The memorial is in a landscape setting with woodland behind.
On 23 June 1790, Soane sent by post four drawings of alternative designs for the 'obelisk'. This drawing may be one of these preliminary designs.
The 70 foot high column was not executed in this form: an urn replaced the caduceus and pineapple, and the lions were omitted. It is situated on the grounds just north of the mansion at Colne Park, a late 18th century house built by Michael Hills. 'The son Michael Robert, a bachelor, on his death in 1789 bequeated it to his 22 year old friend, Philip Astle, provided that he took the name Hills. This Philiip was the son of Thomas Astle (1735-1803) a leading paleographer, antiquarian and Keeper of the records at the Tower of London' according to the Colne Engaine History Society. Soane's Gothic Library at Stowe (1805-1807) was designed to house Thomas Astle's collection of manuscripts.
It was common practice in the neo-classical period to erect a column to express gratitude to a benefactor. This drawing proposed a finial composed of a pineapple, the classical symbol for eternity, and a caduceus of Mercury (two snakes entwined around a stick). A model of the caduceus was made by Richard Lawrence but in execution this feautre was replaced by the copper pineapple.
Thomas Sewell, an inhabitant of Colne Engaine from 1779 and a friend of Philip Hills, describes the erection of the column in his diary entry dated Monday 14 September 1791 (Colne Engaine, p.37): 'The Column erected in Colne Park to ye memory of Michael Robt Hills Esq. was finished on ye day of this present Sept... It is built of free stone to a height of seventy feet and five inches, and is in size duly proportioned to that height. An inscription to the memory of the Mich Robt hills is cut in deep letters on the side of the pedestal of the column, the cutting of which inscription was completed on the 10th day of this present Sept... The vase with the pineapple is 8 foot in height and stands upon a stone which is laid upon the top of the column'.
The inscription read: MICHAEL ROBERT HILLS / ARM / PHILIPPUS HILLS / OBSERVANTIAE ERGO / P / 1791
The monument cost £1078 7s 3d plus £32 4s 2d expenses. Masonry work was executed by both a Mr Walker and the firm Deval and Son. Carving was conducted by a Mr Lawrence (Ledger B).
In 1987 the copper urn was blown off but it was restored and reinstated in a restoration by the Essex Heritage Trust, supported by the Soane Monuments Trust (1991).
The design has a close relationship to that of the column erected for James Evelyn at Felbridge, Surrey (q.v.). This drawing is in a set with a similar drawing showing the Evelyn Column (SM 65/3/6), executed in the same hand and in the same manner. The presentation drawing for the Evelyn column may in fact be a preliminary design for Colne Park.
This online catalogue of a drawing for Colne Park was written by Madeleine Helmer in 2012 and is based on a typescript catalogue by Christopher Woodward (1996).