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Tyringham House, Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire: entrance screen, bridge, house, offices, greenhouses and stables for William Mackworth Praed, 1792-1801, record drawings 1808 (169)

1792
Tyringham House is the largest of the 18 newly-built country houses of Soane's career. The commission was also the most costly, with the house, entrance screen, bridge, greenhouses, garden house and garden wall amounting to £43,140 12s 1d, including expenses and Soane’s commission. A stables block was built in 1800 at an additional cost. From 1793 to 1797, Soane replaced the estate’s Elizabethan manor house with a Grecian-inspired building. The house has a giant Ionic order on the bowed front, fine ashlar facing and simple pilasters marking its corners. Internally, it boasts large rooms for entertaining surrounding a central top-lit principal corridor. The designs for this house developed slowly over three years, an unprecedented amount of time for a Soane country house design. His client was William Praed, a banker and politician who acquired the estate by marriage in the 1770s.

Tyringham House was an important, and enjoyable, commission for Soane. In his ‘Memoirs of the professional life of an architect' (1835), Soane described his work there: 'This Villa with its numerous offices, greenhouses, hot houses and extensive stabling, the great bridge and the lodge, was completed and occupied in the year 1797, after having engaged a large portion of six of the most happy years of my life.’ Soane was provided the freedom and means to erect a building that showcased his capabilities: ‘the design for this building having been duly considered and the possessor feeling full confidence in the architect, there being no committee of taste with a ‘superintending or controlling power’, the whole structure was completed in all its parts without any deviation whatever from the original plans’. Soane brought his mentor George Dance (1741-1825) to see the building in June 1796 and, acknowledging the design's successes, in 1802 Dance wrote to Soane: 'You would do me a great favour and a great service if you would let me look at your plan of Mr Praed's house (Tyringham). I want to steal from it. I should have been with you if it had been possible, but I am over head and ears and I have got a house to build in the country which plagues me to death, though I am excessively eager about it, but cannot do anything to please myself’. Dance was referring to Coleorton, Leicestershire, which he built for Sir George Beaumont, from 1802 to 1808. In 1808 Soane's pupils made numerous fair copies of Tyringham's buildings.

Soane met William Praed through the Marquess of Buckingham (of Buckingham House, 1790, q.v.) who took Soane to visit Tyringham in August 1792. Praed (1747-1833) was a politician and banker and the chairman of the Grand Junction Canal Company, a venture to link the existing Oxford Canal with London. He had married Elizabeth Tyringham in 1778, shortly after she inherited the family estate at Tyringham. The house they occupied was an Elizabethan building, long and low with gabled wings. Soane surveyed the house in September 1792 and made variant designs for its alterations (including a gothic design) and a new stables block, presenting various sets to the client from December 1792 to March 1793. On 8 June 1793, the client agreed to construct a completely new house and soon thereafter, on 20 June, Soane delivered to Mr Praed 6 fair drawings showing variant designs for a proposed house. More presentation drawings followed. A bridge across the river Ouse was built in late 1793, its site and design chosen after consultation with John Haverfield the younger (c.1741-1820), chief gardener at Richmond and Kew. The bridge is a low-lying single arch spanning the river, with wing walls that curve outwards at each end and solid partitions. An entrance screen was built in late 1795, a restrained Doric design that Nikolaus Pevsner has deemed to be 'a monument of European importance... it is entirely independent of period precedent, a sign of daring only matched at that moment by what Ledoux was designing in France and Gilly in Germany' (Pevsner and Williamson, p. 703).

The design for the house developed over several years and Soane visited the site often. Many of the existing drawings are devoted to the building’s entrance hall and tribune. This part of the building developed slowly and drawings were still being made in late 1796, more than a year after construction began on the house itself. The finished design consisted of a groin-vaulted entrance hall anchored by four Greek Doric columns supporting full entablatures, with steps leading up to a top-lit cross-passage overlooked by the first floor corridor, labelled on the plans as the ‘tribune’. Soane also altered the design over time to include a billiard room in the north-east corner, acheiving this by relocating Praed’s dressing and sitting rooms into the attached office block. The offices were designed in 1796 and consisted of two raised ranges connected by lean-to roofed wings to surround a court.

The house was occupied in 1797. Soane’s draughtsman Joseph Michael Gandy visited the estate for 9 days in July 1798 to make views of the house, bridge and entrance screen. A view of the entrance hall was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798. Soane proudly mentions in his ‘Memoirs’ of 1837 that the house was successfully warmed by steam, ‘and so substantially and perfectly was the apparatus constructed that after having been in constant use for upwards of twenty years, the works were as perfect as on the day on which they were finished, although the original expense did not exceed two hundred pounds'.

The catalogue of drawings for Tyringham includes numerous record copies (that is, drawings made by pupils for their own education), some showing earlier variant designs that, though made in 1808, have been sequenced here to show the building’s design development.

The Victoria & Albert Museum collection has 13 of Soane's drawings for Tyringham. These include four alternative designs for the south entrance front, including a presentation drawing that corresponds to a preliminary ground floor plan in this catalogue (drawing 24). Sections showing variant designs for the entrance hall are also in the V&A collection, as are views by Joseph Michael Gandy of the entrance screen and bridge, which are part of a set with drawings 151 to 157 in this catalogue (P. du Prey, pp. 59-61.). Soane also made designs for a chapel at Tyringham, drawings for which are in the Soane Museum drawings collection.

Tyringham House is a residence today. Its interiors have been altered and its central tribune built over on the first floor, but the house retains some original features, including Soane chimney-pieces and the central lantern. The exterior is as built by Soane, though a domed roof has been added and the offices are altered and raised. The stables and workshops exist, though the stables have been converted to flats.

Literature:
A. Bolton, The Works of Sir John Soane, 1924, p. 19; Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 126-138, pp. 59-61; N. Pevsner & E. Williamson, Buckinghamshire, 1994, p.703; G. Darley, John Soane: an accidental Romantic, 1999, pp. 106-110;P. Dean, Sir John Soane and London, 2006, p. 185; K.R. Fairclough, 'Praed, William Mackworth (1747-1833)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, June 2008, accessed April 2012.

Madeleine Helmer, 2012.
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