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Hamels Park, Hertfordshire: (executed) dairy in a primitive, rustic style for Mrs Yorke, 1783 (7)

Soane's design for a dairy in a rustic style is seen as among the most remarkable of his early executed works, but it is likely that George Dance played a major part in achieving this early example of a 'Primitivist' style of architecture.

There are seven drawings in the Soane Museum for the dairy at Hamels, but the two drawings discussed here that are attributed to George Dance are in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (see P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 14 - 'Dairy design for Lady Craven' and catalogue 77 - 'Design for a dairy at Hammels' ). The first of these V&A designs for a dairy is inscribed by Soane 'The Rt Honle the Lady Craven 1781'. The room labels and dimensions are in Dance's hand, and the two variant plans and two variant elevations were certainly drawn by him. The same hand made the second drawing, that is a further variant design with one elevation and two plans. It varies from the 'Lady Craven' design in having columns without bases, revealed rafters under the eaves and in the number of windows but is essentially the same design. The watercolour additions to the elevation of sky, trees, grass, climbing plants, thatch and wall surface share the same palette and method as the elevations of 'Lady Craven's dairy' which suggests that they were made at about the same time. An explanation (suggested by Professor du Prey, in conversation February 2009) is that both drawings were made for Lady Craven in 1781 and reused for the Yorke commission of 1783. The second V&A drawing is signed 'JS Archt' and has notes in Soane's handwriting that presumably encapsulate both Dance's and his own ideas, viz. 'The pillars are proposed to be of the Trunks of Elm Trees with the bark on / and Honey suckle & Woodbine / planted at their feet, forming / festoons &c / The Roof to be thatched & / the ends of the Rafters / to appear. // Plans of two designs for / a Dairy in the primitive / manner of building.'

There are no drawings for Lady Craven's dairy in the Soane Museum, but there is an entry, dated 22 October 1781, in Soane's 'Ledger A' that reads - 'Making four designs for Garden / buildings' for 'The Right Honble Lady Craven'. There is no note of a fee.

Support for Dance's authorship comes from Soane's note book 1 which shows that on 27 January 1783, he was 'With Mr D[ance] drawg the dairy' (SM SNB 1). Dance's variant elevations with a wide and shallow pediment with revealed rafter-ends are more Italianate than Soane's executed design, the composition having an easy grace. Soane's re-working of Dance's design (see, for example, drawings 1 and 2 catalogued below) is more Classically correct, that is, with a Doric frieze (with open metopes) and a tighter, more steeply proportioned pediment. Soane adopted the three-part plan suggested by Dance but ignored the trefoil plan with three apsidal ends (a favourite plan form of Dance's) and chose to have two apsidal-ended compartments and one square one.

On 31 January 1783, Soane wrote in his notebook: 'Making a fair Drawing / of Mr Yorke's Dairy / called on Webber &c' (SM SNB 6). This may refer to a third dairy drawing at the V&A. A watercolour perspective with a dairymaid that has charm but was made by someone uncertain of the conventions of architectural perspective. Perhaps the artist was John Webber (1751-93) who enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy in 1775, exhibited in 1776 and was appointed painter on Cook's third voyage, returning to London in 1780 to make a successful career as a topographical artist (see du Prey, op.cit., catalogue 78, V&A 3306.163).

Soane's notebooks also show that another drawing of the dairy was made for Mr Yorke and left with him on 4 March 1783 (SNB 6). On 10 March 1783 Yorke 'ordered the dairy' (SNB 6) and subsequent entries in Soane's site notebooks have sketches and notes for it, dated 5 May (SNB 7). These include a rough perspective close to drawing 6, details of the elevation with a note '...set with small / stones', details of marble 'dressers' and of doors with notes. There is a pencil and pen sketch perspective of the dairy made c. 10 September 1783 in Note book 8.

The dairy cost £550.12.3½ (SM Abstracts of Bills 1782, pp.4-5). It was demolished at some time between 1820 and 1876, and its site is now marked by a clump of trees on a golf-course (P.Dean, Sir John Soane and the country estate, 1999, p.165). In his Plans, elevations and sections of buildings (1788, plate 44) Soane describes the dairy as follows: 'This building is placed near the house, and surrounded with large trees; the fronts are rough-casted, and the roof is covered with reeds; the pillars are the trunks of trees, with the bark on, decorated with woodbines and creepers'. The plan and elevation are described thus: 'The ceiling of the loggia is arched; the dairy also has a vaulted ceiling, enriched with large sunk pannels, filled with roses, and other ornaments in stucco; the tables for the milk are of marble ... the walls are varnished and decorated, and the windows are of stained-glass in lead-work.'

The importance given to Soane's role in the introduction of the 'primitive' in English architecture via the dairy at Hamels makes the attribution to Dance of two key drawings of some interest. Dance did not build a rustic dairy with bark-covered columns until 1807 (at Camden Place, Kent SM D2/9/3-5, J.Lever, Catalogue of the drawings of George Dance the Younger ..., 2003, [82]18-20). But his dislike of limiting design within certain rules and his support of 'architecture unshackled' made him, through Soane, the natural progenitor of 'Primitivist' architecture in England.

Literature. P. du Prey (op.cit. above); J. Lever, 'The Soane-Dance collaboration, 1771-1799, Architectural History, volume 53, 2010, pp.163-190

Jill Lever, October 2008
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