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Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk: 81 Guildhall Street: alterations and additions for James Oakes, 1789 (2)

James Oakes (1741-1829) was a yarn merchant, banker and prominent citizen of Bury St Edmunds, best known today for his diaries. In 1788 Soane was commissioned to make alterations to what is now 81-82 Guildhall Street, Bury St Edmunds to enable Oakes' residence to serve a dual function of dwelling house and banking hall.
It is possible that Soane won the commission on the recommendation of John Patteson of Norwich who was a friend and business associate of Oakes but had also met Soane at Naples in 1778 whilst Soane was travelling in Italy on a studentship awarded by King George III. There was certainly a family connection as on August 27 1789 Oakes records that 'I rode over to Mr Henry Patteson's with Mr Soane, left him there to dine.'
Oakes' diary records a number of visits by Soane and John Sanders between November 1788 and April 1790, to inspect the existing house, to make drawings of the proposed alterations, and to supervise the building work. On Saturday November 29 1788 Oakes records 'Mr Soane came to us at Breakfast in order to look over the House I intend to Repair'. The cost to Oakes of Soane's journey was £6.6.0 and the survey a further £6.16.6 (SM Journal 2, p. 51).
The design seems to have taken some months to agree. Soane sent a first 'fair drawing of a design' on 2 January 1789, on 11 January a further 'four fair drawings of designs', on 3 February 'a Plan with more Alterations', on 16 March 'Two Plans and two elevations with more Alterations' and finally on 25 March made a journey to Bury (SM Journal 2 p. 51). Oakes's diary for 25 March 1789 states that 'Mr Soane came to breakfast & settle the Plan of my House.' Presumably this meeting was helpful because by 2 April 1789 Soane was 'Making Working Drawings' (SM Journal 2 p. 52).
The alterations were carried out between 1789-91. One wing accommodated a new dining room for the family whilst the other wing was built specifically as a banking office and occupied the full width of the wing. The new wings are just visible in the rough plan shown on the verso of SM 80/1/7. Above the banking room was a dining room used by Oakes to entertain customers on market days (Fiske, p. 71). It is not therefore clear whether the entablature in SM 80/1/47 was for the family or the bank dining room. Soane was also working at Cricket St Thomas (q.v) in 1789 and typical of Soane's re-use of his designs, two drawings exist (SM volume 43/3 and 43/5) with pencil inscriptions recommending that designs for chimney-pieces be deployed in a bedroom, and the drawing room and dressing room of Mr Oakes' house although it is not known if Oakes agreed to this.
By 27 January 1791 the alterations must have been finished, or nearing completion as Soane's office 'Sent per post Mr Soane's Acct likewise an Abstract of the Bills for work done at Bury' (SM Daybook 1791, p.13). However it was not until 26 October 1791 that Oakes' diary records '[The] first time of Receiv[in]g at my Banking Office.' Detailed accounts for the alterations exist and list the bricklayer and plasterer as John Hill, the carpenter as Samuel Lyon, and the mason as Thomas Singleton. The total cost of the work was £263.9.6 net of an overpayment of 10 shillings and 4 pence 'to be retd to Mr Oakes.' (SM Journal 2, pp. 51-3, SM Bill Book 4, pp. 17-25).
The building still exists and despite its conversion to offices is, according to P. Dean, Soane's best preserved work in Suffolk. (P. Dean, op.cit below)
Literature: J. Fiske, ed. The Oakes Diaries: Business, Politics and the Family in Bury St Edmunds 1778-1827. Vol. I-II, Suffolk, Boydell, 1990-91, vol I, pp. 71, 257, 259, 260, 275; P. Dean, Soane Monuments Trust Inventory Listing, File A-B, Ref 86 (in SM research library).

Joanna Tinworth, July 2012
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