Soane’s Plans


The final restoration scheme was the outcome of a series of plans submitted by Soane to the Marquess early in 1821. Little or nothing had survived of the 1704 interiors. apart from some of the ironwork and balustrading from the staircase, and the vaulted cellars. Soane was given a relatively free hand and designed a brilliant sequence of interrelating spaces within the shell of the 18th century building, although he had to drop some of his more grandiose effects for reasons of economy.

At the insistence of the Marquess (later Duke) of Buckingham, Soane retained the external appearance of the 18th century building, but lowered it by some 8-10 feet on the grounds that the fire had weakened the top storey. His real aim was however to impose a Georgian proportion on a William and Mary house. The top floor above the cornice was replaced by an attic storey ingeniously contrived within the new cornice and its entablature. The original 18th century urns and statues were re-sited on the rebuilt parapets.

The Marquess of Buckingham (who confusingly became Duke of Buckingham in the course of the work) was the ultimate owner of Wotton and was responsible for engaging the architect. But his son, at first Earl Temple but subsequently Marquess of Chandos, was living at Wotton and had his own ideas which did not always coincide with his father’s. The correspondence which survives at the Soane Museum shows Mr Soane receiving instructions at times from the father, at times from the son, and being paid sometimes by one and sometimes the other, depending on the job.

On two points father and son were consistently in agreement: the architect’s more extravagant schemes were rejected in favour of plainer and cheaper alternatives; and the work had to be carried out as quickly as possible. When Soane wrote to the Marquess on 22 December 1822 to tell him that the works would now cost £21,150, Buckingham replied by return (pre-echoing Soames Forsyte): “You said it would not exceed £20,000”. On 12 April 1822 Lord Chandos (that is, the son) wrote to Soane: “Wages of all workmen to be reduced – order of Duke. The times are altered, and materially for the worse, consequently one must in every way possible reduce our expenditure.” It will have been scant comfort to the Wotton workforce to know that tradesmen at Stowe were suffering similar cuts join their wages. In the event, the work was completed, bar decoration, by the stipulated date of 1 January 1823, a remarkable feat.