Mr and Mrs Grenville Build a Grand House
Richard Grenville, sixth in a succession of fathers and sons all confusingly called Richard, started building Wotton house in 1704. We do not know why. He was 58 years old – a relatively advanced age in those days – and may have wanted to make his mark before it was too late. Like his father, he had married well and the Granville estates had started to bring in more money. And the political situation was propitious. The Act of Settlement of 1702, setting the seal on the newly stable constitutional monarchy, made such projects seem much less of a gamble than in the changeable times of the Vicar of Bray.
Building on the grand scale was anyway coming into fashion and Richard Grenville may have been aiming to keep up with his friend Lord Sheffield, who started to build Buckingham House (now embedded in Buckingham Palace) at almost exactly the same time. It cannot be a coincidence that, apart from the transposition of the front and garden elevations, the two houses looked almost identical (though according to Vitruvius Britannicus Buckingham House was nearly half as big again as Wotton). But whereas an architect, Captain Wynne, is credited with overseeing in the building of Buckingham House, there is no reliable evidence that architect was involved at Wotton. Richard Grenville may have bought a set of drawings very similar to those used by Captain Wynne and given them to John Keene “Master of the Free Masons at Mr Grenville’s work at Wotton” who, brought up in the school of Wren and Vanbrugh, would have been well able to interpret them. A number of strikingly similar houses were built at the beginning of the 18th century, including Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire, Chicheley Hall in Buckinghamshire, Buntingsdale in Shropshire and the original Cliveden House as re-modelled by Thomas Archer. Chilton House, not five miles from Wotton, though built some years later, also bears a striking resemblance.