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Guest Blog: Barry Clayton on Tyringham Hall, Buckinghamshire

Barry Clayton began working as an architect in the early sixties.  With a career spanning almost 60 years, he has worked with a broad range of architect practices in London, Finland, Cambridge and Newcastle.  Barry and his family settled near Milton Keynes in the late sixties and soon after set up his own private practice after acquiring Tyringham Gateway.

In this article, Barry discusses his interest in the works of Sir John Soane and Tyringham Hall, one of Soane’s most notable projects.

  • Barry Clayton photographed at Tyringham Hall

My earliest interest in the works of Sir John Soane began around 1958 whilst still an architectural student in London.

I acquired the semi-derelict Tyringham Gateway in 1965, however it was not until 1977 that it became habitable.  It was totally restored inside and out and subsequently became our family home.

In 1980 my new studio was constructed adjacent to the West Lodge of Soane’s Gateway.

For thirty-three years (1966-1999) Tyringham Hall was run as a residential naturopathic clinic.  Following closure of the Clinic the building was acquired by a new owner who intended to restore it as a private residence.  English Heritage and the local planning authority insisted on a detailed Conservation Plan which would be used to control all further building work.  I was commissioned to produce this report, and subsequently I continued to be consulted on detailed aspects of the restoration.

In 2008 I was appointed to design and build the new stone gate piers and wrought-iron gates at the start of the old carriage drive leading up to Tyringham Hall.  These were completed in 2012.

  • Photograph of Tyringham Hall

Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837) is widely recognised as one of England’s greatest architects during the late Georgian era.  Over his long career he developed a highly idiosyncratic neo-classical style yet sadly by the late Victorian era Soane’s legacy was felt unfashionable.  Half of his buildings were either demolished or insensitively altered beyond recognition.

The greatest of his surviving works in London are the Bank of England (the series of astonishing top-lit vaulted interiors were wantonly destroyed, essentially only the external screen walls survive), Nos. 12 – 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (formerly Soane’s home and office now the Soane Museum), Pitshanger Manor Museum, Ealing, and Dulwich Picture Gallery.  All have benefitted from multi-million-pound grants, were authentically restored and are now open to the public.

  • Image of Soane's Hall - Gandy

By the 1780s most of Soane’s commissions involved small country houses, chiefly in East Anglia; some have happily survived and privately owned.  Even after becoming established and appointed as architect to the Bank of England and other public buildings, Soane continued his country house practice, designing completely new houses or alterations to existing ones.  Unfortunately, of the 18 entirely new houses designed only 8 remain in their original form today.

In 1792 Soane was commissioned to design a house for William Mackworth Praed, a wealthy entrepreneur, MP and banker.  Praed’s ancestral home was at St. Ives, Cornwall however he married Elizabeth Backwell the joint heiress of the Tyringham estate near Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire.  The Backwell family seat was a medieval manor house standing close to the tower of St. Peter’s Church, Tyringham, overlooking the River Ouse.  Praed’s intended Soane to simply refurbish this old manor house but then changed and commissioned an entirely new villa with an entrance gateway, a bridge spanning the Rover Ouse and a coach house with stables.  All four of these Soane buildings survive today, all are Grade 1 listed and the magnificent bridge classified as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

  • A bridge photographed at dawn at Tyringham Hall

Tyringham represents a fine example of a wealthy Soane estate and remained the architect’s personal favourite, later writing: “the building of Tyringham was completed and occupied in the year 1797 after having engaged a large portion of six of the happiest years of my life”.

Unlike other country houses by different architects – i.e. Blenheim, Castle Howard, etc – Tyringham is small yet remains the largest of Soane’s country houses.  Its rectangular plan has segmental bowed facades on the long entrance and garden elevations, with typical Soanean incised decoration and Greek-key frieze cut into the fine ashlar stonework.  The flat lead roof sits above slated mansards with dormer windows behind a stone parapet balustrade, above an incised entablature.  The interiors displayed simple refined decoration with Soanean ball-beaded cornices.  The two-storey central inner hall or “tribune” was dramatically top-lit by a circular lantern-light of roof level containing clear amber and blue stained glass.

  • A photo of Soane's Stable Block

Between 1907 and 1919 Tyringham’s owner, Frederick Koenig, commissioned Florian Kulikowski, a Parisian decorator and the Austrian architect, Ernst Eberhard von Ihne to transform the interiors from Soane’s refined neo-classicism into the continental baroque style then fashionable in Berlin.  von Ihne also added the flat-topped copper dome.

Soane’s dignified stone coach house/stable block (1799-1800), stands northeast of the Hall.  The enclosed stable court forms the apex to an earlier (pre-Soane) walled garden.  In early 2000s it was restored and converted into a single house.

Soane’s entrance gateway and bridge built in 1794 remain unaltered and both are considered to rank amongst his greatest works.  Sir John Betjeman: “the most perfect small buildings I know in England”.  David Watkin: “masterpieces of refinement and simplicity”.  Nikolaus Pevsner: “a monument of European importance – 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”.

  • A photo of the new gates at tyringham hall

In 2007 Anton Bilton, commissioned the architect and Soane scholar Barry Clayton to design a pair of stone gatepiers with wrought-iron gates, located at the start of the carriage drive leading up to the main house/stable block.  Constructed during 2011/12 they were the first “intruder” building in the park since the Soane Era; both the planning authority and English Heritage classified it as a “curtilage structure”.  The design is contemporary yet inspired by both Soane and Lutyens.  The piers are in Clipsham limestone, Weldon being no longer available.

Large, precise ashlar blocks, empty niches and simple incised lines around the top of the piers create abstracted echoes of the elements of an entablature.  The iron gates’ design was influenced by Soane’s gateway at Langley Park, Norfolk and the stone gatepiers resemble cenotaphs, echoing Clayton’s respect for Lutyens.


The Sir John Soane Museum Collection by Haddonstone includes a stunning range of home, garden and landscape designs.  All of these designs are made by Haddonstone under exclusive licence from the Sir John Soane’s Museum and thanks to the special licensing agreement between the Museum and Haddonstone, the Museum will benefit financially from every sale made from the collection.  This is a very rare opportunity for you to acquire a notable design from the Museum’s historic collection for your own home, garden or outdoor space.

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