4 March 2015

Sir John Soane's work for Edward James Eliot

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) by Samuel Drummond (1812)

In a previous post, I touched upon Sir John Soane's work with Edward James Eliot, and I included a bill drawn up by one of Soane's clerks to Eliot's executors. I originally believed that Edward James Eliot did not consider living in his own house - that is, away from Downing Street, the home he shared with his friend and brother in-law William Pitt the younger - until the autumn of 1791. He had become a widower in September 1786 when his wife, Lady Harriot Eliot, died shortly after giving birth to their first child, and he seemed in no hurry to leave his brother in-law's residence. In 1787, he wrote to their mutual friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Pretyman, asking her to 

"...tell Him [Pitt] ... my Heart Begins to fail me about leaving his House [Downing St], as yet, if Ever.” [1] Therefore, I believed that Eliot did not begin drawing up plans for houses until the summer of 1792 at the earliest.  Apparently, I was mistaken.

I've recently been conducting research at the Sir John Soane Museum's library, and I found some invaluable information regarding not only Soane's dealings with Pitt's Holwood estate, but also his lengthy work for Edward James Eliot. Soane's first recorded trip to Holwood was on April 17, 1786. [2] It seems Eliot must have heard about the architect's growing reputation. There are several records in Soane's ledgers in relation to Edward James Eliot that date from as early as June 18, 1787.  A 'Mr. Rolleston' paid Soane £190:0:0 for Eliot's rent, but overpaid by £2 due to "an Error in the Land Tax," [3] and had to be refunded the difference. In February 1788, the dealings between Soane and Eliot continued. Soane received £100 from Eliot on February 7th, and the following day Soane "Paid Riley of Long Acre Rent of House...£92:11:0." [4] The bill for these transactions were settled, and the next entry comes on November 10, 1790 where Soane "Surveyed & Valued Sir J. Skinner's House in Bedford Square." [5] Then in March 1791, he "Surveyd Capt. Lewis's house at Clapham Common," and "Sent Mr. Eliot the Valuation of Capt. Lewis's house, and plan of the same," including his fee for a hired chaise and "Paid advertising for a Villa in Kent." [6] 

Throughout 1792, plans and designs for houses in Sydenham, Chislehurst, Roehampton and Clapham were made for Eliot by Soane [7]. In September 1792, Eliot even enclosed one of Soane's plans for a house in Clapham in a letter he wrote to Mrs. Pretyman [8]. Next, Soane made a "Sketch of the Plan of Sir R.M. Keith's house, and of three houses in Spring Gardens" for Eliot on November 13, 1793, and then in November 1795, he "Enclosed Mr. Willock's Sketch, Particular, and Valuation of Mr. Montague's House at Shooter's Hill & attending Mr. Willock, &c." [9] Spring Gardens was located near modern-day Trafalgar Square, and a short distance from Downing Street, and he was familiar with the area from the early 1780s. 

Eliot never paid Soane before his death in mid-September 1797, and a bill was consequently written out to Eliot's executors on April 16, 1798. His brother Mr. John Eliot also had Soane work for him throughout the 1790s: one property was at 22 Bedford Square, and another at 11 Downing Street [10]. I believe the two brothers perhaps had joint architectural ventures, hence the overlap in their bills. John Eliot settled the payment for his late brother on June 7, 1799, giving Soane £41:13:1 [11]. 

Identical to the one preserved at Pembroke College in Cambridge, the bill to the Executors of The Hon Edward James Eliot, lists the following still to be paid:

"1791 Mar 15 Surveyd Captain Lewis’s house at Clapham Common
29th Sent Mr. Eliot the Valuation of Captain Lewis’s house & Plan of the same, Chaise hire - £6:6:0
Aug 8 Paid advertising for a Villa in Kent £0:16:0
Nov 17 Clerk’s time & expences to Sydenham, Chislehurst, & Roehampton to look at Houses & making Plans of three Houses £4:4:0

1792 Aug 23 Making two Designs for Houses £3:3:0

Total: £14:9:0

Wrote out June 7, 1799" [12]

Upon receipt of payment from Mr. John Eliot, Edward's account with Sir John Soane was closed. 


1. Edward James Eliot to George Pretyman. January 16, 1787. The Kent History and Library Centre, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C35/1.

2. Soane Museum Archive: Soane's visits to The Right Honourable William Pitt's Holwood villa. Journal 1, ff. 58-59.

3. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for June 18 - September 21, 1787, f. 141.

4. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for February 1788, f. 141.

5. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for November 1790, f. 141.

6. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for March 1791, f. 141.

7. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for 1792, f. 142.

8. Edward James Eliot to Mrs. Pretyman. September 25, 1792. The Kent History and Library Centre, Pitt MSS: U1590/S5/C35/1.

9. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Honouable Edward James Eliot. Records for 1793 and 1795, f. 142.

10. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. Mr. John Eliot's bill,  f. 389, f. 425.

11. Ibid.

12. Soane Museum Archive: Ledger C. The Executors of The Hon. Edward James Eliot, June 7, 1799,  f. 426.

Image Credit:

Sir John Soane by Samuel Drummond (1812). Accessed here.