Welcome back to our pal, Jo Manning, who reports frequently on her adventures in England and elsewhere. 

by Jo Manning

Pitzhanger Manor, front view and gallery from Ealing High Street, today
(the art gallery is off to the right side)
Proposed restoration to front and to art gallery

In the opening years of the 19th century, Sir John Soane (1769-1830) decided to build a country house for his family just outside of London proper. In 1800 he located a site in Acton, but soon abandoned it for an existing property in Ealing. His friend, mentor, and former teacher, the architect George Dance the Younger, assisted him in the demolition of part of the property and in redesigning what was the largest part of what was an existing house to Soane's exacting taste. The collaboration produced a charming home and lovely gardens in Ealing, an area of West London now completely different from the open fields that existed when the home was completed in 1804 and this area was very much more rural and accessible only by walking, stagecoach routes and private horse-and-carriage transportation from London.

Pitzhanger Manor circa 1804

 Pitzhanger Manor is just south of the busy shopping area on the Ealing High Street…
The location is accessible by bus, tube, and rail.

Relatively few people will have heard of Pitzhanger (sometimes spelled Pitshanger) Manor, and fewer still would connect it with the great Georgian architect. Sir John Soane (1753-1837), is more widely known to most of us for the museum in his name in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, comprising his original family home(s) Numbers 12-13 (built in 1792), and the adjoining Number 14 (also designed by Soane, it was purchased  in 1996 by the British government to house more of his voluminous private art collection).

Sir John Soane by artist Sir Thomas Lawrence

 Sir John Soane could not have been more prominent in his time. He was the Architect to the Bank of England; Surveyor to the Royal Hospital at Chelsea; Grand Superintendent of Works for the Freemasons; and responsible for the interiors of Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street as well as the Law Courts at Westminster. 

 Soane designed a number of new buildings adjacent to Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital at Chelsea. One of them, the Infirmary, was destroyed in WWII; the Stables (which are private but can be seen from Royal Hospital Road) is also his work and has been called “the most quintessentially Soanic” of all Soane’s exteriors; he also designed the Secretary’s Office of the Royal Hospital complex, which now houses the Museum (open to the public).

Sir John Soane’s Museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Soane’s residence in Lincoln’s Inn Fields was more than a private home; it was built to hold much of his art collection, which included architectural drawings, paintings, sculpture, architectural models, and his many and diverse artifacts (including the sarcophagus of Pharoah Seti I, excavated in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings in 1817; the British Library passed on buying it, so Soane bought it!)

As the architect for the Bank of England and its offices, an undertaking that occupied him for at least 45 years, of particular note was the Bank Stock Office, considered, in 1793, to be “daringly unconventional.”  He also designed the Dulwich Picture Gallery, recently described by The Sunday Telegraph as “the most beautiful art gallery in the world”.  It was the first public picture gallery in England and is said to have influenced a number of galleries that came after. (It is often remarked that the museum’s collection stands a far distant second to the magnificent design of the gallery itself.)

 The Dulwich Picture Gallery

 St John’s Church, Bethnal Green; St Mary Abbots Church, Kensington; St Nicholas’ Church, Chiswick; Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone; and St Peter’s Church, Walworth, are all fine examples of his church design. Of them all, the latter, St Peter’s, is the best preserved. (The fine interior of the church, however, can be viewed only by attending church services; grounds are open during daylight hours.)

Soane Family Tomb

Soane also designed his own tomb.  Ostensibly designed for his wife, who passed away in 1815, he shares her eternal rest along with their son John. It is in the churchyard of Old Saint Pancras Gardens, Pancras Road, Somers Town (not to be confused with Saint Pancras New Church, in nearby Euston, designed by the Inwood brothers).  Trivia check #1: Old Saint Pancras is the church where my biographical subject, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, was married.  Trivia check #2: The tomb is one of only two Grade I listed tombs in London (Karl Marx’s is the other one), and many think it inspired Giles Gilbert Scott’s red telephone box of the 1920s.

There are three tombstones: one for Soane’s wife, another for Soane, and the last for his son John (seen above), who predeceased him at the age of 37…

Back to Pitzhanger Manor’s happily anticipated restoration/renovation…

Back view, today, of the manor house, with an eye to the gardens…

Proposed view from the inner park to the rear of the manor house, showing new landscaping
 and the glass conservatory…

 Here’s the view of the new fish pond, looking out of the rear windows of the house…

Following the completion of the manor house, Sir John Soane was only to use it as a weekend retreat and a place of entertainment/dinner parties until he sold it only five years later in 1810.  Five years…such a short time for such an outpouring of energy and talent in the design of this building!

In 1843 it became home to the daughters of Britain's only assassinated Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval. (A bust of Perceval is on the second floor landing of the house, and that is an interesting story, this assassination…look it up!) In 1901, the building was sold to Ealing District Council and extended to become a public library; in 1985 it was converted into a museum.

Proposed view of Belvedere in the new plan…

Here is the government legalese regarding the application for renovation and its outcome:

                Ealing Council’s planning committee approved an application which included renovation work to the manor in Walpole Park, Mattock Lane, Ealing, when it met on February 19. This includes the construction of a new café in the walled garden with improved pedestrian access from Ealing Green to the café, a conservatory extension at the back of the manor, installation of a roof lantern, and updated visitor facilities for the former library building which was converted into a gallery in    the 1980s. The Government’s National Planning Casework Unit will now have the final say on the  Listed Building Consent approval.

Proposed view of the “Rick Yard” (Education Centre) in new plan…

                In April 2012 PM was awarded a first-round development grant of £275,000 from the       Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to develop the restoration plans and now a round-two bid of £4.42 million has been submitted. This is alongside a bid which has been sent to Arts Council England for just under £500,000 for works to the gallery. Ealing Council has also agreed in principle to allow the Pitzhanger Manor Trust (PMT)- a registered charity- to take over management and operation of the house and gallery.  Furthermore, £425,000 has been awarded from several charitable trusts and foundations which  fund heritage and arts projects, which are subject to the success of the second round bid from HLF
       Leader of Ealing Council and member of the PMT, Councillor Julian Bell, said: “We are making excellent progress towards the restoration of one of the borough’s most iconic landmarks and a  fantastic cultural asset.”
      Chair of PMT, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, said: “We are looking forward to the time when we take responsibility for Pitzhanger Manor Gallery, the new café and community facilities, all within the wonderfully restored Walpole Park.  “I have no doubt that once completed it will be the      jewel in the crown of the queen of the suburbs.” ***
      More funding is still required to enable the total cost of the project to be met. Subject to further   planning permission and all of the funding being approved, work on PM is due to start in early 2015.


 Jestico and Whiles site plan…

For more on how this site is being developed by Jestico & Whiles, the architect Julian Harrap and others, see:  http://www.jesticowhiles.com/project-info.php?p=2480

Julian Harrap rendering of Pitzhanger Manor

As of May 2014, work had already begun on the re-landscaping of the grounds surrounding Pitzhanger Manor. Although access to the landscaping area is strictly restricted, the manor house and art gallery are still accessible to visitors. Admission is free, and the interior of the manor house – which was renovated only a few years ago – is lovely. What more will be done to these rooms – if anything – will be revealed in 2015.  Here are photos of the gorgeous interiors.


And note this lovely painted ceiling (from the image above)

One of the four caryatids atop the columns of the east front of Pitzhanger Manor. Made of  Coade stone, they are thought to be modeled on the caryatids that enclose the sanctuary of Pandrosus in Athens…

Jo and Nick Manning, Pitzhanger Manor, May 2014 

In early May 2014, my husband and I went to an exhibit at the Pitzhanger Art Gallery. The speaker was an expert on Le Corbusier and his massive photographs of Corbu’s work adorned the walls of the gallery space. It was an excellent, well-publicized exhibit that drew many participants.  The gallery is an important venue for this Ealing community, which has – alas! -- a dearth of such cultural places.  The renovated house and grounds of Pitzhanger Manor will bring in many more tourists and visitors, who will, finally, honor the great architect and designer Sir John Soane in the way he should be honored. It will also be a tremendous resource for young people studying the arts. What a coup for Ealing! Bravo to the Ealing Council and the people of Ealing for their successful efforts in bringing this about.

***Ealing has long been called The Queen Of The Suburbs…

UPDATE: You can find an article from October 24, 2014 on the transformation of the Park and the unveiling ceremony here

Post Script…

The text, written by 8-yeqr-old Lily Winterbotham, reads:  Pitzhanger Manor … Sir John Soane owned this house in Ealing from 1800-1810. He was a famous architect and he bought this house as a contry [sic] retreat, and re-designed it. He was the son of a bricklayer and became a Professer [sic] at the Royal Academy.”