Mells Manor and the Houses of the Horners: An Architectural Overview

Essay by Alice Blows

Mells Manor is situated in its village at the eastern end of the Mendip hills in Somerset. On immediate inspection, it is perhaps a more modest structure than one might expect. The existing Manor, however, has been adapted and renovated many times over the centuries and there is reason to believe that the surviving wing is one third of a much larger structure: a house large and grand enough to rival that of its neighbours, the Thynnes of Longleat.

The Manor’s recorded history states that as a part of the Glastonbury Abbey estate it was significant as a stopping point between Glastonbury and London in the context of the profitable medieval wool trade.1 The first reference to any building at Mells is to a ‘grange’ built by Abbot John of Taunton (d. 1291), although we know the estate was important before then and may well have had a high-status dwelling.2 It had been given to Glastonbury Abbey by Aethelstan ‘Half-King’ in the tenth century.3 However, it is not until the late fifteenth century, when Abbot John Selwood (1456–1493) appears to have undertaken building work at Mells, that there are more records about the house. William Wyche, writing in about 1497, refers to Selwood building ‘tenements’ in Mells.4 John Leland wrote a few years later: ‘Selwood Abbate of Glessenbyri seing the welthines there of the people had thought to have reedified the townelet with mene houses of square stones to the figure of an Antonie Crosse; whereof yn deade he made but on streetlet’ (now New Street) and, significantly, Selwood built ‘a praty maner place of stone harde at the west ende of the chirche’ in Mells.5 It was not unusual for the abbots of Glastonbury to have preferred dwellings; such, it seems, was Mells for Abbot Selwood, perhaps, as John Collinson noted, because of his father’s large possessions in the parish.6

There is some evidence for a medieval building at Mells within the existing fabric of the Manor House.7 On the north front of the central gable, a distinctive line of quoins divides the second east gable (fig. 1). Initial assessment suggests a garderobe although this is unlikely given the two four-centred doors at ground-floor level; equally, it is too small for an external staircase (fig. 2). A third possibility is an entrance porch (entering east to west) to the abbot’s manor, originally standing at the eastern end of a screens passage at the low end of the hall.

Entrance Front from the North, Mells Manor, Country Life, Saturday 17 November, 1917, p. 445

Figure 1.
Entrance Front from the North, Mells Manor, Country Life, Saturday 17 November, 1917, p. 445,

Digital image courtesy of Country Life. (All rights reserved)

Mells Manor, ground-floor plan

Figure 2.
Alice Blows, Mells Manor, ground-floor plan,

Digital image courtesy of Alice Blows. (All rights reserved)

Internally it appears that the quoins line up exactly with a wall more than 1.5 metres wide, which suggests that it was possibly once external. This wall forms one side of a room which has in the past been described as a hall, although now is a library. Thus it is possible that it formed part of a medieval hall. It may, perhaps, be the same as the ‘Great Hall’ forming part of the ‘Abbot’s Palace’ referred to in a short eighteenth-century account of the Horner family by the anonymous ‘A.B.’, revealed recently as a local vicar, the Reverend Henry Harris.8 It would, however, be surprising, given the dimensions of the surviving room, if this had been the entire extent of a hall belonging to the abbot.9 Indeed, internally there is an arch just below ceiling height on the north side of this room, which implies the continuation of the room (and building) to the north. There is also a drawing from 1833 which shows a two-centred door on the south side of this room, which may have been an original medieval entrance, where a large window is currently situated (fig. 3).10 In more recent years, a tile was found by this window with a possible date of the late fifteenth century.11 Further archeological investigation may enable confirmation of this formal entrance.

‘South West View of the remains of the Manor House at Mells, Somersetshire belonging to Col. Horner’

Figure 3.
John Buckler, ‘South West View of the remains of the Manor House at Mells, Somersetshire belonging to Col. Horner’, 28 June 1833. Drawing. The British Library, London (Add. MS 36382, f. 2380).

Digital image courtesy of The British Library Board. (All rights reserved)

A ‘great hall’ is referred to in inventories of 1677 and 1742 and also by Henry Harris in his account of the Horner family.12 Even combined with the dimensions of the current Dining Room this space could not have been the ‘great hall’. That was probably located in the lost range north of the current entrance porch.13

After the dissolution of the monasteries, the house and estate fell into the hands of a Crown agent who occupied it until 10 July 1543 when it was acquired by Thomas and John Horner.14 The Horners were evidently connected both with Mells and Glastonbury Abbey in the early sixteenth century, which may explain why they moved quickly to secure the house following the dissolution.15

It is reasonable to suppose that Thomas (d. 1552) was invested in improving his property at Mells; he is always referred to as being ‘of Mells’ rather than any of his other properties. After 1552 there may have been a hiatus in building as his son John lived at Cloford until his death in 1587. However, something of the Manor can be discerned from an inventory taken in 1587 which includes rooms at Mells: the Hall, the Parlour, the Chamber over the Parlour, the Wool Chamber and the room next to the Wool Chamber.16 His son, Thomas (1546–1611), is referred to as being ‘of Mells’ before he moved to Cloford around 1595, when there may have been a second hiatus until 1612 when another John (1580–1658/9), always associated with Mells, was responsible for the final unifying phase.

Cloford Manor was an alternative residence for the Horners in Somerset. The earliest work at Cloford has been dated c.1585 probably because of a letter from John Horner that refers to his ‘bade house at Cloford’ in 1583 and the subsequent mention of new buildings in his 1587 inventory.17 As the property was acquired in the 1540s, like Mells, it is perhaps surprising that earlier Horner building activity has not been identified. More surprising is that John preferred to live at Cloford if it was indeed in a ‘bade’ state, but then perhaps so was Mells. Even though much of the fabric has not survived, Cloford is not a grand house nor does it appear to have been anywhere near the scale of the H-plan house that was at Mells at least by 1644. However, it was often the preferred residence or the alternative home of the eldest son and heir: for example, George Horner rebuilt Cloford in 1633 while his father lived at Mells.

It is difficult to say much more about the building phases at Cloford. The building activity of the Horners at Mells Manor, however, can be understood in three distinct phases: roughly the west end of the existing house as of the mid-sixteenth century, the east end as of the late sixteenth (characterised by superior ashlar masonry, slender windows and the south canted bay) and the third unifying phase of the early seventeenth century.18

How Mells Manor looked by the mid-seventeenth century is fairly certain. Richard Symonds wrote a diary during the Civil Wars and in 1644 recorded that the house was in an ‘H’ plan: ‘The King lay at Sir John Horner’s howse in Mells, who is lord of the manor, a faire large howse of stone, very strong, in forme of a H, two courts. The church is very large and faire, adjoining to the manor howse.’19 This description is supported by a crude estate map of 1682 which depicts the ‘Courte House’ facing west (fig. 4). With five gables long (the same number as exist today), a court-like space is indicated. Interestingly, the map emphasises the strength of the house, showing the walls surrounding it with outbuildings and a gatehouse.20 Although the accuracy of this map has been questioned, the unusual orientation of the house and the correlation between the details portrayed and Symonds’s description suggest that it can be used to establish the basic form of the Manor House.21

Mells estate map (detail)

Figure 4.
Mells estate map (detail), 1682. Mells Manor Archive.

Digital image courtesy of Caroline True. (All rights reserved)

There are two distinct architectural features to discuss in detail. Firstly, the most significant window at Mells, which is arguably that on the west façade, the only (or at least remaining) classical feature (fig. 5). This canted bay is two-storey with a Doric entablature containing blank metopes and triglyphs on the lower bay and a guilloche or a series of niches on the upper bay.22 Both entablatures appear in Serlio’s Five Books of Architecture, first published in English in 1611,23 and is later than the west half of the house. The use of canted bays in the locality appears predominantly in the early seventeenth century.24 It is this later date which suggests that John added the Doric west bay and porch (see the passage from Richard Paget in 1794 below) after 1612, to create a uniform look from the western approach and the substantial strong house that Richard Symonds described thirty years later.

The Western Bays, Mells Manor, Country Life, Saturday 17 November, 1917, p. 448

Figure 5.
Maurice B. Adams, The Western Bays, Mells Manor, Country Life, Saturday 17 November, 1917, p. 448,

Digital image courtesy of Country Life. (All rights reserved)

Secondly, adjacent to the current Library is the Dining Room which contains an immense Tudor fireplace. That the Dining Room used to be a kitchen and one of the oldest parts of the house was suggested by Henry Avray Tipping on the basis of its immense four-centred stone fireplace (fig. 6).25 Furthermore, the chamfer is not particularly sophisticated, nor is there any detail in the spandrels, and it probably dates to the early seventeenth-century. A remarkable feature of this room is the south window, which sits directly behind the fireplace and is only visible externally (see floor plan: fig. 2). The window almost certainly existed before the fireplace and like those on the west gables could be c.1550 which would mean that this room originally had no fireplace. It is possible therefore that this room formed a small unheated inner room reached by a passage which led to the principal heated room (the west Parlour). This layout can, for example, be seen in numerous John Thorpe designs.26 The fireplace itself projects outwards beyond the line of the adjacent Library wall, raising the possibility that it was added later to the room, after 1612 when the room was a made into a kitchen and the division of the two end rooms was altered.

The Dining Room, Mells Manor

Figure 6.
The Dining Room, Mells Manor, Somerset.

Digital image courtesy of Rodolfo Rodriguez. (All rights reserved)

To conclude, the original medieval manor was orientated north to south. The surviving medieval fabric would have formed part of the south end of this range. The south and north wings were added to create the H plan by 1644.

The Eighteenth Century

In the eighteenth century the Horners moved their interest away from the Manor House, not to Cloford but to another site within the deer park on the Mells estate. The prospect of a new building, a park house, first appears in a memorandum of terms dated 23 November 1724 whereby Thomas Horner (1688–1741) commissioned the architect Nathaniel Ireson to build a house in the following year, 1725.27 The building probably replaced a park lodge and was made possible by Horner’s a financially advantageous marriage with Susanna Strangways in 1713. A park retreat was perhaps necessary if, as has been suggested, the old Manor House was an unhealthy environment in which to raise a family, given the tragic deaths there of all but one of their children. The surviving child, Elizabeth, was sent away after her birth in 1724, the same year that the new park house was commissioned.28

Nathaniel Ireson, a relatively little-known local architect, was born in Warwickshire in 1689, working first for leading master masons in the Midlands. By 1720, he was employed in the West Country, notably at Stourhead House, Wiltshire where he worked until 1725 (the same year he was supposed to complete the house at Mells).29 Coincidentally, Ireson had in 1723 been employed at Redlynch, the home of Horner’s future son-in-law.30 The memorandum states that the proposed house was to comprise five rooms on each floor, with three storeys, based on drafts and plans already made and delivered to Horner.

There are numerous unattributed drawings that survive in the Mells archive. Unfortunately, the plans identified in the memorandum no longer survive (none resemble the hand used for Ireson’s elevational design for Corsham)31 but a simplistic plan of five rooms with a bow bay that correlates with the memorandum description can be seen in multiple proposals possibly drawn by Thomas Horner (1737–1804) around 1760, documenting what existed with a view to extending.32

A watercolour shows what appears to be Ireson’s unaltered design (fig. 7).33 Neat and symmetrical, the square block is five bays across and of two storeys plus a rusticated basement level and an attic with dormer windows and balustrade and a two-storey projecting bay on the garden front. There is a gatehouse and drive up to the entrance. This watercolour further corresponds with some of the plans in that there is oddly irregular window spacing. The plans show that the central stair had no external windows and, indeed, the watercolour shows the house with a small rectangular lantern above what would be the stairwell.

Mells Park

Figure 7.
Artist unknown, Mells Park, circa 1726–40. Watercolour. Mells Manor Archive.

Digital image courtesy of Caroline True. (All rights reserved)

Mells Park is distinguishable from Ireson’s other predominantly Baroque designs.34 Widcombe Manor, Bath and Berkley House, Somerset both have giant Ionic pilasters and a large pediment.35 Similarly, Ireson’s 1747 unexecuted designs for Corsham Court, Wiltshire show an ornate facade with decorative use of rustication and finials adorning the roofline. This is indeed a stark contrast to the simplicity of that achieved at Mells Park.

It is, however, possibly misleading to see this building as a rare Palladian example in Ireson’s oeuvre considering he may have had little artistic input. We know that by 1738 he and Thomas Horner had fallen out, as a lawsuit demonstrates.36 The simplicity is perhaps not Palladian but, rather, reflective of the shell Horner wanted and the little money spent. Indeed, at Crowcombe Court, Somerset in 1734 Ireson was to be paid approximately £1230, a not an insignificant sum.37 By comparison at Mells, Ireson was instructed to build just the ‘case’ of the house and paid £210. This was clearly not a replacement for the grand Manor House as the principal residence of the Horners. Indeed, Horner’s last will of 1740 refers to his ‘mansion house’ to which all his goods were to be removed in order for an inventory to be taken (including all his ‘pictures and paintings’). By contrast the park house is mentioned only in the context of the deer park. Unsurprisingly then, an inventory of 1741 for the park house suggests it was being lived in by the game-keeper.38

Mells Park was extended in 1763 by a little-known mason, Daniel Hague and subsequently became the new principal residence of the Horners.39 The then owner, Thomas Horner, appears to have considered himself an amateur architect (which his scrapbook of drawings in Mells’s archive demonstrates). It is possible, therefore, that he required a mason or builder to carry out his proposals rather than a more eminent architect with ideas of his own. Hague’s signed drawing in the scrapbook shows the Ireson building with the addition of bow-fronted wings (schematic of the broad polygonal bays executed) to the east and west with a stable court attached northwards.40 The surviving arcaded entrance to the Stable Court of 1761 has been suggested as the work of John Wood the Younger but is more likely to be that of Hague.41 Around this time, landscaping was also undertaken by Thomas Horner.42 Some idea of the appearance of the house can be discerned from a portrait of Horner dating from about 1780 (MM48), where it stands in the distance.43 It is represented with canted bay wings and a shallow entrance bay prior to the nineteenth-century alterations. Horner’s own drawings, as perhaps to be expected of the mid-eighteenth-century gentleman, depict various follies, lakes and a temple in the park.

As Mells Park prospered, Mells Manor fell into partial ruin. It is difficult to say when this began; at some point the family left the Manor and moved to Mells Park, although the complex relationship between Horner and his wife suggests that Susanna and Elizabeth never lived at the new house, if it was even intended for them.44 However, by the second half of the seventeenth century the Manor was in decline. In 1764–8 much of the stone for building at Mells Park ‘was obtained by pulling down the north wing of the old Manor House in the village’.45 Herbert Jekyll in his account of the family quotes a letter dated 28 August 1863 from Caroline Horner which refers to one Thomas White, ‘who helped pull down the House and enlarge the House on the Park which would make it about 1773 when that was done’.46

Much of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century portraiture that now belongs to the Manor was presumably first displayed in Mells Park. One or two of the eighteenth-century paintings may have been at the Manor. Octavio Galli was employed as late as 1714 for a painting for the ‘Great Staircase’ at Mells Manor.47 The Reverend Henry Harris’s mid-eighteenth-century account describes a ‘brick room’ at Mells that contained ‘picture hanging’.48 Despite the distinct description of the room’s fabric (not the expected dress-stone or wood panelling), it is unclear which room this may have been.49 It is also frustrating that this description gives no further details of the contents of the collection and its display, especially as Richard Warner’s 1801 Excursions from Bath took him tantalisingly close to Mells and provides detailed observations of the collections at nearby Longleat and Marston-Bigot. Warner spends much of his time describing the important people in Longleat’s ‘vast collection of original portraits’. Marston-Bigot’s more varied collection is described as containing mythical works by Raphael and Poussin and landscapes by Zuccarelli.50 Both collections are displayed in every significant room and passageway. The fashions and tastes of these collections by 1800 may indicate what the Horners similarly and competitively collected, particularly as the collection at Mells today notably contains portraits of ancestors and historical figures.

By the late eighteenth century Mells Manor was let to a local farmer. Richard Paget, who had family connections with Mells, described the disrepair into which it had fallen by this time,51 in an article he wrote for The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1794:

Half of the old house is now mouldering in ruins, the rest is occupied by a farmer. It was one of those capacious and splendid mansions which arose towards the end of the 16th century, and the style of its architecture was superior to most of that age. The porch has been ascribed to Inigo Jones, but without sufficient reason. In all likelihood, the artist, whoever he was, that planned the porch, designed the whole façade, to which this porch is in strict conformity; and that the body of the house is of a date somewhat prior to the works of Inigo, certain inscriptions, which were lately existing about its walls, undoubtedly prove. The doorway of the porch is decorated with two fluted three-quarter columns, of the Doric order, supporting an entablature, above which are the family arms; the whole much enriched and well executed. In the metopes are the crest and other devices.52

It is interesting that Paget dates the surviving fabric of the Manor House to the late sixteenth century. He is also clear that the facade of the house, with its Doric columns, was of a single coherent design (presumably this is an extrapolation based on what had survived) and dated to a period ‘somewhat prior’ to Inigo Jones. However, a date in the early seventeenth century is perhaps more plausible and is consistent with the theory that John Horner around 1612 unified the design with Doric features.

The Nineteenth Century

Work on the parkland at Mells continued into the early nineteenth century when alterations and extensions were made including the creation of West Park and the upper lake. William Sawrey Gilpin, who was consulted between 1825 and 1832 regarding the landscape, extended the grounds and created a terrace north-west of the house to make the most of the vista.53 The house itself was the subject of seemingly constant renovation. Around 1807 James Spiller was employed by Colonel Thomas Strangways Horner (1762–1841) to carry out improvements both internally and externally. His detailed drawings for Horner include layouts of the bedchambers, the Drawing Room, Library, the principal floor, the basement with butler pantry and servants hall, the roof plan and alternative elevations of the west front including masonry on the bow fronts.54 Spiller’s drawings demonstrate extensive surveying and measuring of the existing building and analysis of the masonry. One minor proposal appears to be the inclusion of a folding door between the Library and Drawing Room and a double-width segmental west first-floor window. In neither case, however, is it clear that these designs were implemented. Spiller instead extended the west wing by an extra bay and further added a large bow bay on the west facade of this wing (fig. 8).

Drawing for west wing extension, Mells Manor

Figure 8.
James Spiller, Drawing for west wing extension, Mells Manor, Mells Manor Archive (MP D/07/0564).

Digital image courtesy of Alice Blows. (All rights reserved)

A letter of 11 July 1810 from Colonel Horner’s brother-in-law, Sir John Coxe Hippisley, to John Soane asks if he will help Horner following a dispute and parting of the ways with Spiller concerning his perceived lack of control over the work.55 Michael McGarvie has proposed that Soane’s involvement at Mells commenced as early as 1794 but Soane’s journals make it clear that his first visit to the house was not until July 1810.56 Like Spiller’s drawings, Soane shows sections of the Long Gallery with proposed alterations but with a lantern to allow light to permeate the space. There are also suggested alterations to details like the cornice, bookcase and fireplace in the Library and Drawing Room, notably the rooms on which Spiller was focused. In 1818 detailed sketches were also produced of the church at Mells and part of the Horner chapel in the church. The surviving offices and stables were also designed by Soane. A sketch (possibly by Soane) within the scrapbook shows Spiller’s extensions but with the stable court and service wing made accessible internally to the house and the arcaded court incorporated into internal passages.57

The most radical of Soane’s proposals were those to the main façade of the house. Four variations were suggested. All incorporate the clearly agreed upon single storey square porch with incised rectangular panels topped with a balustrade; the variations are always to the roofline and the second storey. In the first design, the upper two windows on either side of the central section interrupt a niche between them. A crest with swag adorns the central bay surmounted by a stepped dome with oculus and interlacing swags. The second design is the same but the niche is incorporated into the two flanking windows to create a Serlion window. In the third design, the balustrade is continued across the façade without the interruption of a dome. The façade itself is treated far more simplistically: two levels of windows make up the upper storey of the central seven bays. The uppermost level of these is slightly smaller and squarer than those below. The fourth design continues the balustrade but in front of a dome decorated with Greek fretting. Greek frets also form a frieze above triple windows on either side.

It is interesting that the third proposal, the least ornate, is closest to what was executed (fig. 9). The prevailing feature of these proposals is the porch and yet in correspondence Horner expressed a dislike of the porch. Soane is clear, however, in his response that this is what Horner had agreed (the porch width was ultimately reduced).58 Lady Horner also ‘found great fault with the stairs.’59 Perhaps unsurprisingly, Soane made no further visits to Mells after 1822.60

South front proposal 3/4, Mells Manor

Figure 9.
Sir John Soane, South front proposal 3/4, Mells Manor, circa 1818. Drawing and watercolour. Mells Manor Archive (D/07/0569 or D/07/0570).

Digital image courtesy of Alice Blows. (All rights reserved)

The Manor House, by contrast, enjoyed a rather different history. The south wing of the Manor, which survived the eighteenth-century destruction, evidently continued as some sort of farmhouse. A drawing by W. W. Wheatley in 1845 shows the south facade of the Manor and what appears to be a farmyard with well and outbuildings.61 However, soon after this drawing was made, alterations were carried out to the house to turn it into a school (the bell lantern remains). The College for St Andrew was a founded in January 1848 and closed c.1859.62 It is not clear what alterations were made to the house at this time but in W. J. Robinson’s account of 1914 he describes a room which was ‘formerly the chapel when the house was used as a school, [in which] there is a very fine panelled ceiling, with large and elaborately carved bosses at the intersections’.63 This is the room at the west end of the house currently used as a study that contains an ornate plasterwork ceiling. It is also during this period that the current main entrance porch was added; the earliest known sketch of the north facade shows the addition of a porch by 1852 with doors.64 It is single-storey, in a mock-Tudor style with a polygonal buttress and two two-cornered arches surmounted by a crest. This porch took the visitor through two front doors to the left and right. The 1851 and 1861 censuses reveal there may have been a time when the school and Margaret Horner were both occupying the building.65 By 1881 Margaret, her sister and their niece occupied the manor, so it is possible that some of the collection also resided there.

Meanwhile Adolphus Liddle, on visiting his friends John and Frances Horner at Mells Park in 1883, noted that the Horners had lately ‘taken up their quarters’ in this ‘old fashioned house’ and that the ‘Burne-Jones pictures looked a little strange in the comfortable rooms’ – the paintings no doubt belonging to Frances.66

The Twentieth Century

At some point a decision was made by the family to move from the capacious Mells Park back to the Manor house, possibly because of financial constraints.67 The family – Sir John Horner, his wife, Frances (née Graham), and their four children, returned to the Manor House in 1900, when they let Mells Park.68 Estimates for refurbishment in 1891 indicate that the move back to Mells Manor might have been contemplated for some time.69 While the move certainly constituted a downsizing from Mells Park, substantial alterations were made to Mells Manor in the early twentieth century. They included the provision of rooms for servants, particularly on the top floor, and the installation of a separate servants’ stairwell. A more radical alteration was the addition around 1905–8 of a service wing designed by Owen Little (1865–1931), including a kitchen, scullery, pantry and large servant’s hall (fig. 10).

South-west extension plan, Mells Manor

Figure 10.
Owen Little, South-west extension plan, Mells Manor, Mells Manor Archive.

Digital image courtesy of Alice Blows. (All rights reserved)

Not much is known of Little’s career. He was trained under Detmar Blow with a practice in Devon which consisted mostly of adding extensions or alterations to existing ‘great’ houses.70 He made alterations, for instance, to the manor houses at Collyweston and Overbury Hall – both buildings with early seventeenth-century fabric – and an extension to Skipworth Hall, an early eighteenth-century building. Little’s reputation for designing subtle additions to historic buildings may therefore have influenced the Horners’ decision to employ him as architect.

The Mells service wing, a relatively modest construction by Little, is stepped away from the original building to the south. Its large kitchen starts just beyond the western Parlour Room. While this design was careful not to interfere with the fabric of the original Manor House, the stepped passage that linked the two structures proved inconvenient at cellar level (where a small square window sits) and the floor level, unsurprisingly, was raised by the second Earl of Oxford, to enable easy access from kitchen to dining room. However, the raised flat roof of this passage and ribboned window cuts across the south window of the western Study Room. It is also surprising that the connection to the new house still incorporates a shed-like structure. This was clearly deliberate, as Little’s elevation plan of 1913 for the garden facade shows.71 A photograph from 1865 shows the same double-roofed structure that appears to have been a development of a lean-to from the 1840s.72

The end result is subtle, in part because the service wing is set back and mostly hidden from the driveway. Little created a sympathetic, mainly single-storey facade with echoes of the historic building behind with hood mouldings and mullioned and transomed windows of similar if not the same height as the originals. The hand-cut roof tiles are the same, the large gables sit at a similar angle and there is a four-centred door on the garden facade. A subtle nod to Arts and Crafts is still noticeable, with the low roofline and small oculus in the upper part of the gable.73

The use of a local and lesser-known architect may also have been decided by cost. Intriguingly, before Little was commissioned, Edwin Lutyens produced three detailed drawings in 1904, now held in the Mells archive, plans which were never realised.74 It is possible that Lutyens was employed around 1901 to undertake renovations on the Manor including the restoration of the medieval windows.75 Mells Park House, ‘with its unusual arcaded entrance court and Soane interiors, intrigued him, but the romantic Elizabethan Manor House close to the church was more to his taste and enthusiasm’.76 Christopher Hussey, who met Frances Horner with Lutyens, said that Lutyens ‘was always made much of by Lady Horner, whether at Mells or at her house in Buckingham Gate’. Indeed, Lutyens instead undertook work at the Horners’ new London home of 16 Lower Berkeley Street (possibly only the library) in 1909.77 According to Frances, Lutyens ‘beautified every house I had anything to do with.’78 This period in the early 1900s has been seen as the height of Lutyens’s interest in Tudor architecture.79 His involvement in the project at Mells was therefore as much for his own interests as a commission from the Horners.

It is worth considering Lutyens’s drawings in detail in part because they have never been published but also because they demonstrate the long working relationships Lutyens had with his clients. These drawings indicate a far more radical remodelling of the Manor compared to Little’s modest service wing. The sketching and incompleteness of certain details suggest that the drawings were produced in haste, possibly to entertain his friend Frances Horner (who he probably knew did not have the finances required) or simply to present a possible commission that they might see as grounds to employ him. However, the scaled floorplans imply that a survey of the structure was undertaken. Certainly, the plans were not like the quick sketches he produced for Mells Park.80

The first of the three drawings, dated February 1904, shows a ground-floor westward extension for services to form an overall L shape (fig. 11). Like the Owen Little design, the new kitchen and servant facilities appear to be the main benefit of this extension, including a large, almost double-height, servants’ hall. This appears to reflect a general anxiety at the time about the shortage of domestic servants and the need for better facilities to attract better servants.81 It is clear therefore that the need for improved service facilities was at the centre of the Horners’ requirements, reflected in both the Lutyens and Little designs. There was also around this time further division of rooms for servants on the upper floor. Indeed, the plans for the service wing are almost as large as what remained of the Manor.82

Proposed floorplans, Mells Manor

Figure 11.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, Proposed floorplans, Mells Manor, Mells Manor Archive (D/08/0618).

Digital image courtesy of Caroline True. (All rights reserved)

The second drawing contains a second-floor plan and identifies bedrooms (fig. 12). A sectional elevation shows the stepped profile of the design; for example, the service quarter is single-storey but the servants’ hall is double-height. A turret-like staircase is added on the west end, as is a large double chimney stylistically similar to the existing ones and typical of Lutyens’s Arts and Crafts houses.83 The two new sets of chimney stacks being close together, plus the east and west gable ends of the new block, would have created a strong line reflecting closely the original house but somewhat dominating it.

Proposed sectional elevation, Mells Manor

Figure 12.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, Proposed sectional elevation, Mells Manor, Mells Manor Archive (D/08/0618).

Digital image courtesy of Caroline True. (All rights reserved)

The third elevation drawing shows the materials to be used (fig. 13). Given the stone mullions around the new windows, it appears that the stone extension was to be in keeping with the existing building. A typical Lutyens feature is the distinctive dormer window and roof on the new north-facing kitchen roof and the small window on the south side of the extension where there is a false door. The upwards sprocket on the roofline above the kitchen is highly unusual. It is repeated in both the north and south elevations. Sprocket roofs are evident at Grey Walls (1901) or Little Thakeham (1902) but both show an upwards turn at the end of the downwards slope rather than the top. By placing the extension at the north-west point of the existing house, Lutyens clearly intended to change dramatically the approach to the house and revive the spectacle of arrival.

Elevation drawing, 1904. Mells Manor

Figure 13.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, Elevation drawing, 1904. Mells Manor, Mells Manor Archive (D/08/0618).

Digital image courtesy of Caroline True. (All rights reserved)

Pencilled comments note which old windows were to be re-used and that the existing coat of arms was to be re-used over the new front door. This door has medieval drip mouldings and buttresses on either side in the style of the existing, squared buttresses with finials. By comparison the simple square lintel over the side door next to the boot room suggests no attempt at a historic style. It is perhaps conceivable that Lutyens decided that the further away from the old building, the less was the need to integrate sympathetically and the more the style could differ. But it is an example of the eclecticism of styles sometimes incorporated in Lutyens designs.

Lutyens did finally design and build a music room and loggia for Mells Manor around 1922 – a far more modest addition than the 1904 remodelling proposal. This design added an additional room to the east of the house which contains, notably, the ‘Orpheus’ piano painted by Burne-Jones for Frances Horner. In 1902 Lutyens had designed a music room with a brick loggia at Ruckman, Surrey, although on a different, larger scale. Lawrence Weaver described this design as uncharacteristic of Lutyens but nevertheless praised its integration (rather than imitation) with the rest of the building.84 This perhaps provided the inspiration for the subtle extension at Mells. The polygonal, timber-beamed interior is contrasted with the unassuming exterior: a mock Tudor single-storey extension with a tall polygonal chimney and on the south facade round-arched windows leading out onto a loggia (fig. 14).

Mells Manor

Figure 14.
Mells Manor, south front with loggia.

Digital image courtesy of Mells Manor, Somerset. (All rights reserved)

By the early twentieth century Mells Manor housed not only the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century portraits that had been moved from Mells Park but also the increasing collection of Pre-Raphaelite and Renaissance art works. In 1914, W. J. Robinson described the collection in the old hall: ‘Among the many pictures in the various rooms may be mentioned portraits of the Old and Young Pretenders, Cardinal York, and a Stuart painting.’85 These paintings are still hanging in the Library and were moved from Mells Park.86 Robinson noted that the walls in the west Parlour were ‘decorated with excellent paintings in Italian style, representing scenes from the Scriptures.’87

While Mells Manor was being renovated, Mells Park was burnt down in a fire in 1917. Despite lack of means but perhaps as a result of the friendship between Frances Horner and Lutyens, the idea for rebuilding was clearly entertained. Lutyens provided drawings of a nine-bay building, two-storey with attics in an H shape (fig. 15). The proposed elevations show tall chimneys and steep gables on the projecting wings. The central entrance bay, however, is far more classical, with a small pediment and a Baroque door surround with broken volutes. The floor plan suggests the house was to face east with the south wing incorporated into the surviving service court. It has been suggested that this was the design arranged between Lutyens and Frances Horner.88 Sketches in a letter from Lutyens to Frances in 1918 might support this.89 They illustrate a two-storey building with low-pitched roof, tall chimneys and steeply roofed wings, not dissimilar from the other design (although a loggia on the garden facade was removed) and indeed, arguably, show the workings towards the final design.

Proposed design for Mells Park

Figure 15.
Sir Edwin Lutyens, Proposed design for Mells Park, Mells Manor Archive.

Digital image courtesy of RIBA Collections. (All rights reserved)

The ruin was ultimately sold to Frances Horner’s brother-in-law, Reginald McKenna, chairman of the Midland Bank, and Lutyens designed the new building at Mells Park, 1922–5. His executed design is far more restrained and without the Arts and Crafts chimneys and gables proposed in the alternatives. As the house was commissioned by McKenna rather than Horner, it is perhaps likely that this was the house and design that he preferred (Lutyens later designed the Midland Bank’s London headquarters at 27 Poultry, 1924–39).90 Once again, Lutyens’s proposals for building at Mells ended in a somewhat compromised, reduced result. Set into rising ground, it is two storeys and seven bays by four. The Giant Doric pilasters and hipped roof are ‘reminiscent of c17 Commonwealth houses’.91 This later classicism is a far cry from the Tudor gabled structures found in Lutyens’s design for the Manor House. The tall windows originally had shutters and there were aprons beneath the first-floor windows. Lutyens also worked with Gertrude Jekyll to design the sunken garden on two terraces and with Herbert Jekyll on the interiors. The surviving ‘Soane’ service court was also incorporated by Lutyens. A pedimented porch serves as the current entrance, the approach flanked on either side by Soane’s arcade.92

The houses at Mells moved in tandem: one went up and the other came down as the Horners moved between them, along with their evolving art collection. Both Mells Manor and Mells Park provided a locus for artistic and intellectual societies, such as the Souls and the Coterie, as well as the collections of art works that surrounded them. While much of these building campaigns no longer survives, both houses and their archive continue to provide an intriguing window into the past and the valuable opportunity to understand what has been lost.


  • Alice Blows is currently completing a master’s in Building History at the University of Cambridge and previously studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Her thesis has focused on uncovering the history of the significant houses at Mells. She works for the Pevsner Architectural Guides at Yale University Press.


  1. I. J. E. Keil, ‘The Garden at Glastonbury Abbey: 1333–4’, Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol. 104, 1960, pp. 96–101; more generally R. Athill, ‘Transport and Communications’, in R. Athill, ed., Mendip, a New Study, Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1976, p. 127, and J. Hare, ‘Regional Prosperity in Wessex’, in Linda Clark, ed., The Fifteenth Century, 18 vols, Woodbridge: Boydell, 2001, vol. 2, p. 110.

  2. For high-status buildings see J. Blair, Building Anglo-Saxon England, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2018, p. 355. Collinson notes a ‘sumptuous grange’: John Collinson, The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset, 3 vols, Bath: R. Crutwell, 1791, vol. 3, p. 463.

  3. Cyril Hart, ‘Aethelstan “Half King” and his Family’, in P. Clemoes, ed., Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 2, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973, p. 125; Lesley Abrams, Anglo-Saxon Glastonbury: Church and Endowment, Woodbridge: Boydell, 1996, p. 171.

  4. On William Wyche see James P. Carley, The Chronicle of Glastonbury Abbey: An Edition, Translation and Study of John of Glastonbury’s Chronica sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesiae, Woodbridge: Boydell, 1985, p. 34. For the chronicle see Thomas Hearne, ed., Johannis Confratris et Monachi Glastoniensis Chronica sive Historia de Rebus Glastoniensibus, 2 vols, Oxford, 1726, vol. 2, pp. 272–83.

  5. John Leland, Itinerary in England and Wales in or About the Years 1535–1543: Parts IX, X and XI, ed. Lucy Toulmin Smith, London: George Bell & Sons, 1910, p. 105. Other references to Selwood’s New Street at Mells can be found in a document of 1492: Dom Aelred Watkin, ‘A Hand-List of the Horner MSS. at Mells’, Somerset Record Society, vol. 31, 1942, Collectanea 111, p. 112, and in a survey of 1515: Joan Thorne, ‘A Survey of the Manor and Liberty of Mells in 1515’, Frome Society Year Book, vol. 12, ed. M. McGarvie, 2008, pp. 60–91. For the value of Leland’s descriptions see Anthony Emery, Greater Mediaeval Houses of England and Wales 1300–1500, 3 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006, vol. 3, pp. 697–8.

  6. Collinson, 1791, vol. 2, p. 463. There is no other evidence to corroborate this statement.

  7. Tipping placed the abbot’s house where the existing building stands (orientated east to west) by identifying the west end as also of Selwood’s time. Hussey and Pevsner (contra Tipping) give a later (post-medieval) date for the building. Hussey dates the western gables to 1540, concluding that the window mullions may have been used up from the abbot’s building: Henry Avray Tipping, English Homes, Period III, vol. 1: Late Tudor and Early Stuart 1558–1649, London: Country Life, 1922; Christopher Hussey, ‘Mells, Somerset – I: The House’, Country Life, vol. 93, no. 2414, April 1943, p. 751; Andrew Foyle and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol, London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002, p. 556.

  8. M. McGarvie, ed., ‘Memoirs of the Horner Family of Mells by “A.B.”’, Frome Society Year Book, vol. 1, 1987, pp. 9 and 11. For the identification of ‘A.B.’ as the Reverend Henry Harris see Michael McGarvie, ‘The Mystery of A.B.’, Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, vol. 35, 2001–5, pp. 135–6. Harris was the vicar of Norton St Philip, Somerset, from 1739 until his death in 1786.

  9. Tipping, 1922; compare for example the surviving fifteenth-century room at Norwood Park, Somerset which internally measures about 13 x 7 m and the hall at Asbury Manor, Oxfordshire which measures about 12 x 7 m. Both buildings have been attributed to Selwood: see (accessed 5 March 2020); but compare Emery, 2006, p. 51, and W. A. Pantin, ‘Medieval Priests’ Houses in South-West England’, Mediaeval Archaeology, vol. 1, 1957, p. 142.

  10. John Buckler, ‘South West View of the remains of the Manor House at Mells, Somersetshire belonging to Col. Horner’, 28 June 1833, British Library, London, Add. MS 36382, f. 238. The door does not appear in a watercolour and pencil drawing by W. W. Wheatley of 1845 (Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton, A/DAS/1/259/2), which shows an (evidently later) door in a different position. However, this door may have formed part of a structure built after Buckler made his drawing, against the outside wall and which covered the medieval door. This structure is no longer extant but can be seen in plans of the house drawn by Lutyens, Mells Manor Archive, D/08/0618: see n. 73 below.

  11. Private communication from Raymond Asquith, Earl of Oxford and Asquith, 2019.

  12. Mells, 1742 inventory, Dorset Heritage Centre, Dorchester, D/FSI Box 166B; McGarvie, 1987, pp. 9 and 11.

  13. Harris further relates that ‘the North Part of Mells House as well as the great hall was rebuilt by Sir John’ (1580–1659). The current library known as the Hall is a later epithet, possibly the ‘new hall’ of the 1677 inventory or a name given during the 1840s when it became a school: Mells Manor Archive, 1677 inventory.

  14. James Gardiner and R. H. Brodie, eds, ‘Henry VIII: July 1543, 21–25’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic: Henry VIII, Volume 18, Part 2, 1543, London: HMSO, 1902, f. 36.

  15. For the early history of the Horners see John Hutchins, The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 3rd edn, ed. William Shipp and James Hodson, London, 1861–70, vol. [3], pp. 665–7; Herbert Jekyll, ‘The Horner Family 1482–1932’, Mells Manor Archive, Library shelf 6; F. W. Cleverdon, A History of Mells, Frome: Frome Society, 1974, and Robert Dunning, Somerset Families, Tiverton: Edco, 2002, p. 67 for an explanation of the wealth of the Horners.

  16. Michael McGarvie, ed., ‘The Inventory of Sir John Horner of Cloford, 1587: Part II’, Frome Society Year Book, vol. 6, 1995–6, p. 70.

  17. Julian Orbach and Nikolaus Pevsner, Buildings of England, Somerset: South and West, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014, p. 213; ‘The Inventory of Sir John Horner of Cloford, 1587: Part I’, ed. Michael McGarvie, Frome Society Year Book, vol. 5, 1993–4, pp. 43–55.

  18. In dry periods an outline of what appears to be a building is revealed in the north lawn: private communication from Clare Asquith, Countess of Oxford and Asquith, 2019. Hussey dates the west buttresses c.1540 and the east end c.1570: Hussey, 1943, p. 751. Pevsner circumspectly dated the west end to c.1550–70 and the east end 1580–1600: Foyle and Pevsner, 2002, p. 556.

  19. Richard Symonds, Diary of the Marches of the Royal Army, ed. Charles Long, London: Camden Society 74, 1859, p. 31 (BL Add. MS 17062, f. 91). This is the only building other than castles which Symonds describes as ‘very strong’, which might explain in part why the king was happy to stay there. Curiously, Symonds does not describe the form of other buildings in a similar way but he does provide an accurate sketch of nearby Nunney Castle: f. 92. His interest in art and architecture is evident in his surviving manuscripts.

  20. According to the Reverend Lear of Mells, ‘there was a slight sketch of the house in its perfect state, and apparently the building was like a capital H, with the front door in the middle of the cross-piece’: Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society for the Year 1911, vol. 57, 1912, p. 58.

  21. It has been suggested that the house is angled 90 degrees from where it should have been: E. H. D. Williams, J. and J. Penoyre and B. C. M. Hale, ‘New Street Mells: A Building Survey of an Uncompleted Late Medieval Planned Development’, Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol. 130, 1986, p. 117.

  22. Hussey, 1943, p. 751.

  23. Sebastiano Serlio, The Five Books of Architecture, London: Robert Peake, 1611, e.g. book 4, f. 65. This was the first English translation of Serlio. The designs also appear in John Shute, The First and Chief Grounds of Architecture by John Shute, Paynter and Archytecte, First Printed in 1563, ed. Lawrence Weaver, London: Country Life, 1912, pp. 50 and 70.

  24. Other canted bays appear on Leigh House, Somerset and Cold Ashton, Gloucestershire into the 1620s.

  25. Tipping, 1922, p. 450; followed by Clive Aslet, ‘The Soul’s Delight. Mells Manor, Somerset: Seat of the Earl and Countess of Oxford and Asquith’, Country Life, vol. 209, February 2015, p. 56.

  26. John Summerson, ‘The Book of Architecture of John Thorpe in Sir John Soane’s Museum’, Walpole Society, vol. 40, 1966, pp. 1–133.

  27. Interestingly, the memorandum is not signed by Horner: Mells Manor Archive, MP D/07/0553. See also M. McGarvie, ‘Mells Park: Its History and Development’, Frome Society Year Book, vol. 4, 1990–2, pp. 31–50, who suggests, p. 31, that the site for the new house may have been that of the old lodge in the park. See also Mells Archive G/04/050: there is a map of 1706 featuring a keeper’s lodge.

  28. Joanna Martin, Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House, London: Hambledon Continuum, 2004, pp. 13–14. Susanna spent most of her life at Melbury, even after her marriage.

  29. Peter Fitzgerald, Nathaniel Ireson of Wincanton: Architect, Master Builder and Potter, Wimbourne: Dovecote Press, 2016, p. 8.

  30. Martin, 2004, p. 27.

  31. Colen Campbell’s plans for Stourhead (featured in his Vitruvius Britannicus, 1725, vol. 3) are not dissimilar to those for Mells: they are compact and square although the rooms at Mells appear smaller.

  32. Thomas Horner, architectural scrapbook, Mells Manor Archive, G/04/0950.

  33. The watercolour can be dated as not earlier than 1726, given that the house is unlikely to have been completed before the end of 1725, and not later than 1741 when Thomas Horner died. His nephew and heir did not come of age until 1758.

  34. Fitzgerald, 2016, p. 24.

  35. Ibid., p. 25.

  36. Lawsuit between Thomas Horner and Nathaniel Ireson, 1728, NA PRO C 11/769/63.

  37. Somerset Heritage Centre, DD/TB/25/19, DD/TB/10/9, DD/TB/13/2.

  38. PRO PROB 11/717/524- Thomas Horner’s will of 1740. Dorset Heritage Centre D/FSI Box 166B- inventory of 1741.

  39. Mells Manor Archive, G/04/0950.

  40. Account books of Thomas Horner, 1764–71, show ‘expenditure’ on labourers for the ‘new house’: ibid., D/07/0557. It also lists expenditure for surveying the Park, bronzes for the dining parlour, park improvements, work at the ice house and building the hot-house.

  41. Foyle and Pevsner, 2002, p. 556. This confusion is possibly a conflation of Wood’s involvement at Ston Easton for Horner’s son-in-law, Henry Hippisley Coxe, with work at Mells: Michael Hanson, ‘The Estate Market: Mansions in the Mendips’, Country Life, vol. 163, 1978, p. 471. There is an executed design for the Stable Court but it is in the hand of Thomas Horner: Mells Manor Archive, G/04/0950, f. 20.

  42. Foyle and Pevsner, 2002, p. 556.

  43. The letter held by Thomas Horner in the portrait is from Edward Phelips MP. The ‘FREE’ franking stamp was used by Parliament for MPs’ mail and the particular design on Thomas’s letter appears to date to c.1775–85. At this point there was little love lost between the Horners and the Phelipses: Thomas believed Phelips had reneged on an agreement to marry his daughter, Elizabeth, in 1780. A date of c.1780 therefore seems probable for the painting. Perhaps, then, this was Thomas’s riposte – an example of one-upmanship, with the painting making plain the contrast between the new Mells Park and Phelips’s superannuated Elizabethan pile. Beach’s painting, however, did end up in the Montacute collection and was sold to the Horners in 1929. An alternative explanation is therefore that the painting was given to Phelips in anticipation of the forthcoming marriage. Even then, it would still have made a grand statement of Thomas’s new building.

  44. Instead Susanna and Elizabeth Horner lived at Melbury (the Strangways family home) or on the Continent: Martin, 2004, pp. 13–14. An inventory for the ‘park house’ of 1741 suggests a small five-room house occupied by the gamekeeper and his son: Dorset Heritage Centre, D/FSI, Box 166B. Perhaps the keeper came to use it by default, its original purpose long since superseded.

  45. McGarvie, 1990–2, p. 39.

  46. Jekyll, ‘Horner Family’, p. 20. Horner was a compulsive builder but which designs were executed is often unclear; see estimate from Gabriel and Charlie Viner in 1784 and Robert Blakey’s extensive estimates and surveying, 1800: Mells Manor Archive, D/07/0561 and D/07/0562 respectively.

  47. Oliver Millar, ‘Artists and Craftsmen in the Service of Sir Stephen Fox and his Family’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 137, 1995, p. 524; Millar identified receipts for payments to Ottavio Galli by Thomas Horner.

  48. McGarvie, 1987, p. 19. The pictures seen by Harris may have included those listed in the Cloford inventory in 1587: ‘a picture of the Duches of Somerset, annother of the earle of Hartforde, another of an Emperour’: McGarvie, 1995–6, p. 63. These individuals may have been, respectively, Ann Seymour, her husband Edward Seymour and Charles V; for the Seymour family in Somerset see Dunning, 2002, pp. 110–17.

  49. All the surviving rooms are of stone rather than brick.

  50. R. Warner, Excursions from Bath, Bath: R. Crutwell, 1801, pp. 48–87. There are references in Thomas Horner’s will to ‘drawings, pictures and paintings’ but no details are given: NA PROB 11/717/524, proved 15 June 1742.

  51. Richard Paget was connected to Mells by the marriage of his aunt Elizabeth to Thomas Horner (d. 1804). John Horner (1842–1927) later reported that ‘the reason why the greater part of the house was pulled down, was not that it was in a bad state, but, about 110 years ago the Horner of that day preferred to live in his deer park . . . having built a large house there, he allowed the old manor house to be pulled down’: Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society for the Year 1911, vol. 57, 1912, p. 58.

  52. [Richard Paget], ‘Topographical description of Mells in Somersetshire by R.P.’, The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 64, pt 2, 1794, pp. 702–3. Paget’s obituary identifies him as the author: ibid., vol. 65, pt 1, 1795, pp. 382–3 and 1157, stating that he was well versed in architecture ‘as a variety of his elevations and designs testify.’

  53. McGarvie, 1990–2, p. 48; S. Piebenga, William Sawrey Gilpin (1762–1843), London: English Heritage Designer Theme Study, 1994.

  54. James Spiller drawings, Mells Manor Archive, MP D/07/0564.

  55. Sir John Coxe Hippisley to John Soane, 11 July 1810, Sir John Soane Museum Archive, London, Mells Park 4/10. Spiller was often the surveyor for Soane’s projects so it is possible that Soane was approached prior to Spiller.

  56. McGarvie, ‘Notes Towards a History of Mells Park’, Frome Society Year Book, vol. 4, 1990–2, p. 46; Soane Museum Archive, Office Day Book for 1809; Accounts Journal 5; see also Soane Museum Archive, Mells Park 4/10: Colonel Horner to John Soane, which suggests that his first visit to the house was in July 1810. Horner notes that a new wing would darken the butler’s pantry: Mells Manor Archive, D/07/0557. McGarvie suggests a new wing was planned (maybe the north additions). Spiller’s plans c.1807 do not indicate an additional wing after that built by Hague: Mells Manor Archive, D/07/0564.

  57. Foyle and Pevsner, 2002, p. 556.

  58. An early perspective shows the porch as double height with a shallow pediment: Soane Museum Archive, Mells Park 4/1/1. Horner feared this would be expensive and presented a modified lower porch design that Soane agreed to improving: Margaret Richardson, ‘John Soane: The Business of Architecture’, Georgian Architectural Practice: The Georgian Group Symposium, ed. Giles Worsley, London, 1991, p. 67.

  59. As John Soane reported to Colonel Horner, 15 July 1819, Soane Museum Archive, Mells Park 4/10.

  60. Soane made twenty journeys to Mells over 1810–21. He sent his final bill on 17 March 1824 although the account was not settled until 12 February 1829: ibid; Richardson, 1991, p. 68.

  61. Wheatley, watercolour, 1845, Somerset Heritage Centre, A/DAS/1/259/2.

  62. For the College for St Andrew see Mells Manor Archive, D/08/0612. In 1853 the household comprised 1 clergyman, 1 subwarden, 1 organist, 2 schoolmasters, 1 glass painter, 10 boys, 1 dame, 2 women, 3 girls 14 and upwards, 6 agricultural boys, all of which suggests that considerable alterations were made to the house.

  63. W. J. Robinson, Bristol Times and Mirror, Saturday, 31 January 1914, p. 14. See also W. J. Robinson, West Country Manors, Bristol: St Stephen’s Press, 1930. There is evidence of what may have been other alterations to rooms, particularly the Chapel, in the plans drawn by Lutyens: see n. 73 below.

  64. Unattributed 1852 sketch of north facade, Mells Manor Archive.

  65. England, Wales & Scotland Census, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, NA HO107, RG09, RG10 and RG11, Somerset, Frome, Mells.

  66. A. G. C. Liddell, Notes from the Life of an Ordinary Mortal, London: John Murray, 1911, p. 222.

  67. The family later also changed their London home to Lower Berkeley Street, around the time of John Horner’s retirement in 1907 and in 1906 Frances Horner had sold some of her father’s collection at Christie’s.

  68. Jane Brown, Lutyens and the Edwardians, London: Viking, 1996, p. 109.

  69. Refurbishment estimates, 1891, Mells Manor Archive, MM D/08/0615.

  70. Owen Little is perhaps best known for his work at Leeds Castle: Owen Cary Little obituary, RIBA Journal, vol. 38, 6 June 1931, p. 565.

  71. Little’s garden facade elevation plan, 1913, Mells Manor Archive, D/08/0618.

  72. Frome Society Year Book, vol. 1, 1987, cover page.

  73. See plans for a new thatch on part of the extension roof, perhaps another nod to the pastoral Arts and Crafts: Mells Manor Archive, D/08/0621.

  74. Sir Edwin Lutyens, drawings, 1904, ibid., D/08/0618.

  75. William Smith, glazing specialists, were employed to make new leaded lights and windows under the supervision of Lutyens, 1901: ibid., D/08/0617.

  76. Brown, 1996, pp. 109–10.

  77. Christopher Hussey quoted in Lawrence Weaver, Lutyens Houses and Gardens, London: Country Life, 1921, p. 19.

  78. Frances Horner, Time Remembered, London: William Heinemann, 1933, p. 202.

  79. Weaver, 1921, p. 59; David Cole, Sir Edwin Lutyens: The Arts and Crafts Houses, Melbourne: Images Publishing Group, 2017, pp. 260–382.

  80. Brown, 1996, p. 218.

  81. Clive Aslet, The Last Country Houses, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982, p. 85.

  82. Elizabeth Wilhide, Sir Edwin Lutyens: Designing in the English Tradition, London: Pavilion Books, 2012, p. 60.

  83. Similar Lutyens chimneys executed at the time of these designs can be seen at Little Thakeham, Munstead, Marshcourt and Grey Walls, for example.

  84. Weaver, 1921, p. 30.

  85. Robinson, 1914, p. 14.

  86. These portraits were brought into the Horner family by John Coxe Hippisley from his first wife Margaret Stuart (including gifts from Cardinal York).

  87. Robinson, 1914, p. 14.

  88. Jane Ridley, The Architect and his Wife: A Life of Edwin Lutyens, London: Chatto and Windus, 2002, p. 288.

  89. Brown, 1996, p. 218, who has confirmed (private communication, March 2020) that these drawings exist in correspondence dated August 1918 when Lutyens visited Mells and suggested alterations to the Manor House, as well as the ‘new house’ to replace Mells Park: RIBA, Drawing Rooms LUE/17/4/1-10, 1.156.

  90. Brown, 1996, p. 219, who sees the austerity of the Mells Park design as similar to the Midland Bank design (‘another McKenna building’).

  91. Foyle and Pevsner, 2002, p. 556.

  92. Ptolemy Dean, Sir John Soane and the Country Estate, London and New York: Routledge, 1999, p. 192.



by Alice Blows
20 November 2020
House Essay
CC BY-NC International 4.0
Cite as
Alice Blows, "Mells Manor and the Houses of the Horners: An Architectural Overview", Art and the Country House,