Somerley is a medium-sized country house panned in the 1980s and built between 1792 and 1795 for the retirement years of Daniel Hobson, a Salford wool stapler, who died in 1805. The architect was Samuel Wyatt, an admirer of the current Louis XVI style, modified to English tastes, and the cast iron technology evident in many of his industrial buildings. His younger brother James Wyatt’s style is also strongly evident in the proportion of the original
one-story building, its fenestration and particularly austere version of the Venetian window, as seen in the fine collection or original plans and elevations which remain at Somerley.
The earliest project included a domed and bowed central bay and entrance as used by Samuel at Coton House, Warwickshire, c.1785. It also has similarities with one of his earliest commissions, Doddington Hall, Cheshire, which began two years after both brothers completed Robert Adam’s plans for Kedleston, a process which occupied Samuel almost continuously from 1960-1774. James’ Heaton Hall, Manchester designed 1772 and Hevengingam Hall, Suffolk, designed 1782, and Samuel’s reconstruction of Shugborough, Staffs begun 1970; his designs for his finest work, Trinity House, completed 1796 and one of his main specialisations, his farm and estate buildings for Holkham Hall, Norfolk, began c.1790, should all be studied in relation to the original Somerley and its farm and estate buildings, completed for Daniel Hobson by 1795. By this time, the bow façade had been abandoned and the axis of the house, leading from the portico into the hall and the saloon turned through 90 degrees from south to north, to west to east. A service wing to the north was retained and once contained Daniel Hobson’s dressing room and bedroom, now adapted to smaller bedrooms and nursery.
A kinsman of the first owner, one Edward Hobson, put Somerley up for auction in 1811 evidently in a somewhat unfinished state. The new owner was Henry Baring, a member of the distinguished banking family. He added the colonnade on the south side of the house in 1817-1818, a newly fashionable feature
which John Nash had assisted in introducing for instance, at Whitley park, Worcestershire, c.1805. Similarly, Humphrey and John Adey Repton and C.A. Busby have left drawings at Somerley for a pheasantry and conservatory which may, or may not have been executed. Sadly, on the death of Henry Baring’s daughter, Anna Maria in 1824, it appears he resolved to sell Somerley and a suitable buyer came forward in 1828 recommended by a mutual acquaintance, Sir Robert Peel.
This was Welbore Ellis Agar, 2nd Earl of Normanton (1778-1868) an ardent collector of paintings and rival to George IV, the Hertfords, Angerstein, Desenfans and others in the saleroom. He succeeded his father, Charles Agar, Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland, in 1809; seven years later he married Lady Diana Herbert, daughter of the 11th Earl of Pembroke. His first addition to Somerley was a balustrade added to the roof c.1830. The second was the Picture Gallery and Wing joined to the south-east corner of the house in the period 1850-1851, the Earl himself acting as architect assisted by John Rubens Powell. On the 2nd, Earl’s death in 1868, the third and major phase of the building began. Already 50, the 3rd Earl had a large family and decided to add a further storey. He wisely selected the eminent historicist architect, William Burn, for the purpose succeeded by J. MacVicar Anderson in 1870.
The 3rd Earl’a alterations provided to be very far-reaching and expensive, but the integrity of Samuel Wyatt’s work has remained intact. First, a skylight had to be inserted into the midst of the house to illuminate the old Saloon, now called the Corridor, through a pierced gallery let into the first storey. This was the price to be paid for a complete remodelling of the Picture Gallery with the 1850s interior retained and the addition of a large and stylish T-shaped Drawing Room in place of the old anteroom.
As this blocked off the old garden entrance, the former Saloon thus became closed at the east end; the east wall was subtly pushed out with the adjacent Dining Room to marry with these new extensions. The Earl then clearly decided to take advantage of the upheaval to remodel many of the principle rooms in accordance with the prevailing Adam, Louis XVI taste, similar to the modifications at Marlborough House, effected for the Prince of Wales by Sir James Pennethorne. Where possible, the Samuel Wyatt style was retained but in the second storey, comprising mainly bedrooms for the 3rd Earl’s children, and the connecting staircase, William Burn used coffered ceilings and oak in the 17th Century style.
Extra rooms were also added to the entrance front to accommodate the Victorian taste for smoking and billiards, connecting to a newly extended porch though a court and conservatory. These ground floor additions were removed by the present Earl’s father in the 1930s to reveal the original Wyatt façade virtually unscathed. Today, Wyatt’s splendid stables remain intact but many of the additional buildings north of the service wing to serve the house and estate have gone, leaving only the brewhouse.