Benjamin Henry Latrobe was the most important neoclassical architect in the United States in the early years of the 19th Century. Until the appearance of this drawing all his known drawings were thought to be of American subjects and held in institutional collections in the United States of America, in particular the Library of Congress, the Historical Society of Philadelphia and the Maryland Historical Society.
However, this drawing represents one of Latrobe's first projects before he emigrated from England after three years of 'personal distress' following the death of his wife in 1793. A year earlier, in 1792, 'while pursuing his studies at home, he was visited by a friend, Mr. Sperling, who, finding him disengaged, and admiring his growing talents, commissioned him to design and build for him a mansion near East Grinstead, to be called Hammerwood Lodge... This building obtained for him the further patronage of Mr. Trayton Fuller, for whom he designed a house at Ashdowne park' (obituary in Ackermann's Repository, 1 January 1821). John Sperling (1763-1851) seems to have had to return to his native Essex on the death of his mother in 1795, and this may have led to the abandonment of much of Latrobe's design, which seems to have involved the total reconstruction of the existing house. It was reported in 1805 that the side pavillions were unfinished, and the present state of the house, some three and a half miles from East Grinstead, suggests that sections of an earlier structure are embodied within the present building, which is much more elaborate than Latrobe's designs. (For Latrobe's designs for Hammerwood Lodge, see F.C. Carter II., ed., The Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Series II, 'The Architectural and Engineering Drawings', vol. II, 'The Architectural Drawings', New Haven and London, 1994, pt. I, pp. 50-52, the house and plan illustrated figs. 26-29). The scheme is a particularly striking one for a young architect at the beginning of his career; from 1787 to 1790 Latrobe had been a draughtsman in S.P. Cockerell's office and had probably worked on Cockerell's designs for Warren Hastings' house Daylesford in Gloucestershire, which no doubt influenced his later work. In particular the use of an archaic Doric order, based on the temples at Paestum, has been described as a 'demonstration of primeval force'. According to John Harris, 'it elevates Latrobe to the rank of the very first of British architects, not even subservient to Sir John Soane'.
Before Latrobe's arrival in the United States, no architect of such stature had emigrated to America, and it is doubtful that America produced any comparable classical architect until the Paris-trained C.F. McKim in the 1870s. As Tablot Hamlin has commented in Benjamin Henry Latrobe, New York, 1955, Latrobe 'left an indelible impression on this country not only by his own work, but also because of his influence on his pupils.' He left his mark on Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Orleans, where he died. His reputation is based on such buildings as the Bank of Pennsylvania (1798), the Philadelphia Waterworks (1799), his work on the United States Capitol from 1803, the Catholic Cathedral in Baltimore (1805), the Exchange in Baltimore (1816), and St. John's Church, Washington (1815).