Sir John Soane's Museum
Sir John Soane
- Original design
- Sir John Soane, 1812
- Julian Harrap Architects, 2008
John Soane purchased No. 14 Lincoln's Inn Fields on 14th October 1823 for £1,480 from Abel Moysey. The first mention of No. 14 in Soane's 'Note Book' (his diary) comes on 12th October 1823 when he notes that he is Abt. plan for No. 14 – two days before the purchase of the house. The earliest surviving plan for the new building is dated a few days later.
In November the demolition of the existing buildings on the site began. On November 11th 1823, J. Eversfield offered at auction, Building materials, Whetstone Park... on the premises... the materials and fittings comprised in a SMALL BUILDING at the back of House No. 14, Lincoln's Inn Fields, the whole to be taken down and cleared away by the Purchasers. By 17 November the rear premises (a stable block) had been demolished. Soane then re-built this area as an extension to his Museum (today the Picture Room and Monk's Parlour) and installed medieval stonework from the Palace of Westminster in the central courtyard to create his 'Monk's Yard'.
Work on the re-building of the main house did not commence until after the construction of the Picture Room and Monk's Parlour was complete. The process began, as with the rear premises, with the advertising of the building materials from the main house, once again to be sold by Auction, by J. Eversfield, on Tuesday, 1 June 1824. The auctioneers catalogue gives an extremely good idea of the furnishing and structure of the previous house on the site.
Three sets of drawings survive relating to the re-building, dating between September 1824 and March 1825, the last of which show the house approximately as executed.
The accounts for the rebuilding of the main house cover the period March 1825 to December 1826 but it was only in 1828 that the first tenants, Messrs. William and Bethell moved in, misleading Soane as to their intentions. A two year dispute followed, in which Soane contended that he had been duped as the house was being used as commercial chambers whereas he had understood it was to be lived in by a family. He further objected to unauthorised alterations to the ground floor made in the interim and the non-completion of the decoration of the house (it was leased out with decorations only completed to undercoat stage). The dispute from was eventually resolved but is recorded in the Museum's archive.
On Soane's death in 1837 No. 14 was not included in the Museum's endowment but formed part of his personal estate, which passed into Chancery in the case Conduitt v. Soane and others, a dispute about Soane's Will. This rumbled on until the Court of Chancery was abolished in 1874. The house was then sold.
The freehold has since changed hands a number of times. Sir John Summerson applied to the Treasury for a grant to purchase it for the Museum in 1962 but his request was turned down. In 1996 the Sir John Soane's Museum Society purchased the freehold of the house with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and other major donors, notably the Rayne Foundation, the P.F. Charitable Trust, the Kirby Laing Foundation, the Vivien Duffield Foundation and the Coral Samuel Foundation. Tenants remained in No 14 for some years after its acquisition by the Museum and it was not until May 2006, after years of planning and fundraising that the main contract for the restoration of the building could begin.
The work has been carried out under the direction of Julian Harrap Architects (Julian Harrap and Lyall Thow) by the family firm of Fullers Builders Limited with Mick Roberts as the Site Manager and Stefan Moretta as the Contract Manager.
The main contract was completed on time and within budget in June 2007. Fullers have since completed a final phase of further works (decoration; floor finishes etc.). The specialist paintwork (the grained shutters and dado in the ground floor front room and the walnut graining on the first floor) has been carried out by Joy Huning and Saskia Patterson of Huning Decorations Limited. The Museum began to move into building in the early summer of 2008.
The basement is now the Education Department with two interconnecting rooms already in regular use for art classes, school visits etc. WCs have been created in the former coal vaults under the front area, including facilities for the disabled.
The ground floor is also intended for educational use with the Seminar Room at the front being available for lectures and classes etc.
The Museum’s Research Library is now splendidly housed on the first and second floors. It was previously on the first floor of No 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (1969-2008) but the fine bookcases and plan chests made in the 1920s were originally designed for the drawing rooms in No. 13, Sir John Soane’s Museum, with ebony inlay matching that of the original Soane doors there. These have been beautifully reconditioned by Arlington Conservation. The volumes containing Robert Adam’s drawings have been re-housed in new cabinets designed by Senior and Carmichael and made of American black maple.
The upper floors of No 14 are now staff offices and members of staff are still moving in as of September. The use of these new rooms frees up a series of rooms in No 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (above the Museum) which will eventually be reinstated as they were in Soane’s lifetime. These second floor rooms comprise Soane’s bedroom and bathroom, ‘Oratory’, Mrs. Soane’s Morning Room and Soane’s Model Room. Research and planning for this restoration is ongoing. The third floor of No. 13, in Soane’s day the attics where servants were housed, has been restored in 2007-08 as offices and a staff Common Room, which can be visited today via the new break-through in the wall between Nos 13 and 14.