Soane's London

Pitzhanger Manor

Collections | Soane's London | Pitzhanger Manor

By 1800 Soane had built himself a successful career, inherited a fortune, gained a young family and built his own town house at No. 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields. The next thing he wanted was a house in the country – to confirm his position in society and to provide space for his ever expanding collection of art and artefacts. He first bought a plot of land at Acton, early in 1800.

However, this project was quickly abandoned when Pitzhanger Manor (one of the first buildings Soane had worked on as a young assistant in George Dance the Younger's office) came up for sale.

Of the old Pitzhanger, Soane kept the wing designed by Dance with its large eating room, and drawing room. The rest was demolished in favour of a yellow stock-brick villa, with six principal rooms: a breakfast room, library, drawing room and three bedrooms. Service buildings at the back were connected to the house by a courtyard. Mock-ruins were also added to the grounds, to appear as if the remains of a Roman temple had been discovered there.

Soane's residence at Pitzhanger was short-lived, however. Mrs Soane's declining health made the upkeep of two residences impractical and the house was sold in 1810. The house was subsequently much altered in its reincarnations as a home for the Perceval sisters and as a public library. The principal Soane rooms were restored in the mid-1980s and the house has been open as a museum since 1987. Further Soane restorations are planned for the future.

Interior perspective of the Library

Interior perspective of the library

Joseph Michael Gandy
Pen and coloured washes on paper, framed
P94 (Pitzhanger drawing 221)

This atmospheric drawing of the library, exhibited at the Royal Accademy in 1803, was made by J.M. Gandy, an architect and perspectivist employed by Soane to make many drawings of executed or proposed buildings. In this case, the perspective was made prior to construction, even though it shows the rooms in use.

The room has a four-armed starfish ceiling (a form that can also be seen in the breakfast room at No. 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields). The room was designed specifically to house Soane's expanding collection of art and artefacts, which can be seen around the room: urns and vases in the wall niches and books lining the shelves. The cast reliefs of 'The Dancing Hours' from the Palazzo Borghese, above the doors, are the only objects that remain in the library. The rest of the collection was removed to Lincoln's Inn Fields when Soane sold Pitzhanger.

Soane's own work can be seen around the room – a plan of the Bank of England lies on the table and the framed drawings above the niches display designs for various Soane buildings. Mrs Soane is seen in the adjacent breakfast room. The whole composition is given an air of theatricality by the heavy stage curtains in the foreground.