Soane's London

The Royal Hospital Chelsea

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The Royal Hospital Chelsea was established by Charles II, designed by Wren and built between 1682, when the first foundation stone was laid, and 1692 when the army pensioners were admitted. More than 100 years later, in May 1807, Sir John Soane accepted the post of Clerk of Works there.

Since the establishment of the Wren buildings circumstances had changed – the Napoleonic wars in particular had increased the numbers of pensioners at the Hospital to such an extent that many of the Wren buildings were completely inadequate.

Over the course of almost 30 years as Clerk of Works, Soane was required to design many new buildings, from a larger Infirmary to new offices for the Secretary and staff and some smaller buildings including a bakehouse, gardener's house and Artificers' Yard. Soane even had a house on the premises which he enlarged and where he spent increasing amounts of time after his wife's death in 1815.

Rough plans and elevation

Rough plan and elevation


John Soane
16 Aug. 1809
Pencil and brown pen on paper
67/5/18 (Chelsea drawing 32)

The new Infirmary was the first major project that Soane was engaged on at Chelsea Hospital. The pensioners were in great need of a larger building for their sick and infirm, particularly as the old Infirmary was located above the Great Hall, with 90 steps leading up to it. This drawing shows a very early design for the new Infirmary in Soane's own hand.

The plan shows the wards laid out with beds. To the left is a partly detached ward with six beds, intended for patients with venereal diseases. To the right are two small separate blocks, to house the dead. In both cases the separation from the main Infirmary was to prevent infection. The rooms in the main body of the Infirmary are also labelled for the Physician, Apothecary, Matron and Nurses.