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.

Site record drawing of the new Infirmary

Site record drawing of the new Infirmary

Robert Chantrell
16-24 Oct. 1810
Pen and coloured washes on paper
Vol. 76/23 (Chelsea drawing 96)

This drawing is part of a series by one of Soane's pupils, recording the construction of the new Infirmary. Soane believed sketching the construction process essential to a pupil's education and he regularly sent pupils out in pairs to do so.

This particular sketch was eventually worked up into a large drawing to illustrate Soane's Royal Academy lectures on the process of construction. The perspective shows one of the long wards, with a workman in the doorway and two more on the temporary roof above.