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.

View of the back of the Clerk of Works’ House

View of the back of the Clerk of Works’ House

Charles James Richardson
Pen and coloured washes on paper
Vol. 76/74 (Chelsea drawing 163)

When Soane accepted the post of Clerk of Works in 1807, he was given the use of a house in the hospital grounds as part of his annual salary. This house was rather small however, and Soane set about adding wings to the original structure to create a larger, more symmetrical residence. He also added unique chimneys, topped by jar-like smoke-pots. Soane's son, George, wrote an article in The Champion ridiculing Soane's architecture and these chimneys in particular, calling them 'raisin jars' and describing the roof on which 'ranged in military array, appears a little regiment of chimney-pots with white heads, like so many well grown cauliflowers'.