The History of Sir John Soane’s Museum
13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London
The architect Sir John Soane’s house, museum and library at No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields has been a public museum since the early 19th century. Soane demolished and rebuilt three houses in succession on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, beginning with No. 12 between 1792 and 1794, moving on to No. 13, re-built in two phases in 1808-9 and 1812, and concluding with No. 14, rebuilt in 1823-24.
On his appointment as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806 Soane began to arrange the Books, casts and models in order that the students might have the benefit of easy access to them and proposed opening his house for the use of the Royal Academy students the day before and the day after each of his lectures. By 1827, when John Britton published the first description of the Museum, Soane’s collection was being referred to as an ‘Academy of Architecture’.
In 1833 Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament to settle and preserve the house and collection for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture. On his death in 1837 the Act came into force, vesting the Museum in a board of Trustees who were to continue to uphold Soane’s own aims and objectives. A crucial part of their brief was to maintain the fabric of the Museum, keeping it ‘as nearly as circumstances will admit in the state’ in which it was left at the time of Soane’s death in 1837 and to allow free access for students and the public to ‘consult, inspect and benefit’ from the collections. Since 1837, each successive Curator has sought to preserve and maintain Soane’s arrangements as he wished. However, over the years changes have been made and the recent Five-Year Restoration programme sought to restore Soane’s arrangements and effects where they had been lost.