Introduction to the Building

In 1788 John Soane became Architect to the Bank of England and two years later in 1790 his wife’s wealthy uncle George Wyatt died, leaving John and Eliza Soane a substantial fortune. They had been living in rented accommodation in Welbeck Street (near Marylebone High Street) with Soane’s architectural practice in rented premises in Great Scotland Yard in Westminster. In 1792, Soane bought No. 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields, perhaps influenced by its proximity to the Royal Academy at Somerset House on the Strand. The aspect was south facing and the square itself green, pleasant and protected from development: Lincoln’s Inn Fields was also conveniently near the coaching inns on High Holborn from which Soane could travel to his clients and building sites or despatch models or drawings around the country.

Between 1792 and 1794 he demolished the existing house, in the centre of a terrace, and re-built it. Although his new house conformed to the building line of the square his facade was distinctive, having a rustic brick cornice at the top and being built of white Norfolk bricks which would have stood out among the surrounding houses. The plan of the new house retained the idea of a residence at the front and a small central courtyard but replaced the stable block at the back with a purpose-designed two-storey architectural office.

Sketch of the frontage of Numbers 12, 13 and 14 Lincoln's Inn Fields

 

This later drawing c.1825-30 (not in the Soane collection; sold on ebay in 2010) shows the façade of Nos 12, 13 and 14 Lincoln's Inn Fields after Soane acquired and rebuilt No. 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1824-25. At that time he took the opportunity to raise the front wall of No. 13 to create a full third storey, doing away with the front slated mansard.

 

 

 

In 1807 Soane purchased No. 13, the house next door to the east, as he wished to acquire the stable block at the rear and was prepared to buy the whole house to do so. The sitting tenant remained in the existing house and Soane demolished the stables across the rear of the site and constructed a double-height 'Museum' area for the display of plaster casts and marbles and a new architectural office. These new buildings at the rear of No. 13 were entered via No. 12 and Soane provided the tenant of the front part of No. 13 with a passageway at the east end of the new rear buildings to give him access to Whetstone Park, the mews street behind.

Sketch showing the layout of Soane's crowded Museum in 1811

 

 

 

 

Watercolour view of the Museum at the back of No. 13 in 1811 (an extension from No. 12 at this date), showing how crowded it had become following the sale of Pitzhanger Manor and the accomodation of the works of art from there.  P384, Soane Museum Collection.

 

 

 

Soane later wrote in his Memoirs that it had been following his appointment as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806 that he began to arrange the books, casts and models in order that the students might have the benefit of easy access to them and it seems to have been that appointment that led to his desire to acquire No. 13 to expand his Museum.

In 1809-10 Soane toyed with the idea of taking over the whole of No. 13 and combining it with No. 12 so that he could continue to live at No. 12 and transform No. 13 into a museum space with collections displayed in an academic and rational manner in galleries devoted to particular kinds of works: architectural models, casts or drawings. The idea was announced to Soane's students at the Royal Academy in 1810 and is shown in two plans but was impractical because it would have involved demolishing much of No. 12 to straighten the party wall with No. 13. Instead, Soane continued to acquire casts, marbles, natural curiosities, books, models and drawings and to display them in an inspirational rather than a rational manner.

Soane's proposed plan for the rebuilding of Number 13 Lincoln's Inn FIelds

 

Detail from, Soane Museum drawing 14/6/3, showing Soane’s short-lived 1810 scheme for amalgamating Nos 12 and 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 1812 his Museum at the back of No. 13 was full up: he was acquiring more and more objects and had also incorporated his collections from Pitzhanger Manor (sold in 1810). He therefore negotiated with the tenant of No. 13, George Booth Tyndale, to take over the whole house: Tyndale was offered No. 12 on a long lease in return for vacating No. 13.

In July 1812 Soane began work on his plans for the rebuilding of the front part of No. 13 and the demolition of the existing house on the site started on the 17th of the same month. The rebuilding of No. 13 was largely complete by the end of the year. The new No. 13 was a three-storey brick house with a distinctive projecting Portland stone open loggia or verandah on the front. Behind the house Soane reduced the width of the central courtyard, constructing rooms on either side (the Breakfast Room to the west and the Study and Dressing Room to the east) which he linked through to his Museum and office at the back of the site - making adjustments to the floor levels in these existing areas to make this possible.

At his Royal Academy lecture on 6th January 1812 Soane announced to the students that they could visit his house the day before and the day after each of his lectures to inspect the drawings and other collections. Such visits would not have taken place during 1812 as Soane did not deliver another lecture until January 1813 (a consequence of an on-going dispute with the Royal Academy over his criticism of a work by a living architect in a previous lecture). However, his house was referred to for the first time in the European Magazine of November 1812 as an Academy of Architecture.

After the completion of the front part of No. 13 it took almost a year to furnish the house and it seems that Soane and his family continued to live at No. 12 until autumn 1813. It was not until October 10th 1813 that Soane’s diary records At home all day - arranging papers &c. [and] Mr. & Mrs. Pope & Mr. Monins dined here, last time in old House, Mem: Drank tea, first time in new Study [this was the room he later re-named the Breakfast Room]. On the 11th Soane dined first time in new Study with Mrs. Soane & her companion Miss Sarah Smith.

Soane continued to live at No. 13 until his death, making constant alterations to enhance the poetic and picturesque qualities of his interiors and to incorporate new acquisitions.

 

This pen & pencil drawing of No. 13 shows the front façade in c. 1813-1819. This is the only view of the façade to show the attic as it appeared before the façade was raised in 1825 and it confirms that a door in the centre of the slated front mansard led out onto the front part of the roof behind the parapet.  (Hobhouse Portfolio, 46).

 

 

 

 

The following pages present the entries from Soane’s notebook kept during the work on No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Entries will be posted on the corresponding day for each entry – some days Soane made no entry so there will be no posting for that day. References to Soane’s Diary in the accompanying notes are to the notebooks in which he recorded his daily appointments. Some spelling and punctuation has been corrected and where Soane has used abbreviations the missing letters are supplied in square brackets e.g. Octo.[be]r.
There are a few words in the notebook which cannot be read: where there is a word which we cannot understand we insert (...?); if we are unsure about our interpretation of a word it appears in square brackets with a question mark e.g. [Craib?]

To the Diary entries>>