Soane’s Life and Times: 1812-1813. Part I: Soane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields

2013 marks a significant date for Sir John Soane’s Museum, as it heralds the 200th anniversary since Sir John and his family took up residence at No.13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  Over the coming months we are looking forward to celebrating this important milestone by exploring aspects of Soane’s life during 1812-13.  A fascinating and glittering period, the year that Soane established his now world famous house museum was also one of political, economic and social turmoil both in Britain and abroad.  We are grateful to Gisela Gledhill, author of Soane’s Life and Times: 1812-1813 (edited by Philippa Stockley), for allowing us to feature her work on this website.

Sir John Soane in portrait, seated at a table studying a book
John Soane By William Owen, 1804


Soane and Lincoln's Inn Fields

Born in 1753, the youngest son of a Berkshire bricklayer, Soane trained as an architect.  Having established a successful architectural career, he relocated his practice and his family to Lincoln’s Inn Field in the 1790s.  Over several years Soane acquired three adjoining properties on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields (Nos 12, 13 and 14).  He bought No.12 in 1792 and in 1794, having rebuilt it to his own design, Soane, his wife Eliza, and their sons, John and George, moved in. In 1808 he acquired the freehold of No.13, but rented it to the occupant, the solicitor George Tyndale. In 1811 Tyndale rented No.12 from him, and Soane demolished and rebuilt No.13 as his main residence, and home for his growing collection of art and other treasures. In 1824 Soane rebuilt No.14, having acquired it in 1823. He used the back portion for the new Picture Room of his residence at No.13, whilst the main body of the house was leased out.


Elevation of the front of No.13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, showing the carytids and projecting loggia of Soane's facade

Image: Design Perspective For The Front Elevation Of 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields By Joseph Michael Gandy, August 1812


Until the Dirt and the Noise is Over

Soane’s plans for No.13 did not go unchallenged. William Kinnard, the district surveyor, took him to court in October 1812 over the projecting loggia or ‘verandah as Soane called it, on the façade, which Kinnard said contravened the Building Act. The matter was settled in Soane’s favour.

Work on the house occupied much of Soane’s time in 1812-1813.  Eliza absented herself for long periods ‘until the dirt and noise is over’. Her husband used the newest ideas, including piped water from the New River Company and linking up to the sewage network.  The house had two bathrooms, one for the family and one for servants, and three Bramah patent water closets.  He also installed a form of central heating.

Mrs Soane with her dog Fanny seated on her lap

'Mrs Soane And Her Dog Fanny', painted posthumously by John Jackson, 1831


As nearly as circumstances will permit

Soane enjoyed tea in No.13 for the first time on Sunday 10 October 1813 and lived there until his death in January 1837.  No.13 was partly conceived as an architectural museum for the education of students, housing his library, prints, drawings and paintings, and architectural and other treasures. To preserve it for posterity, a private Act of Parliament was passed in 1833, which vested ownership of Nos 12 and 13 and of the library and collections in Trustees after his death, to be kept ‘as nearly as circumstances will permit’ in the condition he left them. This is how visitors experience his Museum to this day.


Coming Next: Part II - looking at Soane's Professional and Academic Life

The full version of Gisela Gledhill's booklet Soane's Life and Times: 1812-1813 is available to buy from the Soane Shop.


Posted on 09 August 2013 in Soane's Life and Times: 1812-1813
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