The Book Passage

This small corridor-like space was furnished with two bookcases and contained some of the 7,000 volumes which formed Soane’s library. Many of the volumes appear to have belonged to Eliza Soane who was commemorated in the nearby Oratory. In addition to the books, a number of ‘unusual’ artefacts were displayed here, including two naturally mummified cats. Though small, the Book Passage was lit dramatically by a skylight with a shaft that pierced the third-floor rooms and by panels of stained glass inserted into two of the doors in the Passage. The upper part of the shaft was hung with paintings, including the portrait of Soane as a young man, c. 1776, by Christopher Hunneman. As part of the restoration of the Book Passage, the bookcases and cat mummies will be replaced, and the skylight will once again illuminate this part of the Museum.




Unfortunately we do not have a contemporary image of the Book Passage, but these are some examples of the range of objects Soane displayed within this small space to be restored to their original 1837 positions. Above left are two mummified cats and a rat acquired by Sir John during two of his major architectural projects in London and placed in glass case. For many years cats were considered a good luck charm to ward off vermin and builders would put them into the fabric of the building during construction, where they are typically found behind the panels or in chimneys. Above centre is a pair of Japanese ceramic fallow deer (sadly missing their antlers) and above right, an early portrait of Soane by Christopher William Hunneman, c.1776.