House of Collection

Assistant Curator Will Palin recalls the labour of love behind the architect and collector Sir John Soane’s efforts to create his home and museum on London’s Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and tells of the major restoration project that marks the 250th anniversary year of Soane’s birth.

At breakfast one morning in November 1823, George Tyndale of No.12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields was disturbed by the sound of demolition men at work. For the long-suffering solicitor this was nothing new. It was simply the start of another building project directed by his energetic and eccentric neighbour, the esteemed architect John Soane (1753-1837).

Soane had begun the remodelling of this section of the north terrace of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1792 when he pulled down and rebuilt No.12, incorporating a graceful geometrical stone staircase and a series of elegant interiors. He had recently been appointed as architect to the Bank of England, and was also enjoying the benefit of a substantial inheritance via his wife, Eliza. At first he was content that this house, and later a country villa he constructed at Pitzhanger in Ealing should comprise his personal empire, the stewardship of which he hoped eventually to hand over to his sons John and George. He had already started collecting works of art to improve the taste of his sons and inspire them to follow in his footsteps. However, this vision of establishing an architectural dynasty (Soane himself was the youngest son of a Reading bricklayer) was never to be realised. In 1810 a bitterly disappointed Soane sold Pitzhanger Manor and removed the contents to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. His sons had failed to respond to his encouragements – George had proved stubborn and rebellious, John suffered from tuberculosis and lacked the energy to pursue a career in architecture.

Soane now turned his attentions to his students at the Royal Academy where he had been elected Professor of Architecture in 1806. In 1808 he purchased the freehold of No.13 and built a ‘Plaister Room’ at the rear (joined to No.12) where his collection of largely classical casts and fragments could be displayed for the benefit of his students.

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