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North Range, 1820-24 (46)


Surveys of buildings in the North Range of the Old Law Courts, as extant


Topographical Extent:-
This area comprises the Court of Exchequer and its ancillary accommodation for Court officials. Included are the two Coffee Houses, Oliver's and the Exchequer, located on the ground floor with entrances from St Margaret’s Street. In coverage, it extends from the northern façade of the Court of Exchequer abutting New Palace Yard, past the truncated remnant of the Augmentation Office, and south along St Margaret’s Street to the central block of The Stone Building. Its eastern perimeter is marked by the west wall of Westminster Hall, as far as the passage giving access to the latter, which ran parallel with the Court of Exchequer. The two yards immediately to the north and west of the Court of Common Pleas also fall within this area.

Architectural Note:-
Since the medieval period, the Court of Exchequer had been located in its own range of buildings, projecting from either side of the north end of Westminster Hall. The north-west limb housed the Court itself on the main floor with ancillary spaces beneath and offices for court officials around it (the north-east range it discussed under Westminster Hall). The range formed the south-west termination of New Palace Yard, and from 1537-1538 it was extended to house the Court of Augmentations and its offices. Egregiously projecting from the north-west corner of the north range, it was demolished in 1793, finally allowing for the divisions between Old and New Palace Yards to yield to a unified and regular street pattern.

The Exchequer Court was much extended from 1569-1570. Its existing walls to the south and west were retained, with a new façade overlooking New Palace Yard. As rebuilt, it comprised a first-floor hall with a seven-bay aisle supporting a gallery, with an annexe off the Court proper for the Barons of the Exchequer; arrangements which were largely extant at the time of these surveys. To the south along St Margaret’s Street were the two coffee houses, where barristers and other officials transacted business with their clients. One of the Exchequer's Record Rooms stood directly abutting the central block of The Stone Building, on the site of the former Judges’ stables. This range had four entrances: one in the polygonal stair turret on New Palace Yard and three from St Margret’s Street. Of the latter, one led directly to Oliver's Coffee House, one ran alongside the Court of Exchequer to Westminster Hall and the other led to the Judges' Room.

Drawings Note:-
This series of survey drawings shows two sustained phases of activity, commencing with those drawings taken in mid- to late-January and September 1822. Those in the former category can be associated with Arthur Mee and Charles Papendiek, on the strength of contemporaneous entries in the Day Books. However, there is little to demonstrate their distinct hands in the drawings themselves. The latter category is more clearly the sole work of John Hiort; again on the strength of the corresponding Day Book entries. Throughout September 1822, the main focus of work in Soane’s office involving Westminster was on finishing the drawings for the new Royal Entrance to the House of Lords. The draughtsmanship in these instances is largely undistinguished by either technique or characteristic hands.

The majority of drawings date from a survey campaign undertaken by Arthur Mee from late March to mid-April 1823. These record the buildings immediately prior to the building’s demolition. They not only demonstrate an interest in architectural record as a reference point for Soane and his pupils, but bear comparison to the efforts of antiquarian draughtsman, such as William Capon, who recorded these buildings at about the same time. Mee’s penmanship is clear, but his delineation of sculptural, three-dimension form lacks the necessary economy of line. Noteworthy amongst his survey drawings, as elsewhere, are his washed perspective views. This series contains an exterior view and four interior views; the last of which records a Norman window in the Court of Exchequer’s Record Room (drawing SM Vol 48/10). Mee’s palette is subdued, with little building up of deep layering; in Fine Art parlance chiaroscuro. Pen, notably, is consistently avoided in the latter; remarkably so where it could have cast elements of the interior into greater relief and accent.



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation. This catalogue of Soane’s designs for the New Law Courts was generously funded by The Worshipful Company of Mercers and The Pilgrim Trust.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: drawings@soane.org.uk

Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).  

Contents of North Range, 1820-24 (46)