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South Range, 1820-24 (15)


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


Topographical Extent:-
This area comprises of the central block of The Stone Building with its two ranges facing St Margaret's Street to the west, and Old Palace Yard to the south. Its eastern extent is marked by the vestibule of the House of Commons. Also included are the Lord Chancellor’s Room and ancillary accommodation for the Courts of King’s Bench and Chancery, adjacent to the south wall of Westminster Hall. The latter Courts themselves are categorised under Westminster Hall.

Architectural Note:-
The extent of buildings in this area was curtailed by the existing medieval structures of the Old Palace, being bordered on the north, east and south sides by (respectively) Westminster Hall, the vestibule to the House of Commons and the Court of Requests. It was first infilled in 1565 by a new structure to house the Court of Wards, which extended as far as the Hall’s south-western corner. By the time of these surveys, the space it occupied had been taken over by the officials of the Court of Chancery, with rooms for the Ushers, Counsels and the Lord Chancellor. The most prominent recent structure in this range was known as The Stone Building. Erected of Portland ashlars in a restrained but demure Palladian style, it was in sharp contrast to the surrounding buildings. Long acknowledged as the pithy realisation of William Kent’s various schemes for a wholesale reconstruction of the Palace, it was long attributed to him (and was so during Soane’s lifetime). However, twentieth-century scholarship has demonstrated that the building was in fact designed by John Vardy, the Clerk of Works at Westminster, in c1753; five years after Kent’s death.

The first part to be built was the central block facing St Margaret’s Street. Begun in 1755 to hold the records of the Court of King’s Bench, and those of various other Officers and Courts, the range of five bays running south was constructed for the Board of Ordnance, and complete by 1769. From1768-1770 the pavilion tower and return range was built, this time at the behest of the House of Commons. This provided them with both a direct access route to their Chamber and additional Committee rooms. By the time of these surveys, The Stone Building also housed the Grand Inquest Jury, the Augmentation Office, the Clerk in Parliament, Mr Lee, and the Officer of the King’s Bench Record Office, Mr Hewitt.

Drawings Note:-
By contrast with the north and east ranges, the buildings of the south range are far less represented by survey drawings. This omission is understandable, given that they almost wholly comprised of The Stone Building, which was to be retained in toto, and have is unrealised northern range continued along St Margaret’s Street. The majority of drawings are preliminary surveys, almost all undated, which makes precise association with individual hands difficult. However, John Hiort can be associated with a drawing which clearly relates to his survey campaign undertaken in September 1822 (SM 37/1/6). The focus on staircases indicates Soane’s great care in recording existing changes in floor levels, and where his own designs had to accommodate them.

There are two drawings datable to April 1824, which appear to be preliminary on-site surveys by an unformed hand (SM Vol 54/11-12). In light of this, it is hypothesised that they are the work of a newly-articled pupil, intended to improve his abilities as a draughtsman and better acquaint him with the Law Courts themselves. On the evidence of the Day Books, two candidates present themselves: George Bailey and Charles Richardson. If Du Prey’s claim for the latter’s precociousness is accepted, the drawings in question are likely in Bailey’s hand, having joined Soane’s Office in January 1823.



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 South Range, 1820-24 (15)