- The drawings from the office of Sir John Soane
Few of Soane's drawings are for kitchen fittings, and those catalogued here are valuable for showing the cooking arrangements of that time.
The following notes have been kindly contributed by Peter Brears, F.S.A., Museum & Historic House Consultant and Food Consultant.
1 Top elevation
Plate racks. Typical for the period, each succeeding shelf being both taller and deeper than the one beneath, the boards forming the sides being stepped out accordingly, rather than having a flat, sloping front face.
Dresser. Very unusual in having a convex front, thus apparently being designed to give easy access to the door to the left, and the stove to the right. The open area beneath the drawers, its base raised a few inches above the floor, is a typical pot-board (usually painted black), on which the larger cooking pots were stored.
Spit rack. Typical of the period – just a shelf with slots cut into its front face to take the spit shafts, just below their pulleys.
2 Right elevation
‘Boiling Plate’. This feature, a shallow fire-basket set in a masonry hob, was more usually called a ‘stove’. When filled with burning charcoal, it worked almost in the manner of a modern gas stove for stewing, frying or boiling, the cooking vessels being supported over the fire-basket on a low wrought-iron trivet. Since the stove produces an invisible column of super-heated carbon dioxide, and needs a good source of light so that the cook can see what he is doing, it should have a window above it, as shown in the drawing.
Fireplace. This is typical of the period, the fire for roasting and some boiling having long fireboxes set between two hobs. The size of the fire was adjusted by a pair of ‘sliding cheeks’, each set at an angle. Rack and pinion mechanisms in the hobs allowed them to be wound in or out as required.
Oven. Pastry ovens of this period were made of cast iron, either round or octagonal/hexagonal in their section. Instead of being heated by the adjacent fireplace, they were heated by their own individual fireboxes and grates set over open ash-pits, exactly as shown here.
Double boiler. Usually of cast iron, these were for boiling meats, puddings and vegetables. The boiler itself, here typically oval, is set above its own firebox, grate and open ash-pit, the flue going back into the main chimney-stack. Its internal divisions allowed two separate foods, for example, puddings or joints, to be boiled simultaneously. The taps on the front permitted each section of the boiler to be drained off, rather than laboriously baled out. A boiler of this type still survives in the kitchen of John Carr’s Middleton Lodge, Middleton Tyas, near Darlington of c. 1779.
3 Bottom elevation
Dresser. Typical design with a worktop and drawers set above an open-fronted pot-board, a few inches above floor level.
This revised drawing shows a number of features which are technically more advanced, more expensive, and far more practical for the production of good quality meals, than in the original proposal.
‘Stew hole[s]’. Just as in the original design, but with three fireplaces rather than one. The back pair are round, each to heat a round stew-pan on its trivet, while the front one is oval, partly for heating larger vessels such as fish kettles, and partly for broiling (that is, grilling) steaks or fish on a gridiron. The use of cast iron for the top plate is common practice at this period ( a pre-1793 example survives at Cowdray House near Midhurst, West Sussex), the usual alternative being brickwork – the latter being much more difficult to keep clean.
The open arch beneath the stove communicated directly with the fireplaces above, providing ready access for the necessary under-draught, and allowing the ashes to fall down and prevent the charcoal fires from becoming choked.
Oven. In this design, there is no evidence for the expected fireplace and ash-pit placed directly beneath. This strongly suggests that the oven was intended to be heated by the main fire, probably by a flue/duct passing first beneath the boiler. This was a relatively new concept, developed after 1780 when Thomas Robinson introduced a patent range heated directly from the main fireplace.
Roasting range. As in the original proposal but with vertical sliding cheeks, their toothed racks winding back into each hob.
‘Smoke Jack’. The drawing is initially confusing due to the draughtsman’s peculiar approach to perspective. In reality, it would appear as above (see image 32a for illustration).
Back boiler. This is a very significant depiction of one of the first generation of fireback kitchen boilers, showing a number of interesting features.
a) Boiler feed. Instead of having the usual later boiler feed directly from a high level cistern, the water is inserted into the bottom of the boiler by a cold water tap issuing directly into a funnel. The top of the funnel is level with the top of the boiler, to ensure that the boiler may be fully filled, and the level of its contents to be readily observed. The tap below the funnel would allow hot water to be drawn off as required for kitchen use, its equivalent of cold water then being replaced via the cold water tap and funnel.
b) Steam pipe. This leads low pressure steam off from the top of the boiler, through the right wall of the chimney-stack, into a pair of steam kettles, each controlled by its own steam valve/tap. Puddings, meats and vegetables etc could thus be delicately cooked by steaming rather than by boiling, an advanced technique for the period.
c) ‘Warm Closet’. The steam pipe continues down, via a further valve/tap to heat a ‘Warm Closet’ (the usual later term being hot closet). The usual practice was to pass the steam either through a series of internal pipes, like a radiator, across the bottom of the closet, or into a broad, shallow steam box forming the bottom (and sometimes the top too) of the closet. Once up to temperature, it would be used for keeping cooked foods, tureens and plates piping hot, ready for service to the table.
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).