- The drawings from the office of Sir John Soane
Along with the Courts of Common Pleas and King’s Bench, this was one of the three High Courts of the Common Law. In origin, the Exchequer was part of the royal household which oversaw the gathering and distribution of the monarch’s revenue. It had moved to Westminster from Winchester during the reign of Henry III (1216-72) and was susequently housed in a purpose-built range projecting from the north-west corner of Westminster Hall (see the Architectural Note) . The Exchequer’s success at pursuing debts owing to the Crown encouraged private litigants to bring cases before it. As a result of the Supreme Court of Judicature Acts (1873-75) this Court’s functions were merged with the other superior courts to form the High Court of Justice.
SM 69/7/1r is the sole working drawing relating to the construction of the Court of Exchequer survives in a fragmentary state. It records an unexecuted treatment of the designated entrance from St Margaret’s Street in the new flanking range of The Stone Building. A presentation drawing dated 1 July 1825 (SM 53/2/41) proposes the furnishings as they were executed, and indicates that of the five Courts adjacent to the Public Corridor, this was the only one to preserve the triple openings originally common to all. The drawing also makes clear the proximity of this court to the Court of Equity; a disposition of the plan which responds to the practical requirements of legal practice, and which echoes the previous buildings on the site.
As realised, the Court of Exchequer was recorded in five drawings here associated with Stephen Burchell’s survey of 15-22 March 1826. Perfunctory in terms of their draughtsmanship, the visual evidence they record is augmented by the interior views Joseph Gandy undertook from August - September the same year. The arrangement of the elevations derives from the two-tier arched core wall solution Soane devised in late 1822. However, given the confined location of the Court room within the overall plan, the upper tiers of windows are treated as semi-circular openings above a prominent expanse of tightly vertical panelling (see SM Vol 61/55). The result bears some familial affinity with the interior of the Court of Equity, but the articulation had a subtly angular, even severe, emphasis.
The ceiling likewise draws on the lexicon of recessed soffit panels, with a waterleaf cornice. The junction of the ceiling and the lantern is handled uniquely. Unlike any of his other solutions at the Law Courts, Soane girdles the square opening with four pendentives which rise to support a convex fluted oculus, crested with antefixa. As recorded in SM Vol 61/57, the structure of the lantern light above parallels that of the Court of Equity, though given additional supporting posts at the corners. The resolution of the design at the lantern light, as evocatively recorded in Gandy’s drawings, demonstrate how such a feature could provide the focal point and integrating element over an unbroken, almost cubic internal volume.
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).