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Second Phase - Site, 1823-24 (6)


Design Note:-
As the rebuilding campaign of the Law Courts was executed from south to north, there was additional opportunity to revise the configuration of this areas Courts and circulation routes. The site (as shown in SM 53/1/1) was bordered by New Palace Yard, Westminster Hall, the part-built Stone Building, and St Margaret’s Street. One of the earliest drawings which demonstrates Soane’s intentions for this half of the complex are indicated on SM 53/2/32, prepared before 5 March 1823. The overall disposition followed the logical ‘gridiron’ arrangement, where circulation routes main ran at right angles to Westminster Hall, with the position of each Court dictated by the existing rhythm of the Hall’s buttresses. With the loss of the Exchequer buildings and the wider gradient of the northern extent of this site, there was greater capacity for experimentation. This records Soane’s intention to provide an imposing lobby area to the Court of King’s Bench entrance from Westminster Hall. Immediately adjoining the south of this is placed the Bail Court, which throughout the varying proposals appears compressed. Along the Court of King’s Bench’s southern side runs a corridor which separates it from the Court of Exchequer, which similarly is given an entrance lobby from the Hall. The position of a buttress necessitates the latter being positioned off-axis, which Soane partially screens from the Exchequer’s interior by an arcade. Immediately adjoining the Court of Exchequer to the north is the Court of Equity; a proximity which clearly echoes their previous accommodation on this site. Soane’s annotations record that SM 53/2/32 was shown to the Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, Sir Richard Richards (who died 11 November 1823) who stipulated that the Courts of Exchequer and Equity exchange positions; a revision which subsequent plans would follow.

By 5 April 1823, a plan of the same area by George Bailey demonstrates the revision in light of practical considerations. It also records the wholesale reconstruction of the Court of Common Pleas, the outer walls of which had hitherto been retained. However, as the Day Books record, this was eventually agreed to on 24 June 1823. In the ancillary rooms along the St Margaret Street façade to the west, the number of exedrae are reduced, with priority given to the designated King’s Bench entrance in the northern pavilion tower of the completed Stone Building. As recorded in the revised design of SM 53/2/35, it represents in microcosm the solutions reached elsewhere in the Law Courts complex, where Soane had successfully arranged subsidiary spaces around a prominent larger space. The shallow curve also softened the change in alignment between the new flanking range’s façade and the inner core of the building. Bailey’s plan also shows continuing experimentation in the setting of the Court of Exchequer, whose lateral walls are shown as pierced by openings; a proposal which recalls the practical potential of the two-tiered core walls solutions Soane arrived at for the Vice Chancellor’s Court. However, in the final design drawn by Bailey and dated 15 July 1823 (SM 53/2/40) the practical requirements to insulate Courtrooms against noise appear to have influenced the removal of these openings, and the substitution of locations between the Courts of Exchequer and Equity is confirmed. The lobby between Westminster Hall and the Court of King’s Bench, at the extreme north east of the site is reduced yet further, and the adjacent lightwell reduced in size, thereby increasing space available for the Bail Court. The provision of stairwells has also been revised. These alterations appear to be the result of sustained consultation through the second half of June with Colonel Stephenson and other prominent Court officials, recorded in the Day Book entries for that period. The construction of the western façade commenced on 1 July 1823, with that facing New Palace Yard to the north following at the end of the month (SM 53/1/21).

The surviving drawings for the part of the complex date from March - April 1823 and where dated, correlate with the Day Book entries for George Bailey, though Charles Papendiek, Arthur Mee and David Mocatta were also involved on drawings for the Law Courts.



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 Second Phase - Site, 1823-24 (6)