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image SM 45/1/9 recto & verso

Reference number

SM 45/1/9 recto & verso


First design based on an octagon, made before 18 March 1778


1 Preliminary octagonal plan with pencil amendments and a slight (pencil) stepped, three storeys with dome elevation to a smaller scale added; (verso, pen) rough plan to a small scale can be discerned on the stuck down verso; this obscures a slight (pencil) section drawn on the recto. This plan is rectangular with a circular centre, an apse on each long side and a coved 'portico in antis' on each short side.


to an approximate scale


(pen) Sketch for a House / of Parliament / before I went abroad ! -, (pencil) Design for a / British Senate house and rooms labelled (pen) Vestibule / 59 / 55, Waitg / room / 24 Sq, Committee Roo[m], Committee roo[m] / 65 / 100 feet, Commitee / Room / 50:0 / 40:0, Lords / 110 by 70 and Thron[e], His Maj. / Robing roo[m] / 35.0 / 30:0, Antiro[om] / 22.(?) b d., Commons / 65 by 95, 35.0 / Committee / 55, Waitg R[oom] / 24 sq., Waitg / roo[m] / 24 Sq, the centre 100 feet wide

Signed and dated

  • 'before I went abroad', that is, before 18 March 1778 when Soane left for Italy

Medium and dimensions

Pen with some hatching, pencil trace lines and amendments on laid paper with two fold marks, stuck down on thin wove paper watermarked 1821 (380 x 315 on 528 x 432)




Centralised, eight-sided plan with alternate straight and concave sides of an almost equal width (about 100 feet). A continuous external colonnade is shown with a portico in antis that gives on to a vestibule flanked by waiting rooms. Flanking the 100 feet wide circular hall with gallery is the Commons chamber on the left (apsidal-ended rectangle with gallery) a committee room on the right ( stepped-apsidal ends, alcoves and screens) and the Lords (oval with gallery) beyond. Soane's design is very unsatisfactory. An octagonal plan for a building of more than 250 by 250 feet with a single entrance and every room a different and often peculiar shape seems ill-considered even for a first attempt. There is no sense of hierarchy in the plan nor in the size of the rooms. However, the more articulated plan on the verso of the sheet offers better possibilities.
Soane's intention of designing a scheme for a new parliament building went back to at least March 1777. It was then that he sent his 'Proposals for publishing a work in architecture' which included a British Senate House to Josiah Taylor, his publisher.The term 'British Senate House' may have come from a pamphlet published anonymously in 1771 entitled Critical Observations on the Buildings and Improvements of London' that argued the need for a 'Senate House'.
(A.T.Bolton, Portrait of Sir John Soane ... set forth in letters from his friends, 1927, p.14)


P. du Prey, John Soane’s architectural education 1753-80, 1977, pp.130-1; P. du Prey, John Soane: the making of an architect, 1982, p.168



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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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.

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