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  • image SM volume 42/5

Reference number

SM volume 42/5


Sketch design




(Chambers) and at Wooburn Abbey where here built the South front do - 1:1; and drive down palplanches grooved 2½ thick abt 2 ftdown / pave within them ram & Grout, labelled Plank as at A / 2d Course - B / 3 Course - C / 4 Course - D / 5 Course - E and A1 / plank / edge brick / edge brick / plank / purbeck Step B2 / C3 / D4 (the first D4 detail crossed out) / E5 and of horizontal member Project 2 in throw and (verso, unidentified hand) Sir Wm Chambers Sketches and (pencil) detail of ? grid

Signed and dated

  • datable to c. 1793

Medium and dimensions

Brown pen on laid paper with four fold marks (205 x 186)


Sir William Chambers (1723-96)


n/a pasted down


The details relate to a rusticated doorway with a square-headed, keystoned opening, fronted by two Purbeck (limestone) steps and, at the top, a slab that projects two inches. The site for the foundation (if for a new or re-used doorway) or underpinning (if an existing doorway) would have been dug out and planks ('palplanches') - grooved and two and half inches thick - driven into the ground by a depth of about two feet. Five courses of planks and of bricks laid on edge were then rammed and grouted, the courses laid in alternative directions for greater strength and stability.
The sheet is torn off at the top leaving the descenders of two letters (f, g, j, p or y) which suggests that it was perhaps headed by a note to Soane. The inscription begin with 'and' indicating that the first part of a sentence is missing so that the mention of 'Wooburn Abbey' may not necessarily apply to the drawing below. John Harris (op.cit., catalogue 145) gives the dates 1767 to 1772 for Chambers's work at Woburn Abbey so evidently the drawing does not relate to his work there.
Like the preceding drawing (42/4), the sketch details must relate to the Office of Works of which (between 1782 and 1796) Sir William Chambers was its Surveyor General and Comptroller. In October 1790 Soane secured his first government appointment when he was made Clerk of the Works at St James's, Whitehall and Westminster. Conscientious at first, by 1793 Soane had became neglectful of his official duties and on 6 December 1793 and 3 January 1794, the Minutes of the Board (National Archives, Work 4/18) record that Chambers had written to him 'respecting his non attendance at the office' and again that his absence caused 'the Public service ... material injury'. In February 1794, Soane resigned his post.
According to the Board of Works quarterly accounts of February 1794 (National Archives, Work 18/4), Soane had nine jobs on hand when he resigned: the Secretary of State's office, Whitehall (see previous entry 42/4); general surveys of Westminster and St Jame's'; parliamentary office and two houses or apartments in Westminster; the Chapel Royal, the Lord Chamberlain's office and a 'new Pastry &c' at St James's Palace - the old one having been 'converted into a Kitchen for the use of the Officers of the Foot Guards when on duty' (National Archives, Work 18/4 14 June 1793) If Chambers's drawing was sent as a way of prodding Soane into action, it could relate to one of these jobs. Considering the rather 'tough' soldierly look of the doorway, it is interesting that Soane's office 'Journal' (SM volume 2, pp.280, 328-330) has many references to the Guard Room at St James's Palace, in entries from 19 December 1792 to 4 October 1793.


J.Harris, Sir William Chambers, 1970, pp.123-5; History of the King's Works, 1782-1851, volume VI,1973, pp.43-5, passim; G.Darley, John Soane: an accidental Romantic, 1999, pp.117-120



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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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