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London: House of Lords, Palace of Westminster: unofficial (mostly domed) designs, 1793 - May 1794 and after February 1795 (58)


Few of the (190) drawings for a new House of Lords are dated. They appear to fall into into two groups. Firstly, the unofficial or unauthorised drawings made before June 1794 and from March 1795 to as late as circa 1831. These are referred to here as the unofficial or unauthorised mostly domed designs and are, for convenience, placed under 'Office of Works'. The second and larger group of drawings was requested by a committee of the House of Lords and made between June 1794 and February 1795. This group of 132 drawings is referred to as the official or authorised, mostly domeless designs and are separately catalogued.

The domed drawings (1-58) can be divided into: (1-16) preliminary designs of which drawing 16 is dated 30 April 1794. Drawings 17-38 are mostly sketch perspectives (dated 1800 and by J. M. Gandy (1771-1843) and finished perspectives by different hands of which, for example, drawings 36 and 37 are datable to 1807. Drawings 39-43 are designs for the whole of the Palace of Westminster of which two plans though dated 1794 were (judging by the watermark) re-drawn in 1831 or after. Drawings 44 to 58 are sketch interior perspectives by J. M. Gandy (dated 1800) and finished perspectives by Gandy and by others, made before and after 1800.

The context for the first group of drawings is that in August 1793 Soane (as Clerk of Works for St James's, Whitehall and Westminster) was required to supply survey drawings to a dozen of the leading architects (including George Dance, Henry Holland, James Adam, S.P.Cockerell and James Wyatt) who had been asked to produce designs for a new House of Lords. Soane's office Day Books show that he 'Met the Architects at Waghorn's Coffee House agreed to send them plans' on 9 September 1793. His position as Clerk of Works explains why Soane had not been invited to compete. However he resigned that post in February 1794 and contrived on 30 June of that year an invitation to makes designs that would 'render the House of Lords ... more commodious'. Four months' work followed ending with a visit to Windsor Castle on 26 October 1794 to show the King his design for a new House of Lords. Soane later recorded that ‘On my return from Windsor … Lord Grenville … again examined the plans and expressed his approval of them regretting that in the present state of the country it would be inexpedient to commence the works, and that they must therefore be delayed’ (Soane, 'Three designs for the two Houses of Parliament', 1835, p.72). This ‘dismissal’ must have occurred towards the end of February 1795 since the office Day Book records under client that drawings were made for 'The King' until the 27 February 1795 with the exception for one entry of 30 March viz. 'Finishing long Elevation of House of Lords'. Thereafter further drawings were made but no longer noted as for 'The King' but instead entered as for 'Mr Soane'. These 'unofficial' drawings range from designs for a new chamber for the Lords together with about 30 accompanying rooms to a rebuilding of virtually the whole of the Palace of Westminster. For those drawings made for 'The King' between July 1794 and February 1795 that were entirely for a new House of Lords’ see London: House of Lords, Palace of Westminster: official (mostly domeless) designs, July 1794-February 1795 (132).

Drawings for the House of Lords (and the whole of Westminster Palace) continued to be made after February 1795 and after J. M. Gandy joined the office in 1798 there was a flurry of activity in that direction. For example, something like 190 days was spent in 1800 by Gandy and/or an assistant, Henry Hake Seward (1778-1848, pupil May 1794-September 1808), in making ‘Views of the House of Lords’ for ‘Mr Soane’. The stimulus for this activity probably arose from the news in July 1799 that James Wyatt (1746-1813), recently appointed Surveyor-General at the Office of Works, was to design a new House of Lords. Soane then petitioned (23 February 1801) for reimbursement of the cost of making 217 drawings and of paying the fees for surveyors and draughtsmen; the bill came to £445.15s.10½d (King’s Works, VI, p.515). A committee of the House of Lords was set up to deal with the request and met on 27th April when Soane submitted an account for £67 for Pepys 'survey plan; £445 for 712 days labour by Soane's staff; and £3,865 for his professional services, which was calaculated as a fee of 2.5% on the £154,600 estimate [of building costs].' (Sawyer, op.cit. p. 239). In the end Soane received £1,000.

In 1814, on the reorganization of the Board of Works, Soane was appointed one of three 'Attached Architects' with responsibility for the public buildings in Whitehall, Westminster and elsewhere. From 1817 to 1828 he designed The Royal Gallery, the Scala Regia, Committee Rooms and Library; see Soane: Office of Works: House of Lords, Palace of Westminster: alterations and additions, 1817-28.

It is likely that all or most of the finished exterior and interior perspectives catalogued here were exhibited at the Royal Academy. A. Graves, RA exhibitors, the Royal Academy of Arts …, 1905-06, pp.201-2, gives under Soane, two drawings exhibited in 1795 (entrance front and interior of 'a public building'), an elevation in 1796 and from 1800 to 1815 sixteen drawings of unexecuted designs for the House of Lords. The titles are unspecific, for example, ‘View of Part of the design for a new House of Lords’ so that it is difficult to associate titles with drawings.

There are 50 drawings for the House of Lords in the Victoria & Albert Museum, see P.du Prey, Sir John Soane, 'Catalogues of Architectural Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum',1985, cat.365-426, pp.96-100.

Jill Lever, July 2014



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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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Contents of London: House of Lords, Palace of Westminster: unofficial (mostly domed) designs, 1793 - May 1794 and after February 1795 (58)