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Site for the new Infirmary, December 1808 - August 1809 (17)

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The establishment of a site for the new Infirmary, proposed by the hospital physician, Dr Moseley in a letter to the hospital Governor Sir David Dundas on 20 December 1808, took until June 1810 to decide upon. The initial impetus for the establishment of a new Infirmary came from the Treasury’s re-acquisition of the lease of Yarborough (otherwise known as Walpole) House. The physician proposed that the old house (purportedly partly built by Vanbrugh) be converted into an Infirmary.

Soane’s initial report (on 12 April 1809), with his accompanying designs, found the conversion of the old house to be utterly unsuitable to support the 80 berths (beds) required for in-patients (survey drawings 8 to 10) and he suggested two designs for completely detached buildings to the south-west of the Great West Court (drawings 11 and 12 and drawings 13 and 14). These designs had the benefit of an unobstructed southern view over the River Thames, the air from which was thought to be beneficial to the health of patients. However, there was to be a complication that rendered his proposal impossible.

The complication was that, without Soane’s knowledge, the site proposed for the Infirmary (drawings 11 and 14) had already been leased on 11 March 1809 to Colonel Willoughby Gordon, for the construction of a villa. There followed a series of negotiations, in which Soane attempted to alter the decision and afterwards the position of the proposed villa in order to provide space for his Infirmary. However, by June 1810 Soane was forced to submit and put forward further plans for the conversion of Yarborough House (drawing 17), although in the end Soane only used parts of the old building (most significantly Yarborough House’s drawing room).

Most of the correspondence and many of the plans relating to the decisions concerning the new Infirmary were printed in: Papers, presented to the House of Commons, relating to the Building of a New Infirmary, and the Leasing of Ground at Chelsea Hospital (ordered by the House of Commons), to be printed, 20th April 1809.



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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 Site for the new Infirmary, December 1808 - August 1809 (17)