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1788-1793 Initial assessment of existing buildings and minor alterations (73)

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Soane became Surveyor of the Bank of England in October 1788. The previous architects to the Bank were George Sampson (1731-34) and Sir Robert Taylor (1764-88). Sampson built the original Bank, consisting of a porticoed façade on Threadneedle Street with a succession of courts and buildings behind. Carriages entered through the front entrance building into the first courtyard which faced the Pay Hall, another porticoed elevation. Behind the Pay Hall was a suite of directors' offices and another courtyard surrounded by administrative offices and storage. A narrow passage led east to Bartholomew Lane. The transfer halls were above the entrance building and committee rooms over the Pay Hall. Sampson's Bank was a sequence of increasingly private rooms. The building's Classicism conveyed an institution of rationality and virtue. Soane would later extol his predecessor's 'grand style of Palladian simplicity'.

Robert Taylor expanded the Bank in all directions, facing his single-storey wings with an Italianate arcade of columns and niches. Taylor built commercial offices across Threadneedle Street (1764-8), single-storey wings to the east (1765-67) and west (1780-88) and a fire-proof library to the north (1770). The east wing contained a Rotunda (Brokers' Exchange) and four transfer halls, for the government stock business associated with the National Debt. To the west was a suite of offices and committee rooms for the directors and more offices for public transactions. The vast expansions coincided with a greatly transformed institution within. The institution itself was profoundly changed by 1788. Though still a private company, it became an entity of national importance. Through the Bank, and a trusting public who speculated and invested, the government was able to borrow huge sums from the Bank to manage its National Debt.

Following Taylor's death in September, Soane was appointed Surveyor in October 1788. He quickly set to work carrying out repairs and alterations to the existing building. Taylor's last years at the Bank were largely inactive and Soane found much to be done. Soane came before the directors in May 1789 with a long list of necessary repairs such as replacing windows, lamps and ironwork. He also carried out building works such as altering rooms to accommodate new uses. He rebuilt roofs and the wall on Princes Street. The drawings from this period are far from complete. Designs drawings for the offices built behind the Princes Street wall, for example, do not exist. In other cases, drawings may exist but are as yet unidentified. In October 1790 Soane found significant damage in the roof of the Bank Stock Office. The reconstruction of this building marked Soane's first major work at the Bank of England.

See SM 58/2/2 for an engraved view of the Bank from Threadneedle Street, published June 1800 by Laurie & Whittle.

Literature:A.T. Bolton, The Works of Sir John Soane, 1924, pp. 28-68; W. Marston Acres, The Bank of England from within, 1931, pp. 168-174; M. Binney, Sir Robert Taylor: from Rococco to Neo-Classicism, 1984, pp. 72-76; D. Abramson, Money's architecture: the building of the Bank of England, 1731-1833, Doctoral thesis for the Department of Fine Arts, Harvard University, 1993. pp. 251-253, 320-336

Madeleine Helmer, 2010



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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 1788-1793 Initial assessment of existing buildings and minor alterations (73)