- The drawings from the office of Sir John Soane
- Main Year: 0
Soane sent his pupils out in pairs to make drawings of his buildings under construction at different stages. Soane stated in his twelfth Royal Academy lecture from the second series about construction given on 12 March 1815 that ‘by attending the progress of buildings and by making drawings of them in their different stages, the student will not only gain great skill in the mechanism of buildings, but at the same time discover many effects of light and shade, which a close observation of nature alone can give’ (D Watkin (ed.), Sir John Soane: the Royal Academy Lectures, 2000, p. 269). He believed the principles and practices of construction were invaluable to an architect and the knowledge could only be gained by experience and observation of the progress of construction.
Work on the foundations and substructure proceeded slowly through the winter of 1811-1812. It was not until the summer of 1812 that the pupils started working on site with their progress drawings. It is from the dates of these drawings that we get an idea of how the building work progressed. The first one dated 29 May 1812 reveals that the brickwork was well advanced by this stage. The last drawing is dated 12 September 1812 and shows that the outer shell of the Gallery was complete by then, except for the fitting of the almshouse doors and windows. We also see the internal development from interior perspectives. By August a good deal of plastering was complete, but the suspended floor was awaiting the installation of the steam heating system in its underground ducts.
The drawings also reveal the building process. Materials were transported to the site by horse and cart, and sheds were erected to provide shelter for the resources and workers. Every detail of the construction site is recorded including the mounds of sand, the stacks of timber and the scaffolding. And one drawing (103) demonstrates how old lead was melted and cast for the plumbing.
There are four lecture drawings of Dulwich, which are enlarged copies of the site progress drawings (SM 15/2/08 - 15/2/11). They were used as illustrations for Soane's twelfth Royal Academy lecture. They are much larger drawings in greater detail, within black wash borders on thick wove paper.
Among the builders Soane employed individual craftsmen, including a few who had been employed at the Bank of England: Thomas Grundy as the mason, Martyr and Son as the carpenters and William Watson as the painter and glazier. Bills amounted to £9, 644 3s 2d with £119 17s for the clerk of works (Henry Harrison from 20 November to 4 October 1812, and James Cook from 5 October 1812 to 1 July 1814) and £24 14s 9d for a celebratory dinner at the Greyhound in Dulwich on 24 October 1812 (SM MBii/24/k/19). Soane had charged no personal fee. These figures are from the building accounts from 1811-1814 (SM Bill Book G, folios 413-442).
It seems George Allen Underwood spent the most time on site drawing progress views on 51 visits to Dulwich. Bailey spent 31 days on site, Chantrell was there for 6 days, Buxton 27 days, Basevi 22 days and Tyrrell spent the least time on site with only 8 visits.
Literature: Buildings in progress: Soane's views of construction, an exhibition catalogue for the Soane Gallery, 1995, pp. 22-24 & 29-30
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.
Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).
Contents of Site progress drawings, May to September 1812 (23)
- Progress drawings, May to June 1812 (9)
- Progress drawings, July 1812 (7)
- Progress drawings, August to September 1812 (6)
- Progress drawing