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Rotunda, 1794-95 (30)

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In May 1794 Soane examined the roof and the cupola of the Rotunda (formerly called the Brokers' Exchange) and called on George Dance and Robert Mylne for their opinions of the structure. Together, the three men submitted a report to the Bank directors drawing attention to the timber and copper roof, writing to the Committee of Building: 'we are unanimously of opinion that the whole of the said cupola is in such a state of ruin and decay as to make it indespensably necessary to take it entirely down without delay' and the urgent need for its repair. Soane presented his proposals to the Building Committee and Court of Directors on 27 and 29 May, respectively. Soane was urged to complete the building quickly, and a temporary building was erected within the Rotunda so that trading could continue throughout the reconstruction. A model of an alcove was made in July 1795 (SM M 606). Construction, except for the hardening-off of the roof, was completed in October 1795. The original core of Taylor's Rotunda was kept but reinforced with stone cladding and crowned with a new dome of hollow-cone pots and brick.

The Rotunda was originally built by Sir Robert Taylor (1765-68) for the trading of government and Bank stocks. Brokers and jobbers filled the space from eleven until one o'clock each day (according to the Sure Guide for visitors published in 1782). Taylor's building was as wide as it was tall (sixty-one feet). The interior was reminiscent of the Pantheon in Rome, with pedimented entrances and semicircular arched alcoves spaced between coupled Corinthian columns, surmounted by a dome with octagonal coffering.

Soane replaced Taylor's coffered and columned 'Pantheon' with an austere, stripped down interior. Soane had measured the Pantheon on his visit to Rome in 1778 and admired the ancient temple's construction, remarking in his Royal Academy Lecture VI, 'The ancient architects, fully impressed with the beauty and importance of domes, constructed them with durable materials and in the most scientific manner'. Soane was fascinated that the Pantheon was still standing after 2,000 years, and it was this admiration of structure that he applied to the Rotunda. The interior omitted virtually all columns and mouldings, aside from incised lines in the plaster, permitting light from the clerestory windows to fill the space. Twelve Coade stone caryatids encircled the lantern at the top of the dome. To heat the large space, 'two very large patent pilosophicc rarefying stoves, extra strong metal with double back and cast feet' were installed (Bank bills, October 1795).

From 1838 the hall was used for cashing dividend warrants. The stockbrokers and jobbers, and the cacophony that accompanied them, were thereby removed from the Bank. In 1830, the dome of the Rotunda was re-covered in lead and the lantern was replaced, at an increased height.

The Rotunda was demolished in the 1920s and 30s, for a new Bank by Herbert Baker. The caryatids from the transfer halls and Rotunda were preserved and reassembled in one hall (Kelly).

There is one undated drawing of the rotunda in the Victoria and Albert Museum, showing an interior view of the hall.

Literature: J. Francis, History of the Bank of England: its times and traditions, vol. 2, 1847, p. 230; A.T. Bolton, The Works of Sir John Soane, 1924, p. 34; H. Rooksby Steele and F.R. Yerbury, The Old Bank of England, London, 1930, pp. 16-19; W. Marston Acres, The Bank of England from within, 1931, p. 196; P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 172; A. Kelly, Mrs Coade's Stone, 1990, p.86; D. Watkin, Sir John Soane: Enlightenment thought and the Royal Academy lectures, 1996, pp. 566-579; 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. 347-350; J. Lever, Catalogue of the drawings of George Dance the Younger (1741-1825) and George Dance the Elder (1695-1768), 2003, pp. 355-356. cat. [100]. 1-2.

Bank of England Committee for Building Minutes Book, 1764-1803, M5/748

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 Rotunda, 1794-95 (30)