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Doric Vestibule, 1803-1805 (70)

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The Princes Street entrance (Doric Vestibule) was designed and built in 1803 and 1804, at the same time as the Waiting Room Court and the Accountants Office. It was completed in 1805. The Vestibule acted as a secure entry to the Bank from Princes Street, providing access to the private banking offices. The Committee of Building approved Soane's general plans for the Bank, which included rough preliminary designs for the Vestibule, in late January and 15 February 1803. There seems to be no other presentation drawings for the Committee's approval after this date, although an interior view of the Vestibule may have been shown to the Committee in July 1803.

A description of the Bank from 1814 remarks that the Vestibule has the 'impressive and solemn character of a Mausoleum'(Britton). The Vestibule was cruciform in plan, with a domed central space lit by clerestory lunettes. The vestibule was on three levels, managing the 6' 8¼" difference in floor level between Princes Street and the Bank's offices. Each level had paired Doric columns, without bases, framing the entrances, which resulted in columns of three different proportions. The interior had a full entablature, with a large domed ceiling over the centre bay.

The stairs in the Vestibule managed the floor levels between the new offices and Princes Street. As the Vestibule had three different floor levels, the Doric columns were of three heights. The emphasis of the design, however, was on the hall's east-west axis, leading straight from the entrance to a long corridor running towards the Chief Cashier's Office. The Princes Street gate was operated by a windlass (pulley-system) in an adjoining closet.

See drawings 1 to 7 in scheme 3:6 for preliminary designs of the Doric Vestibule, as presented to the Committee of Building in January 1803. Preliminary designs show the Princes Street entrance included on a plan in April 1801, with the pencil inscription 'Qy Entry' and the entrance aligned with the Chief Cashier's Office to the east. It continued to be located at this site. Early drawings show the entrance flanked by alcoves and leading to a vestibule on a semicircular-ended plan. Paired columns were included in the design as early as January 1803, and the design continued to develope as shown in the drawings within this scheme. Early drawings show stairs ascending to the side arms (north and south recesses), with Doric columns framing both arms. The stairs were subsequently removed to these side arms but the columniation remained. Paired columns were then introduced to all four sides of the hall in April 1803. A second pair of columns was then introduced to the east end of the Vestibule, resulting in four columns at the top of the stair. The drawings show different designs for the alcoves and recesses, and the nearby offices and stairwells were also altered and re-arranged.

The composition of the plan was similar to Soane's proposed design for an entrance vestibule in the Front Court (see SM 10/7/11, drawing 3 in 3:1). The 1801 proposal was not approved, and Soane used a similar cruciform vestibule for the new north-west extension.

See SM P84 (drawing 3 in 5:5) for a drawing showing the interior of the Doric Vestibule. There are also two models at the Soane Museum (M 224 and M 226) for sections of the Doric Vestibule. The Victoria and Albert Museum has ten drawings for the Doric Vestibule, catalogued by Pierre du Prey in 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum' as cited below. The drawings at the V&A consist of a preliminary design, five decorative details for the pendentives, and four interior views. Two of the latter are dated April 1803, and one is dated February 1804.

Literature: P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 151-160.

Madeleine Helmer, 2010



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