- The drawings from the office of Sir John Soane
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Although he found George Sampson’s entrance front to be designed ‘in a grand Style of Palladian simplicity’, Soane was not as fond of Robert Taylor’s delicate colonnades that fronted the extensions to either side, stating that they were ‘after an Italian model highly decorated & totally different to the centre building to which it was attached’ (Commitee of Building minutes, Bank of England Archives M5/262-6). In 1814 and 1815 Soane had proposed rebuilding Taylor’s walls (see scheme 4:2) but his proposals were ‘postponed’ by the Committee of Building. In 1823, Soane re-stated his case, citing the 'extreme thinness of various parts of the external walls' (a security concern) and their dilapidated state (see scheme 4:2). He also proclaimed the necessity for providing the building with a unified front. Thus, in addition to security and practicality, Soane made an aesthetic argument for the rebuilding.
By 1828, Soane succeeded in completely replacing all of the old facades, including the front of the Sampson’s entrance building (see schemes 2:5 and 3:4 for screen walls in 1797 and c. 1805). It is unknown whether this substantial rebuild was intentional, however, as his dealings with the Committee of Building make it seem as though the building works were the result of a series of unforeseen events. The proceedings began in April 16th, 1823, when the Bank’s Secretary, William Shrubsole, wrote to Soane asking for estimates relating to the cleaning and repairing of the Bank’s exterior (SMA Box 14.65). It was made clear to Soane that the Bank did not want to pull any parts of the building down, only to make repairs. On his presentation to the directors in May 1823, Soane reported on the poor condition of the facades and he offered his clients two estimates: one for simple repairs, costing ten thousand pounds, and the other for strengthening the walls and curving the corners, for twelve thousand pounds. Soane, of course, argued for the latter, stating that the 'convulsed state of the Metropolis' makes it necessary to ensure the bank's security, and that the curved corners would ‘add to the safety and convenience of the public’(Commitee of Building minutes, op.cit). The Committee inspected the plans in March 1824. The designs were only concerned with rebuilding Taylor’s walls. In 1825, however, it became apparent that the Sampson entrance front would have to be rebuilt or re-faced. Once again, Soane presented alternative estimates. Soane’s mason, Grundy, estimated for repairing the facade (either £1204 or £1678, depending on the work) and he estimated for fixing a new Portland stone centre to building, costing £1997 (Abramson). Soane presented models of both options in February 1825. The Committee of Building and other members of the Court of Directors met the next day and on 16 February ordered some alterations. On 3 March the revised model was approved, for the facade to be encased in a new Portland stone front. In May 1825, Soane reported to the Committee of Building that, despite their decisions, the wall was in too poor a state and it needed to be completely replaced. In Spring 1826 the sidewalk on Threadneedle Street was paved. In September 1827 Soane asked for an additional £3000 for completing the exterior of Princes Street.
Soane remarked in Lecture VI of his Royal Academy lectures that the centre of the Bank of England was disproportionately narrow in relation to the wings, but only because the original Bank had been built on a narrow site that was subsequently expanded. He used the Bank's facade as a demonstration of the following: 'From these and other examples which might be produced, it may be concluded that for many of the defects in our buildings, if traced to their real causes, architects would receive praise where they now receive censure, and, what is of more consequence, their imperfections would not be considered beauties, and so often copied by their followers...'(Watkin).
Three drawings held at the Victoria and Albert Museum probably relate to the Bank's façades. Two of the drawings are designs for Corinthian pilasters capitals. One drawing is a detail for an antefix.
Literature: J. Timbs, Curiosities of London: exhibiting the most rare and remarkable objects of interest in the metropolis, London, 1855, pp. 23-26; D. Abramson, Building the Bank of England, 2005, pp. 181-187; D. Watkin, Sir John Soane: Royal Academy Lectures, 2000, p. 150; P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 167-168, 173.
Madeleine Helmer, 2011
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 East, south and west façades, 1823-1828 (54)
- Presentation drawings showing alternative designs for the façades, May 1823 and revised in 1825 (2)
- Variant designs for the south and east fronts, 29 June and 14 July 1823 (2)
- Variant designs for the south and east fronts, 19-23 July 1823 (3)
- Surveys of the entrance building in relation to the proposed wall, one dated 21 July 1823 (3)
- Design for three-stage attic feature on the south front, 26 August 1823 (3)
- Record drawings of the variant designs for the south front, July and September 1823 (3)
- Site record drawings of the south front, showing the construction and masonry of the old wall, 12 August 1823 (4)
- Presentation drawings of variant designs for the south and east fronts (2)
- Variant designs for the south front, one dated 13 October 1823 (2)
- Site record drawings of the south-east corner, showing parts of the wall already built, 16 and 17 October 1823 (2)
- Working drawing for railing encircling the Bank, 4 November 1823
- Designs for the attic of the south front, one dated 22 October 1823 (2)
- Design for the east front, November 1823
- Composite record drawing showing Bank with a domed entrance building, 23 November 1823
- Record drawings of the south and east fronts as built, two framed, three dated 1824 (5)
- Designs for the attic of the south front, one dated 18 February 1824 (2)
- Record drawing of the south-west corner, showing the condition of the wall before and after rebuilding, 28 July 1827
- Site record drawings of the south front and south-west corner, showing the construction and masonry of the old wall, October 1824 (5)
- Preliminary design for the entrance building front, January 1825
- Design for the entrance building front, as built, 1825 (2)
- Working drawing for altering a cornice
- Working drawings for the south front (2)
- Site progress drawing of the entrance building front, July 1827
- Composite drawing of views showing the street fronts before rebuilding, 1827
- Preliminary record drawings of Bank, by Soane, 24 December 1836 (2)