Explore Collections Explore The Collections
You are here: CollectionsOnline  /  Cambridge: (unexecuted) University picture gallery, museum and lecture rooms for Senate House, 1791, and design for railings, 1792 (24)


Cambridge: (unexecuted) University picture gallery, museum and lecture rooms for Senate House, 1791, and design for railings, 1792 (24)

Signed and dated

  • Main Year: 0


The Senate was the governing body of Cambridge University until 1926 when its role was largely assumed by the Regent House or 'Congregations' whose formal meetings are held in the Senate House. Senate House is sited in the centre of Cambridge between King's College and Gonville and Caius College and was built 1722-30 by James Gibbs (1682-1754). Pevsner (op.cit., p.164) described the building as 'a straightforward parellologram in plan [100 x 50 feet], and in elevation a most elegant blend of English Wren tradition with new Palladianism (alternating window pediments) and with what Gibbs in his youth had seen in the Rome of about 1700.... The façades are articulated by giant pilasters which swell to attached columns in the centre of the S side and on the narrow E side. The columns carry pediments. On the S side the centre (three bays) is slightly projected. This as well as the windows in two fairly evenly balanced storeys make one expect an interior much more complex than it is. It is in fact one unbroken long room with an anterooms on the E side and galleries along three sides....' Gibbs's overall plan (published in his Book of architecture, 1728, pl.xxxvi) had been for a quadrangle open to the east and consisting of a north wing (the Senate House) and an identical south wing with, between them, a long west range. However, it was Stephen Wright (-1780) who built the proposed west (Library) range, 1754-8, though his intention of duplicating the Senate House as the south wing of his composition was not realised.

In 1791 Soane was asked by the Senate to make a design taking Gibb's design for the north wing and re-using it for a south wing to house lecture rooms, picture gallery and museum. Soane's office 'Ledger C' records a journey on 25 March 1791 to survey the Senate House. On 26 April the front was measured and on 1 August were 'Delivered to the Vice Chancellor No.7 fair drawings on 7 sheets of double Elephant paper of a building to correspond with the Senate House' (presumably drawings 1 to 7 catalogued here: double elephant size paper is generally understood as approximately 40½ inches x 26 and 7/8 inches or 1003 x 685 mm). On 30 September was 'sent per Coach another fair drawing of a Section of the Museum'. The last entry (12 December 1791) states only 'A Journey'. The decision must have been made not to proceed with Soane's design and his drawings were presumably returned to him.
Previous objections to the building of a south wing had been on account of the partial obscuring of the view of King's College Chapel.

Literature. N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, 1954, pp.163-4; Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in the City of Cambridge, part I, 1959, pp.9-10; F.A.Reeve, The Cambridge that never was, Oelander Press of Cambridge, 1976, p.9; T.Rawle, Cambridge architecture, 1993, pp.189-90

Jill Lever April 2012



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: drawings@soane.org.uk

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 Cambridge: (unexecuted) University picture gallery, museum and lecture rooms for Senate House, 1791, and design for railings, 1792 (24)