- The drawings from the office of Sir John Soane
- December M.DCC.XCIV
Of the 51 plans for the ground floor, drawing 51, dated December 1794, was the drawing from which 'the estimate was made' so that it may be considered as the last in this series. The format reverts to that of earlier drawings where the sheet is used portrait-wise with the river front at the top of the sheet. The western end of the building in Old Palace Yard has the arcade sited against the length of the Court of Parliament (old Court of Requests) as first seen on drawing 46 though now of seven bays rather than five. The arrangement for the Lords Entrance at the south-west corner consists of an entrance vestibule, waiting room, attendants room, next to a half-turn with landings stair, and broad stepped passage as found on drawing 46. In fact, it is very close to that drawing though the internal layout of the new House of Lords differs. To sum up: the design retains the old House of Lords and four adjacent rooms, the Painted Chamber and the Court of Requests. These form a small part of an overall scheme that provides a slightly larger chamber for the Lords as well as Robing Rooms with attendants' rooms for the King, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Gloucester 'and the rest of the royal family'. Rooms are provided for the Bishops and Archbishops and for various dignitaries including the Earl Marshall, Lord Chancellor and Lord Chamberlain as well as parliamentary officials such as the Clerk of Parliament together with committee and conference rooms. As well as providing accommodation Soane had to work out a plan that, among else, gave convenient access for the Lords and a dignified royal route for the monarch. The Lords entered from Old Palace Yard to the west via a vestibule looking south that gives on to a top-lit corridor that runs almost the entire length of the building to a committee room on the east front facing the river Thames. Near to the Lords' entrance is their Robing Room and also the room for the most senior of the Lords, the Earl Marshall. The King's entrance was on the south side and progressed via a stately hall with three flights of five steps via a right-turn into a lobby and thence to the Robing Room opposite to the entrance of the House of Lords itself. All of this was designed for one visit a year (the occassion of the state opening of parliament) or twice if there was an election. The Robing Rooms for other members of the royal family were nearby and the royal Dukes might attend the Lords as members on other occasions.
In a memorandum dated October 1794 addressed 'To the Right Honorable the Lord Chancellor, and / the rest of the Lords Committees for making the / House of Lords more commodious &c' Soane began with 'Having been honoured with / your Lordships Commands of the 30th of June 1794 ... I have the honour to submit for the Inspec. / tion of your Lordships four different Designs ... The Design marked A / for an entire new House of Lords ... Two designs / marked B and C for converting the Court of / Requests into a House of Lords ... [and] a Design marked D for converting the / Painted Chamber into a house of / Lords. But very much of the same / Inconveniences occur [as with B and C]'.
Although the number of alternative or variant plans seems excessive, Soane's difficulty (other than indecisiveness) was that his designs had to be approved by a number of people. Soane's Statement of Facts respecting the Designs of a New House of Lords, 1799, p. 14, lists these as 'the Lord Chancellor (Loughborough), Lord Grenville, the Prince of Wales, the Dukes of York, Clarence, Gloucester and Leeds, the Marquesses of Buckingham, Lansdowne and Abercorn, the Earls of Hardwicke and Carnarvon and Lord Gwydir, the deputy Lord Great Chamberlain'. Soane also showed his designs to George III on a visit to Windsor that is noted in the office Day Book for Saturday 25 October 1794: 'Mr Soane went to Windsor this afternoon & took No. 7 fair drawings of House of Lords &c with him viz. No 1 Plan, 1 Section, 2 Elevations, 3 Perspective Views'. On Sunday, he returned to Windsor to show the drawings to the King. Soane received useful advice from Sir Peter Burrell (1754-1820, later (1796) Lord Gwydir), the master of ceremonies for the Palace of Westminster. Clearly, considerable tact was called for when designing a building where tradition and protocol were paramount. Soane's office Day Book for 10 December 1794 has his comments in red pen and crossed out viz. 'House of Lords / With 'Lord Grenville / Breakfast with him / approved very much' and 'With Lord Lansdown / disapproved of the Idea / entirely'.
Soane's estimate for his design based on drawing 51 was five years and £154,000 (given in SM Private Correspondence XIV.K.6).
S. Sawyer, 'Soane at Westminster', PhD thesis, Columbia University, 1999, p. 180. The final design (a 'synthesis of two planning approaches' taken from 'A1' to 'A6') includes drawing 51.
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).