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London: Palace of Westminster: designs for alterations and additions, 1793-1828 (499)


The main source for information about Soane's relationship with the Palace of Westminster is Sean Sawyer, Soane at Westminster, PhD thesis, Columbia University, 1999. Sawyer's work has been cited heavily throughout this catalogue. J. M. Crook and M. H. Port (eds), The History of the King's Works, VI, 1973, has been an equally invaluable resource to the cataloguers.

Soane's first involvement with the Palace of Westminster began in 1791 when he was appointed Clerk of Works for Westminster, Whitehall and St James's. Even this had been preceded by theoretical designs for a British Senate House made by Soane both prior to and during his Grand Tour (1778-80). His first official task, though, was to make surveys of the Palace in January and August 1793 to be supplied to a dozen leading architects who had been invited to make designs for a new House of Lords. This group did not include Soane, who resigned from his post in February 1794. But in June of that year, Soane was invited to supply designs to 'render the House of Lords...more commodious'. These designs were shown to the King in October 1794 but no further progress was made due to 'the present state of the country'. Nevertheless, Soane continued to produce 'unofficial' designs after February 1795.

Soane was somewhat surprised to learn in July 1799 that James Wyatt (1746-1813), Surveyor-General, had been directed by the King to make designs for a new House of Lords. This new arrangement effectively ended Soane's official involvement with the Palace of Westminster. Not for another 20 years, following the death of Wyatt, Soane's appointment as an Attached Architect and the succession of George IV to the throne, would he be called upon to proceed with work at the Houses of Parliament. His first new project came in the form of the addition of temporary galleries in the House of Lords for the trial of Queen Caroline in August 1820.

Subsequent works were intended to be permanent. Beginning in 1822, Soane built a brand new Royal Entrance for the King's processional route from Old Palace Yard to the House of Lords that included a curved, Gothic arcade with porte-cochère and a grand Scala Regia (1822-23) that led on to a sumptuously-decorated Royal Gallery with Ionic columns, domed ceilings and a cupola, and new committee rooms to the east (1823-24). This was followed by the construction of a new library in between the Scala Regia and the Painted Chamber and further committee rooms towards the River Thames (1824-27). From 1825-26 Soane made designs for new committee rooms for the House of Commons that were built, but his designs for enlarging the Commons' library in 1830 were not executed. In 1828, designs were made to entirely replace Wyatt's much-maligned and flammable Gothic additions to the west of the House of Lords, but these were never executed.

The fire of 1834 razed the Commons' committee rooms but the additions to the House of Lords largely survived intact. Indeed, Soane's Royal Entrance continued to be used for the first 15 years of Queen Victoria's reign for the annual State opening of Parliament. It was demolished in 1851 to make way for Barry and Pugin's new Houses of Parliament.

The 499 drawings catalogued here are divided into five sub-schemes:

• House of Lords: official (mostly domeless) designs, July 1794 - February 1795
• House of Lords: unofficial (mostly domed) designs, 1793 - May 1794 and after February 1795
• House of Lords: alterations and additions, 1817-28
• House of Commons: unexecuted designs for a new House of Commons, 1825-33, and executed designs for a library and committee rooms, 1825-1830
• House of Clerk to the Commons, Speaker's House etc.

The early schemes and the works at the House of Commons have been catalogued by Jill Lever. The drawings for the works conducted at the House of Lords in the 1820s have been catalogued by Tom Drysdale. Other drawings, as well as the minutes, accounts and correspondence of the Office of Works, are held at the National Archives (WORK 1-5, 11/28/10, 29/17-19, 29/3287). The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, has a further 62 drawings for Soane's work at the House of Lords (see P. du Prey, op. cit.). The RIBA has one drawing for the Royal Gallery, 1823, and the Royal Academy has a design for a new House of Lords, 1794 – Soane’s diploma work submitted on his appointment as a Fellow (03/5556).

NB. The drawings for Soane's Law Courts have yet to be catalogued.

J. Soane, Designs for Public and Private Buildings, 1828; A. T. Bolton, The Portrait of Sir John Soane, 1927; H. Colvin, "Views of the Old Palace of Westminster", Architectural History, 9, 1966, pp. 21 & 23-184; J. M. Crook & M. H. Port, The History of the King's Works, VI, 1973; P. M. Rogers, "Medieval fragments from the old Palace of Westminster in the Sir John Soane Museum", in H. S. Cobb (ed.), Parliamentary History, Libraries and Records: Essays presented to Maurice Bond, 1981, pp. 1-8; P. du Prey, Catalogues of Architectural Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Sir John Soane, 1985; J. Harris, "Soane's classical triumph: a lost Westminster masterpiece revealed", Apollo, 133, 1992, pp. 288-90; D. Stroud, Sir John Soane, Architect, 1996; S. Sawyer, "Sir John Soane's symbolic Westminster: the apotheosis of George IV", Architectural History, 39, 1996, pp. 54-76; S. Sawyer, Soane at Westminster: Civic Architecture and National Identity, 1789-1834, PhD thesis, Columbia University, 1999; M. Richardson and M. Stevens (eds), Sir John Soane, Architect: Master of Space and Light, 1999; C. Riding & J. Riding (eds), The Houses of Parliament: History Art Architecture, 2000; S. Sawyer, "Delusions of national grandeur: reflections on the intersection of architecture and history at the Palace of Westminster, 1789–1834", Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 13, 2003, pp. 237-50; P. Dean, Sir John Soane and London, 2006; M. H. Port, The Palace of Westminster...1834, 2011; C. Shenton, The Day Parliament Burned Down, 2012; <www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/building/palace/ estatehistory>

Tom Drysdale and Jill Lever, September 2014



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 London: Palace of Westminster: designs for alterations and additions, 1793-1828 (499)