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Consols Transfer Office, 1797-1799 (75)

Soane designed the Consols Transfer Office between 1797 and 1799, as part of the late 1790s north-east expansion around the Lothbury Court. On 21 September 1797 the Court of Directors agreed to the building of a new Consols Office and in October 1797 the plan of the office, within the scheme for the Lothbury Court, was approved. Then by October the following year the ground was broken for the foundations and by May 1799 construction was almost complete except for the cladding of the roof with copper.

Consols, originally short for consolidated annuities, are government bonds with a fixed interest rate. In 1757 the interest paid on the face value of the bond was reduced to three per cent. Thus the hall was named the Three Per Cent Consols Transfer Office. The clerks transacted business with the public and kept records for these annuities. Towards the end of the eighteenth century there was an urgent need for a larger Consols Transfer Office because most of the government's wartime borrowing was being added to the three per cent bonds. The current facilities for the consols offices in the southern halls of the east wing of the Bank were strained during this period as it was already one of the biggest bonds managed at the Bank. The new Consols Transfer Office was to be sited to the north of the east wing, with a recess at the east end for the Chief Clerk and rooms either side for the Unclaimed Dividends and the Wills and Power of Attorney registration offices.

In designing the new hall Soane was free from the pre-existing structural restrictions faced in the remodelling of the Bank Stock Office and so had the scope to create a larger hall of more orthodox proportions measuring 82 feet by 50 feet and 33 feet high; the other offices measured less at 64 feet by 45 feet. By constrast with the old hall, Soane was able to raise the height of the dome, lengthen the end-bays and add a recess at the east end. It was a four-part plan, closer to Antique models of Roman basilicas.

The structure of the Bank Stock Office was used as a model for the construction of the other transfer halls at the Bank of England, including the Consols Transfer Office. Thus within the Soane Museum's collection of drawings for the Consols Trasfer Office there are fewer preliminary alternative designs because precendents had already been established. At the Bank Stock Office it seems the design process was largely driven by practical requirements with the development of technological innovations including iron skylights, iron tie-rods, steam heating systems and incombustible hollow-cone pots. All of these features were employed in the Consols Transfer Office which allowed for the design process for the new hall to focus on reinstating the classical principles and ornamentation. Thus there are more drawings for alternative details and decoration. Following critics' satirical poems published and recited at the Architects' Club in 1796 criticising his abstraction of the classical orders and 'barbarous stile', Soane endeavoured to design a more orthodox and monumental hall returning, for example, to the conventional pilaster order with full entablature with complete tri-fascia architrave and conventional dentilled cornice. The piers were enlarged and strengthened by doubling the major pilasters on the inner faces. He also employed Classical motifs such as Greek key fret, lion masks and caryatids. Abramson writes that Soane 'implicitly bowed to his critics'. At the Bank Stock Office Soane had reduced and made abstract decorative mouldings for an appropriately sober commercial character with the virtues of simplicity. However, while the hall had a commercial function, it also had an aesthetic and monumental role too. Hence Soane elaborated the decorative scheme at the Consols Transfer Office.

Unfortunately the hall was destroyed during the rebuilding of the Bank by Sir Herbert Baker between 1924 and 1939. For photographic views of the Consols Transfer Office as executed see D. Stroud, The architecture of Sir John Soane, 1961 p. 68, ill. 70, and 'The Bank of England', in Architectural monographs: John Soane, 1983, p. 71, ill. 18-19.

An interior view of the Office is in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The drawing shows low benches along the walls and four stoves.


Literature. A. T. Bolton, The Works of Sir John Soane, 1924, pp. 28-68; P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 146; Dunster & F. Russel (eds), 'The Bank of England', in Architectural monographs: John Soane, 1983, pp. 61-7; E. Schumann-Bacia, John Soane and the Bank of England, 1991; D. Abramson, Money's architecture: The building of the Bank of England, 1731-1833, doctoral thesis for the Department of Fine Arts, Harvard University, 1993; Buildings in progress: Soane's views of construction, an exhibition catalogue for the Soane Museum, 1995; M. Richardson & M. Stevens (eds), John Soane architect: master of space and light, Royal Academy of Arts, 1999; D. Abramson, Building the Bank of England: money, architecture, society 1694-1942, 2005

Emma Smith, August 2010
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