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Rotunda vestibule and Treasury, 1814-1815 (65)

In October 1814 plans were approved for reconfiguring Taylor's vestibule, originally built in the 1760s, that connected the Threadneedle Street courtyard with the Rotunda. Soane had previously made minor alterations to the vestibule in 1791 but he made further significant alterations in 1814. Soane modified the original vestibule by walling-off its southern portion and making a more direct, diagonal passage to the Rotunda through its south-west semicircular alcove. The larger northern portion of the vestibule was to be used as an extension of the existing Treasury. The design scheme of the original vestibule was retained in the new Treasury, including the lantern dome. The new Treasury was sealed off from the east wing and made part of the Bank's private banking functions. It was connected to the Pay Hall by a door in the west wall at its north end.

The main renovation took place in the passage itself. Abramson writes that this short tight corridor is, in effect, 'a miniaturization and intensification of the Long Passage' (1805-06) from the Princes Street entrance to the Pay Hall at the Bank of England. The Long Passage was a dramatic sequence of distinctly defined bays. The new passage was little more than ten yards in length, including the diagonal turn into the Rotunda, and consisted of five distinct bays of layered domes and barrel vaults separated by the placement of Ionic columns and arches. Above the oculi of the pendentive domes were lantern domes which cast light down into the passage. This created a lumière mystérieuse effect with the contrast of the brightly top-lit domed bays and shadows of the barrel vaults.

Soane achieved a 'picturesque' quality with the use of elegant decorative features such as the free-standing fluted columns with egg and dart moulding below Ionic capitals and full entablature, caduceus motifs and acanthus, Vitruvian scroll and bead moulding. The previous decorative scheme for the vestibule was more elaborate with a dentilled cornice and lion masks.

The bulk of the drawings are found in three octavo sketchbooks inscribed; volume 70 Sketches of the New Entrance / to the Rotunda at the Bank / from the Pay Hall Court / made during the progress of / the Works in the year 1814-15, volume 45 with ... Bank Passge to Rotunda... 1815 and volume 46 Bank of England / 1815-16, which helps to identify and date the individual drawings. They are predominantly working and progress drawings and would have been used or drawn on site, and the sketchbooks allowed for easy transportation between Soane's office and the Bank. The majority of the building work was done in 1815.

Unfortunately the passage was destroyed during the rebuilding of the Bank by Sir Herbert Baker between 1924 and 1939. For photographic views of the passage as executed see H. R. Steele and F. R. Yerbury, The old Bank of England, London, 1930, ill. xxvii-xxix.

Two drawings for the Vestibule are in the Victoria and Albert Museum. One drawing is a detail of a pendentive with a caduceus and two cornucopias on a globe. The other drawing is an internal view showing the central lantern supported by Ionic columns.

Literature: H. R. Steele and F. R. Yerbury, The old Bank of England, London, 1930; P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 165-166; 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; D. Abramson, Building the Bank of England: money, architecture, society 1694-1942, 2005

Emma Smith, September 2010
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