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South and south-east Transfer Offices, 1817-23 (115)

The two offices to the south and south-east of the Rotunda have held a variety of titles over the years. Soane refers to them as the Four and Five Per Cent Offices in his report to the Committee of Building (below). Both offices have been referred to in drawing inscriptions as the Consols Office and the Three Per Cent Office as well as the Four Per Cent (the south-east Transfer Office) and the Old Four Per Cent (the south Transfer Office). Some inscriptions even refer to both offices as the Three Per Cent Reduced Annuities Office. In addition, the inscriptions on many of the Soane office designs are clearly erroneous and must have been added later. To save confusion this catalogue refers to the offices by geographical location, i.e. the south Transfer Office (directly to the south of the Rotunda, its exterior wall bordering Threadneedle Street alone) and the south-east Transfer Office (to the south-east of the Rotunda, bordering both Threadneedle Street and Bartholomew Lane). Where a drawing records Taylor's design for the offices that drawing is described as for ‘Taylor’s south/south-east Transfer Office’ and where it shows Soane’s additions or designs it is referred to as ‘later south/south-east Transfer Office’. Due to the almost identical design of the offices (both Taylor’s and Soane’s) it has sometimes not been possible to identify which of the two offices is shown.
Taylor designed the south and south-east Transfer Offices in 1765 and they were complete by 1768. His design was almost identical for each: 16 wooden columns supported a lath and plaster ceiling with 23 lanterns. The main difference between the two offices was that the south office’s longitudinal southern wall, which bordered Threadneedle Street, was not straight and inclined outwards from east to west. The south-east office had a similarly inclined southern wall, on the transverse side. The positions of doorways to access the Rotunda, vestibule and an access doorway between the two offices also indicate which the room shown is (though only if the plan shows the ground floor rather than the basement).
Taylor’s offices became unstable and in 1814 Soane submitted a report to the Committee of Building, informing them that ‘the timbers of the roof, and also the sky-lights over the Four and Five Per Cent Offices are so much decayed, and the pillars which support them so much out of an upright as makes it necessary to rebuild the same. It is proposed to rebuild these two rooms with incombustible materials and in every other respect like the Three Per Cent and Bank Stock Offices’ (ref SMA, Box 14.65).
When it came to rebuilding, Soane retained Taylor’s outer walls but completely rebuilt the interiors of the south and south-east Transfer Offices. The initial survey drawings show Taylor’s offices as they were. The following record drawings show the poor condition of the excavated basement (drawings 10 to 15). Soane added masonry reinforcement and stabilised the foundations, in order that they would provide support for his new layout above. A major reason for rebuilding was the fire risk that Taylor’s wooden column and ceiling structure posed. Therefore Soane’s ground floor design followed the Bank Stock Office prototype: a three aisle layout, with four monumental (fireproof) stone columns supporting a central domed lantern. The difference between the later Transfer Offices and the Bank Stock Office lay in the substitution of semicircular arches for the segmental arches of the earlier design. The roof was then constructed with barrel vaults composed of terracotta cones, for a lightweight, fire-proof roof.
Soane’s two Transfer Offices were remarkably similar to each other in most respects, just as Taylor's had been. The dimensions, plan and construction were almost identical across the later south and south-east Transfer offices. However, Soane introduced variant decorative schemes – most notably for the two lanterns: the south-east Transfer Office incorporated a central lantern with sixteen Ionic columns. The south Transfer Office had a central two-tier lantern with paired caryatids ornamenting the first tier. The general decorative schemes of the two offices also differed from each other: the later south Transfer Office had ‘sol’ and ‘lunar’ roundels and caducei in the spandrels of the canopy dome. The south-east Transfer Office dome spandrels bore simple flower-medallions with a lion's head in the centre of each.
It seems evident from the dates of progress and construction drawings (drawings 43, 92 and 93 in particular) that Soane rebuilt the south-east Transfer Office first (beginning work in 1817) and the south Transfer Office later (in 1821). Soane must have completed the two Transfer Offices by 1823 as there is a £403 bill for the south Transfer Office caryatids in the SM Archives, dated to October 1822 (MB.i.23).
There are three drawings that may be for the south-east Transfer Office in the V&A collection. These are included in P. Du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in a series of 'Catalogues of Architectural Drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 147-149.
Matilda Burn 2011
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