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London: 90 Fleet Street, City of London: new banking house for William Praed, 1801 (59)

In June 1801 Soane began negotiations over a site on Fleet Street for the location of a banking house for William Praed (1747-1833), the client for whom Soane had built Tyringham in 1793-8 (q.v.). Praed was the MP for St Ives, Chairman of the Grand Junction Canal Company and a senior partner in his family’s banks in Truro and Falmouth. In 1801 he set up a new bank at 90 (now 188-90) Fleet Street with his partners, Babbage, Box and Digby. The area around Temple Bar was, by that time, a locus for private banks (Black, op. cit., pp. 34-7). The plans were settled on 29 June and the building completed for a little more than £10,000. In 1812, Soane provided designs for new offices to the rear of the site.

Praed wrote to Soane that ‘we have much to talk over before the first of Jany when I expect to find myself in the character of a London Banker seated in full form in the most elegant and convenient House in the City of London’. Elegance and convenience were certainly two of Soane’s primary concerns. The façade was ornamented with arched openings, pilasters, hood moulds with Greek key stops, Greek fret friezes and a balustrade with a scrolled acroterion and antefixes. Unusually for the time there was no external separation between the bank on the ground floor and the domestic accommodation on the upper floors of the house. Soane also took great care over the plan. Rather than having a central entrance, Soane placed the entrance to Praed’s bank to the right, which enabled him to place the desks at a right angle to the windows, improving lighting for the clerks. The plan also enabled Soane to separate the bank from the domestic apartments that were accessed by a staircase at the end of the entrance hall (Black, op. cit., p. 49).

Praed’s bank is significant in that it provided the model for many of Soane’s later town houses in the treatment of the façade and in the manipulation of irregular sites through the use of curved walls and top-lighting (Dean, op. cit., p. 162). Lord Buckingham is named on several of the drawings catalogued here (e.g. [5], [7] and [13]), although the nature and extent of his input is not known. He did forge the initial link between Soane and Praed (q.v. Tyringham) and was involved in Praed's business interests. The bank building was demolished in 1923. The site is now occupied by Coutts & Co. (Anderson, Forster & Wilcox, 1963-67) but Soane’s rear retaining walls survive and can still be seen from Clifford’s Inn Passage (Pevsner, op. cit., pp. 501-2).

Literature:
J. Booker, Temples of Mammon: The Architecture of Banking, 1990, pp. 1-36; D. Stroud, Sir John Soane, Architect, 1996, p. 182; S. Bradley and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 1: The City of London, 1997, pp. 501-2; I. Black, 'Private banking in London's West End, 1750-1830', London Journal, 28, 1, 2003, pp. 29-59; P. Dean, Sir John Soane and London, 2006, pp. 23 & 162.

Tom Drysdale, March 2015
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