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London: House of Lords, Palace of Westminster: alterations and additions, 1817-28 (220)

The appointment of Soane in 1814 as an Attached Architect to the Office of Works with responsibility for Westminster and Whitehall allowed him to re-engage with the Palace of Westminster in an official capacity. This followed his resignation as Clerk of Works in 1794 and his subsequent disappointment when James Wyatt (1746-1813) secured the post of Surveyor-General in 1796. The most urgent task was the repair and restoration of Westminster Hall and the Painted Chamber, although Soane was only nominally associated with these works and therefore no relevant drawings survive.

The succession to the throne of George IV on 29 January 1820 at last provided Soane with the opportunity to make his mark on Westminster. Catalogued here are Soane’s survey, design, working and exhibition drawings for alterations and additions to the House of Lords. Drawings made for the House of Commons between 1825 and 1833 are catalogued separately (q.v.). The drawings for Soane’s new Law Courts adjoining Westminster Hall (1821-9) have yet to be catalogued.

In July 1820 Soane was directed to make designs for temporary galleries to increase the capacity of the House of Lords for the trial of Queen Caroline, George IV’s estranged wife. Following M. H. Port’s approach (The History of the King’s Works, VI, p. 520), Soane’s subsequent work at the House of Lords can be divided into four stages. The first stage (1822-3) includes the rebuilding of the Royal Entrance with a curved, Gothic arcade in Old Palace Yard leading to the Scala Regia (Royal Staircase). The second stage (1823-4) relates to the Royal Gallery and committee rooms that were built in place of the old House of Lords. In the third stage (1824-5) new committee rooms – later turned into a library and repository for papers – were built between the Scala Regia and the Painted Chamber. And in the final stage (1825-7), further committee rooms were added to the east of the Royal Gallery, towards the river. In February and March 1828 Soane made a further set of designs to ‘render the entrances into the House of Lords etc. more commodious’. Alternatives in a Gothic and Neoclassical style were proposed but this new entrance was never executed.

Soane’s additions to the House of Lords survived the fire of 1834 largely unscathed, and the Royal Entrance, Scala Regia and Royal Gallery continued to be used as the royal processional route to the House of Lords until 1851. In the following year they were demolished as part of the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster by Charles Barry (1795-1860). Catalogued here in chronological order are 182 drawings made between 1817 and 1828. These include four drawings made for exhibition at the Royal Academy (SM 16/7/4, 16/7/5, P285, XP16). As the works took place over the course of 11 years, many different pupils and assistants worked on the drawings in the Soane Office. Preparatory sketches and presentation drawings were made by Soane’s long-time collaborator, Joseph Michael Gandy (1771-1843), working on a freelance basis.

During the course of the works at Westminster Soane acquired a good deal of architectural salvage from the medieval palace, most of which survives today in the Monk’s Yard at the rear of 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. In addition, several plaster casts and copies of ornaments from Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Chapel and the old House of Lords, and an original wooden patera from the ceiling of the Painted Chamber, are displayed in the Soane Museum.

Tom Drysdale, August 2014
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