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Model for the Privy Council and Board of Trade, Offices, London, early design, designed by Sir John Soane, 1824

Painted wood

Height: 26cm
Width: 88cm
Depth: 29.5cm

Museum number: MR31

Curatorial note

One of four models including HR2, L91 and M1268, extant for the Privy Council and Board of Trade offices. A fifth model, described by Soane in the Memoirs of the Professional Life of an Architect (1835) and showing the internal arrangement of the offices, has not survived.

The design of the new offices for the Privy Council and Board of Trade was dogged with difficulties, caused principally by the interference of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Robinson later to become Lord Goderich, who appears to have considered his own taste in matters architectural considerably superior to Soane’s. Even when ‘approved’ and in the process of construction the design was subject to repeated alterations, which greatly increased the expense. The mismanagement of this project and of others executed by the architects of the Office of Works was the subject of an inquiry in 1828. The findings of the Select Committee involved were published in a Report the same year. One point on the Report concerned the usefulness of models: ‘In all cases’, it stated, ‘where any considerable work is to be undertaken, as soon as any one general Plan shall have been preferred and selected, it is indispensible that a model should be constructed, showing both the elevation, and the internal accommodation and distribution of the whole: and that this model should be reconsidered and settled (with alterations if necessary) before the work is begun.’ The Select Committee actually inquired into Soane’s use of models when collecting its evidence. “Do you ever work with models?”, he was asked. He replied: “I always do, it is a great saving of time.” We know from Lord Goderich’s evidence that the Committee was shown one of Soane’s models for the Privy Council and Board of Trade, almost certainly model MR31.

The first design to be approved (on 5th June 1824) featured a continuous colonnade of the Tivoli order, with the 9 central bays of the Whitehall façade recessed. By July 1824 it had been decided to change the Tivoli order to the more elaborate and costly order of the three columns in the Campo Vaccino, because ‘that specimen of the Corinthian order’ (the Tivoli order) was ‘universally deemed extremely defective from the dwarfish proportions of its capital’ according to Lord Goderich (1828 Report, evidence given 17th June 1828).

From June 1824 on, they also debated the propriety of the insulated columns of Soane’s colonnade. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said of these: ‘there would be scarcely room for anyone to pass between the columns and the wall; so that it would have had the appearance only but not the reality of a colonnade’ (ibid). The Chancellor objected to the deception. On the 11th June, Mr Herries and Mr Robinson (Chancellor of the Exchequer) examined a plan showing Soane’s colonnaded design. Soane made notes about the meeting on the drawing concerned (50/1/1), which were transcribed more legibly onto a copy of the same (50/1/3): Mr Herries for some time preferred the insulated Columns and exemplified his opinion referring to the effect of the Capitals in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Room: - the Chancellor of the Exchequer was of a contrary opinion and determined to ¾ Columns. Further notes were added after a meeting on the 12th June when the Chancellor, by now less decided, sent for Soane and his drawings a second time: altho a very large Drawing of the Front was produced, the Chancellor did not think he could determine satisfactorily without a model of the whole Front which I was directed to have made and in the meantime proceed with the works. Soane gives an estimate for the cost of the model on the drawing: The Model abt £50. These notes undoubtedly refer to model MR31, which shows the whole front of the first approved design with its colonnade stripped and replaced with engaged columns, and are remarkably restrained.

Model MR31 was referred to in Soane’s evidence before the Select Committee of 25th March 1828. They were ascertaining who was responsible for all the alterations to the first design and Soane was asked: “How nearly does the present building correspond with the model which was made?” He replied: “It differs materially from the model, and still more from the original design, the model not having been made till after many drawings had been prepared and submitted for the inspection of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and altered agreeably to his suggestions. In the original designs, the columns were insulated; these were objected to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he proposed to substitute three-quarter columns, and the model was made to enable him to satisfy himself as to the effect of them; the model was approved; …”.

Soane’s Notebooks refer twice to models for the Privy Council and Board of Trade Offices: once on the 12th June when the Chancellor ordered model MR31 to be made; and once on July 9th when he wrote ‘Called on the Chan: of the Exch: with the Model’. Drawing 49/3/8 is annotated with details of the outcome of this meeting (the drawing shows Soane’s colonnaded design): This Drawing was shown to Mr Robinson on Friday 9th July accompanied with small Model/ with ¾ Columns – Mr R approved the outline of CO as shown in this Drawing and directed me to proceed. Model 31 MR is 34½ inches long and could not easily be described as ‘small’. There is another model to which this note could refer, it was un-numbered in the Soane Museum inventories but does appear as item 85 in Wilton-Ely’s catalogue. The model illustrates a design for the first three bays of Downing Street façade to the offices and measures 7 3/8 by 9 3/8.

If Robinson approved the colonnaded design in July 1824, he had changed his mind by early 1825. Drawing 50/1/27, dated February 1825, shows the building in plan with all ¾ instead of insulated columns. It is inscribed: Downing Street March 1 1825 / This Plan submitted to the Chancellor of / the Exchequer and approved by him to the end of / the Council Office in Downing Street when he directed / the Plan to be carried into immediate execution. By a little later in March, however, Soane was working on an extension of the scheme, taking the Whitehall elevation beyond Treasury Passage to include the Home Office. In Designs for Public and Private Buildings (1838), Soane explains why the design shown on Model 2 HR was evolved: ‘This extension of the Front in an unbroken line, produced a monotonous effect: - Another Design was made, with a pavilion of six Columns at each extremity of the Building’. Model HR2 show the offices of the Board of Trade and Privy Council as executed, except that the front to Whitehall did not continue as far (it stopped one bay down from the door on the right), and has ¾ columns to the main body of the building and insulated columns to the pavilion. It is a large model, an awkward ‘L’ shape, and somewhat fragile as it is made of plaster; it is less likely than Model MR31, therefore, to have been taken to the offices of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his approval. It obviously post-dates March 1825.

Soane realised that should the Privy Council and Board of Trade Offices be extended to include the Home Office, the building would end very out of line with its neighbours and, in projecting forward, would encroach upon the foot-way. ‘This difficulty’, he wrote, ‘…may be overcome by making Downing Street the centre of the Front, and by continuing the line of the Building southward to the same extent’ (ibid).

The elaborate plaster model L91, displayed on the Dining-Room mantelpiece, shows one of his many designs for a scheme of this nature. The Soane archive contains a record of the bill paid to the makers of the model (Correspondence Cpd 2/XV/K (2)). For ‘Modelling, moulding, casting and fixing together Model of the Board of Trade Council Office Triumphal Arch &c in Downing Street’ between March 27th and June 12th 1830, the plasterers William Robson and Thomas Estall of 17 Abchurch Lane received £ 90.4:6. The ‘Prime Cost’ of the model had been much greater, with £114.15:5 charged for the time of the ‘Ornament Plasterers’, £20.9:5 for the time of the ordinary plasterers, 15s 10d for the plaster itself and 12s 2d for ‘Use & Wash of Wax Coals Oil &c’. In the end the Home Office was excluded from the scheme and only one pavilion – the one to Downing Street - was built. The result was a complete loss of symmetry.

The completed building gave rise to much criticism. Mr Greville and Mr Amyott led the complaints concerning the proportions of the rooms, Soane suggested that the rooms would look better if they were furnished more appropriately, the furniture in them being ‘better suited, perhaps, for ladies’ drawing-rooms than for clerks rooms’ (Memoirs of the Professional Life…). Calls were made for fundamental alterations to the Privy Council Chamber itself. Soane defended his design by reminding his critics that they had been consulted about the design: ‘Previously to my first attending Mr Greville and Mr Amyott, I had temporary fittings put up in the Privy Council Chamber, with chairs and tables, similar in every respect to the model submitted to the Lord President: - after many alterations and re-alterations, made chiefly from the suggestions of Mr Amyott, the fittings were approved by Mr Greville, and are now, except to the space for the public, and the accommodation for the legal attendants, the same as the model’ (ibid). These remarks suggest a model similar to the ‘sectional plans’ of the Law Courts, in which fittings were set out and shown to future users and their comments asked for. Unfortunately it has not survived.

William Robson and Thomas Estall, the plasterers who made model L91, were employed occasionally by Soane to repair damaged models. The archives hold references to work done between July 14th and December 1st 1832 – ‘…repair Plastering on Museum & Modell of Board of Trade…’ – and between February 22nd and November 26th 1834 – ‘Repair Models of the Bank of England & Board of Trade’ (see Correspondence Cpd 2/XV/K (3)).

Exhibition history

John Soane Architect: Master of Space and Light, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 11 September - 3 December 1999; Centro Palladio, Vicenza, April - August 2000; Hôtel de Rohan, Paris, January - April 2001; Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, 16 May - 3 September 2001; Real Academia des Bellas Artes, Madrid, October - December 2001

Associated objects

L91, same scheme
XP54, same scheme
HR2, same scheme
m1268, same scheme
P88, same scheme
P257, same scheme

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk