John Soane was surveyor to the Bank of England for 45 years, from 1788 to 1833. During his tenure, he added two extensions and replaced nearly every room, more than doubling the building's area to spread across 3 ¼ acres. As with his predecessors, George Sampson (1732-34) and Sir Robert Taylor (1764-88), Soane was responsible for the Bank's maintenance and repairs, alterations and additions. The building grew in a gradual process determined by its growing and changing business and security concerns. Since its foundation in 1694, the Bank of England had financed Britain's wars and managed the national debt. War, therefore, resulted in more business for the Bank, demanding extensive alterations and additions. Soane’s vast building work was largely the result of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars that lasted from 1793 to 1815. More space was required as the staff doubled during this time and the bank note printing process was carried out on site. In addition, new offices were required as the Bank’s responsibilities and roles changed, such as a place for managing the newly instituted Income Tax of 1799. As well as accommodating the Bank's spatial needs, growth also ensured the institute’s safety: the building and its high curtain walls expanded to occupy an entire block, no longer adjoining houses, shops and pubs but isolated on its own City island. All of Soane’s work at the Bank was built of incombustible materials, using hollow cones and paving bricks for the vaulted ceilings, and metal windows made by specialist sash makers. Lastly, Soane's architecture was influenced by the Bank’s changed reputation, as the Bank of England was increasingly recognized as a National Institute and Soane’s architecture came to reflect this heightened prestige and responsibility. As architect to the Bank, Soane responded to all of the Bank’s requirements, with more offices and more work space, a secure and fireproof structure, and an ambitious design approach.
The history of John Soane’s Bank of England can be traced through his architectural drawings. The building works fall into five phases, with Soane’s busiest era comprising two of those phases, from 1791 to 1808. The catalogue is divided into these phases, which are further divided into geographic areas, or schemes. The first phase in the catalogue, 1788 to 1791, includes drawings for Soane’s early building works and minor repairs, as well as some drawings for the buildings of his predecessors George Sampson and Sir Robert Taylor. The second phase, 1791 to 1801, relates to the rebuilding of offices in the east wing and the large extension to the north-east. The third phase, 1799 to 1810, includes the north-west wing and the reconstruction of the directors’ parlours and several rooms around the Bullion Court. The fourth phase, 1814 to 1816, consists of only a limited amount of building activity and a proposal for rebuilding the facades. The fifth and final phase, 1817 to 1833, includes the rebuilding of the remaining transfer halls in the east wing, the rebuilding of the Taylor and Sampson facades, and temporary alterations to the offices. Record drawings for the Bank, some exhibited at the Royal Academy, are also included in this final phase. The catalogue has omitted media and the Soane Museum’s archive is also not fully represented. A drawing's watermark has not been given unless dated and scale was simplified. A drawing’s hand has not been documented unless it is identifiably by Soane or if it is signed or otherwise clearly evident. Soane’s draughtsman Joseph Michael Gandy (1771-1843), is attributed when possible. The hand of past curators of the Soane Museum are also recorded, including George Bailey (1792-1860), a pupil and assistant to Soane from 1806 to 1837 and subsequent curator of the Museum from 1837 to 1860.
Two interactive plans of the Bank, which collectively show all the schemes in the catalogue, are available below.
John Soane earned the 5% commission typical of an architect of his day. He was paid twice a year. Soane held many responsibilities at the Bank. He acted as his own surveyor, overseeing building works and keeping an account costs. He was also the Bank'sParliamentary lobbyist, securing two Acts for expanding the building to the north. He negotiated the contracts for purchasing adjacent properties and he managed the Bank’s rental properties. Within the building itself, Soane supervised its maintenance and repairs, furnishings and heating systems. Gas lighting was introduced in 1816. And of course he was its designer. His client was the Court of Directors, a committee of 26 appointed stock-holders led by the Governor and Deputy Governor. The Committee of Building, 8 of these directors, met approximately every month during most of Soane’s career. Soane maintained a good relationship with the directors. He had built for some of these directors prior to his appointment to the Bank and his good architecture and admirable business practices during his career gained him over a dozen more commissions from senior directors.
The Bank of England was founded in 1694 but not until 1734 did it have its own purpose-built headquarters. The first Bank of England was built by George Sampson from 1732 to 34, on the site of a town house of a former Bank of England Governor (see scheme 1:1). Sampson’s building consisted of a series of buildings and courts arranged on the narrow and irregular site. The odd angles of these buildings would later prove problematic as they determined the axes of additions made by Taylor and Soane. The front of Sampson’s Bank had a Palladian-inspired facade derived from Inigo Jones’s river front to Somerset House, for which Sampson had been Clerk of Works. The ground floor was a rusticated entrance that led through to the Front Court, which in turn faced a porticoed facade having a central entrance. This building housed the Pay Hall, the hub of public banking and had a double-height space with a large Venetian window on its west end (this symbolic centre of banking was preserved throughout Soane’s career). Through the doors, leading further back into the site, stood offices and a grand stair leading up to the directors’ offices and committee rooms. Even further back still, was another court surrounded by administrative offices and storage, and with loggias at both ends. A back entrance opened onto a narrow alley leading east to Bartholomew Lane.
The Bank began preparing for a further expansion almost immediately after Sampson’s building was completed. In 1764 Robert Taylor was appointed as the Bank’s next architect. Taylor’s first building campaign was a large single-storey wing to the east side, consisting of a Pantheon-like Rotunda surrounded by four large transfer halls for public trading. This wing nearly doubled the Bank’s existing area (Abramson, p. 75). Rather than what Soane referred to as the ‘grand style of Palladian simplicity’ of Sampson’s facade, Taylor’s wing was fronted by a delicate Italianate colonnade. For security, the walls were window-less. From 1765 to 1774, a west wing of directors’ parlours was added, including waiting rooms and the Court and Committee Rooms (the latter were preserved during Soane’s surveyorship). A fireproof library was built from 1770 to 1774 in the back of the Bank. Across the street from the entrance building, two blocks of purpose-built offices were erected and a new ‘Bank Street’ was formed (see scheme 1:2). The first decade of Taylor’s career was occupied with these four major building campaigns. In the 1780s, Taylor set to work again, this time building a south-west wing that, from the street, would replicate the east wing he had built fifteen years earlier (scheme 1:1). The south-west wing was built in response to the Gordon Riots, when the Bank was directly attacked by a violent mob in June of 1780. After the Riots, the Bank secured permission from Parliament to acquire the adjoining properties, including the church of St Christopher le Stocks. The church and adjacent properties were demolished and replaced by the new wing, with the former churchyard left as an open court. Also in response to the Gordon Riots, from 1780 the Bank was protected each night by soldiers from the King’s Guard. A Barracks was also planned but construction was not completed because of Taylor’s death in September 1788.
John Soane was appointed Surveyor to the Bank of England on 16 October 1788, just one month after Robert Taylor died. The beginning of Soane’s service (1788-1792, see phase 1) was occupied with small repairs as well as several new offices and a new entrance vestibule. Soon after being appointed, in 1789, Soane altered the interiors of Sampson’s entrance building, adding residential apartments and an office for his own Clerk of Works, Walter Payne (scheme 1:3). He completed Taylor’s south-west wing, including the Garden Court (1:1) and he built a Barracks with a Printing Office on the upper floor (1:7). The wall to the north of the wing, on Princes Street, was also completed in the early 1790s, with a gate included as an entrance to the Barracks (1:4). Following these slight alterations to the screen wall, Soane built three large offices within the wall (1:4). Soane presented his design for these offices to the Committee of Building in April 1793: these included a large Drawing Office, an Accountants Office, several other offices and a urinal court built just north of the directors’ parlours. Although the design of these offices is scarcely documented, later survey drawings show the Accountants Office with a starfish ceiling much like those ceilings that appear to have existed in the pre-existing Taylor corridors. Also among Soane’s early work is a corridor built in 1791 between the Rotunda and the Front Court, intended to serve the steady flow of brokers and traders travelling in and out of the public banking halls. The vestibule featured a lantern raised on richly ornamented pendentives supported by Ionic columns (1:5). Also in the south-west wing, Soane repaired the roof of the Dividend Pay Office in 1792 (1:6) and he made minor alterations to the Governor’s Room in the summer of 1793 (1:8). Soane prepared the Bank’s Illuminations in 1789 as part of the public’s celebration of King George III’s recovery from illness, and in 1809 similar decorations were displayed for his Golden Jubilee (scheme 1:9).
In November 1790, Soane reported the decayed state of one of Taylor’s transfer halls, the Bank Stock Office (2:3). The Four Per Cent Office was found to be in a similar condition in 1793. Both of these transfer halls were replaced, their wooden roof timbers having decayed since they were built to Taylor’s design in 1765-68. (2:4). The Bank Stock Office was designed first and its form was replicated, with slight alterations, in the four more transfer halls Soane built over his career (scheme 2:4, 2:9, 5:1). The hall had a cruciform plan, having a central bay lit by a large lantern on pendentives, the long arms covered by cross vaults and the shorter arms covered by segmental barrel vaults. This layout was somewhat dictated by the pre-existing foundations of Taylor’s transfer halls, upon which it had been built. At the same time as the rebuilding of the two transfer offices, Soane found structural defects in Taylor’s Rotunda (2:3). The Rotunda was in the centre of the four banking halls and, as in the halls, the roof was built of timber and copper in 1765-68. After surveys in 1795 confirmed the hall’s dilapidated state, the Rotunda was quickly rebuilt. Its walls were strengthened with stone to support a heavier roof of hollow cones and brick. Soane introduced a more reduced interior design than Taylor’s coffered dome, with incised mouldings derived from a Greek key motif. The rest of the wing was not rebuilt at this time: the other two transfer halls having been rebuilt in 1817-1822 and Taylor’s entrance vestibule never rebuilt by Soane.
The new extension to the north-east was designed and built from 1797 to 1801. An Act of Parliament was secured in 1793 for the purchase of property to the north-east, so that the Bank could finally occupy its own block, bound by streets and protected on all four sides by a high window-less curtain wall. Safety was the primary motive for the extension. The properties on Lothbury, Princes Street and Bartholomew Lane were acquired from 1793 to 1797, (2:2), and mostly consisted of holdings belonging to the Haines estate. The screen wall was erected first (2:5), from 1796 to 1797. It was the first of Soane’s external walls for the Bank and its motifs and aesthetic were later reused in the rest of the wall he built around the Bank in c.1800 and 1823 (see 3:4 and 5:2). Examples of such motifs are the Corinthian capital taken from the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli, and the scrolled acroteria ornamenting the wall’s parapets. Within the wall, a Residence Court and Porter’s Lodge were built from 1796 to 1797 (2:6). The Porter’s Lodge served as the gated entrance from Lothbury. The Residence Court, comprised of apartments for the Chief Accountant and the Deputy Chief Accountant, was just inside the wall to the west. The rest of the north-east extension, however, was not built by this time and was still in the early stages of its design. A proposed design for the north-east offices was approved by the Committee of Building in October of 1797 but Soane continued to refine the design for several years afterwards. The north-east wing included Lothbury Court and several private banking offices, as well as a passage between these offices to the Bullion Court (2:7). The Library built by Robert Taylor in the 1770s was removed to make way for the new wing but its materials were salvaged and used to build another, almost identical, library at the far north-east corner of the wing (2:8). In 1799, any progress on the extension was stalled because the Bank was already considering a larger expansion to the north-west. Eventually, the wing was built in stages. The east side of Lothbury Court was probably built in late 1798. The Bullion Arch and the offices to the south of Lothbury Court, however, were not built until 1800-1802, including the Chief Cashier’s Office (2:10) finished in 1802. Lothbury Court was a private back entrance to the Bank, for bullion vans to pass through but, by the time it was erected, the Court’s design did not reflect its secondary function. The south side consisted of a triumphal Arch modelled on the Roman Arch of Constantine, complete with bas-relief roundels of Sol and Lunar, with statues of the Continents over the projecting columns, and the east and west sides had screens of columns with the Corinthian capitals modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. Through one of the screens was an entrance to the newly-built Consols Transfer Office (2:9), a new transfer office built on the same plan, albeit to a greater scale, as the Bank Stock and Four Per Cent Offices.
Already as it was expanding to the north-east, the Bank was preparing for another even larger extension to the north-west. This wing would add another three-quarters of an acre to the Bank’s site, containing a complex of printing offices, a Barracks and private banking offices. As the Bank’s Parliamentary lobbyist, Soane secured an Act of Parliament in 1800 for the property acquisitions and for permission to alter Princes Street (3:2). The Bank granted Soane power of attorney to negotiate with the owners and tenants of all the properties. In 1800 and 1801, the Grocers Company, represented by their surveyor Thomas Leverton, resisted the Bank’s efforts to acquire half of its garden. Fortunately for the Bank, however, the case was brought before the City Lands Committee and its Clerk of the City Works (Soane’s good friend) George Dance. The Committee ruled in the Bank’s favour, calling for Princes Street to be straightened. Other difficulties arose as eight tenants were still occupying their properties in 1803. The acquisition of the last last of the properties was settled at the end of 1804, having delayed the construction of the north-west corner (3:5) and part of the screen wall on Princes Street (3:4). The final design of the corner was a curved screen of columns modelled on the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. This remarkable corner, though at the back of the Bank and therefore somewhat incongruous, was built in anticipation of the prominent junction of boulevards included in George Dance’s Corporation of London’s city planning scheme of 1801 and 1803 (3:3).
Within the walls of the north-west wing, the offices were built in two stages. The first collection of rooms occupied the southern half of the site, with an entrance on Princes Street leading inside to the Doric Vestibule (3:7) and to a corridor that led past the Waiting Room Court (3:6). The Accountants Office (3:8) was a long rectangular room with a segmental-arched coffered ceiling and raised Ionic columns lining both sides of the room between tall round-headed windows. A general plan of the offices was approved by the Committee of Building in January 1803 (3:6) and the offices were built by 1805. The second stage of the north-west wing (3:9) occupied the northern half of the site and was built from 1805 to 1808, consisting of a court surrounded by printing offices with a Barracks (3:11) on the north side. The printing offices were a great improvement to the Bank’s old facilities, with the complete printing process conducted on site and to an unprecedented scale and speed. In March 1805 Soane proposed rearranging the offices to facilitate public business, removing the Court and Committee Rooms to the new Accountants Office and installing the directors’ parlours in those adjoining offices (3:9). The directors’ initially approved Soane’s proposal, but after further consideration they chose to preserve Taylor’s Court and Committee Rooms and the location of the directors’ parlours.
As the second stage of the north-west wing was underway, other offices were rebuilt. To improve circulation between the private banking offices in the old and new parts of the Bank, the Long Passage just north of the Pay Hall was widened, requiring the west side of the Bullion Court to be rebuilt and two offices demolished. At the same time, a new Discount Office was built to the west of the Passage, accomodating the Bank's expanded discounting business. Both were completed in June 1806 (3:10). From 1807 to 1808, as the second stage of the north-west wing was underway, a new Bullion Office was built on the east side of the Bullion Court, completed by February 1808 (3:12). The directors’ parlours were altered and expanded to the west (3:13), with a new corridor, lobbies, offices and waiting room built just north of Taylor’s original Court and Committee Rooms. Earlier, Soane had proposed erecting an entrance vestibule inside the Front Court in 1801 and his proposal was rejected, but from 1806 to 1810 he returned to this idea of modifying the Front Court and altering the adjoining offices (3:1). The vaults beneath these front rooms were also altered in the early 1800s as storage for deposits and bullion was modified (3:14).
There was little building activity at the Bank after 1808. The Bullion Court was completed in 1809 and in 1811. In 1813 the Front Court was paved. In 1814 he altered the vestibule between the Rotunda and the Front Court, converting part of the existing vestibule into the Treasury and erecting a more direct, diagonal passage to its south (4:1). Also in 1814, Soane urged the Committee of Building to rebuild Taylor’s screen walls on Threadneedle, Princes Street and Bartholomew’s Lane (4:2). Though the Committee of Building was informed by a surveyor in 1815 that the walls’ were dangerously thin at some points, they did not give their approval. A year later, the Reduced Annuities Office was slightly expanded to the north (4:4) and an office was erected overhead, with a stair included in the directors’ parlours (4:3).
In 1814 the two Taylor transfer halls remaining in the east wing were examined and their poor condition was reported to the Committee of Building. It was not until 1817-23, though, that the offices were rebuilt. The halls had the same layout, construction and dimensions as Soane’s other transfer halls but with a new decorative approach (5:1). From 1823 to 1828 Soane rebuilt the screen walls on Threadneedle Street, Princes Street and Bartholomew Lane, replacing the walls of both Robert Taylor and George Sampson (5:2). Soane originally intended to only rebuild the Taylor facades but it became increasingly apparent from 1823 to 1825 that the entire entrance front needed replacement. After Soane successfully clad the entire Bank in a unified facade, his focus shifted to improving the surrounding streets and their approach to the Bank (5:3). In the years that followed and until his retirement in 1833, Soane’s work at the Bank was devoted to repairs and minor alterations. He repaired the roofs of the Rotunda, the Stock Office, and the Bartholomew Lane vestibule. Also included in this Phase of the catalogue are minor (usually temporary) alterations that Soane made from 1819 to 1833. Record drawings of the Bank at the end of Soane’s career are also included in this part of the catalogue, including his extraordinary bird’s eye view of the Bank in ruins, exhibited in 1830.
Sir John Soane's Museum has archival material related to the Bank of England, including the Bank Bill Book, the Bank Letter Book, the Day Books, Soane's personal notebooks, correspondences and order books. The Bank of England Archive also has material related to Soane's work at the Bank of England, including Commitee of Building Minutes Books, 1803-38, reference number M5/262-267. Drawings related to the Bank of England are also in the possession of the Bank of England Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Soane exhibited at the Royal Academy throughout his career, including drawings of various built and unbuilt schemes for the Bank of England. Royal Academy exhibition drawings are identified in this catalogue when possible. The complete list of Royal Academy drawings for the Bank of England is as follows: 'Vestibule at the Bank of England, the great hall, Bentley Priory, and the widthdrawing room at Wimpole', 1792 (558); 'The bank stock office, constructed without timber', 1794 (592); 'A vestibule at the Bank', 1799 (1013); 'View of the new Consols office in the Bank built in the year 1799', 1800 (960); 'View of the new buildings in the Bank of England, erected in 1800', 1802 (898); 'A view of part of the Bank of England', 1806 (901); 'View of one of the interior quadrangles in the Bank of England, from Prince's Street', 1806 (907); 'View of one of the interior quadrangles in the Bank of England', 1807 (1051); 'View of one of the interior quadrangles of the Bank of England', 1807 (1060); 'View of a vestibule in the Bank of England', 1807 (931); 'View of the anti-room to the Discount office in the Bank of England', 1809 (778); 'Part of the North front of the Bank as originally intended', 1810 (866); 'View of the north front of the Bank of England as originally designed', 1811 (892); 'New entrance hall to the Bank of England', 1812 (811); 'Design shewing part of the exterior and interior of the Bank of England', 1822 (854); 'View of one of the Consol offices in the Bank of England, etc', 1823 (987); 'View of the Bank of England from the N.W. corner', 1824 (838); 'View of the Bank of England from the west corner', 1824 (873); 'View of the Bank of England from N.E. corner', 1824 (884); 'A bird's eye view of the Bank of England, etc', 1830 (1052). Literature: J. Britton, The Beauties of England and Wales: or, Delineations, topographical, historical, and descriptive, of each county, volume X, Part 1, 1814, pp. 495-573; J. Francis, History of the Bank of England: its times and traditions, volume 2, 1847; M. Schlessinger, Saunterings in and about London, London, 1853, p. 217-230; J. Timbs, Curiosities of London: exhibiting the most rare and remarkable objects of interest in the metropolis, London, 1855, pp. 23-26; A.T. Bolton, The Works of Sir John Soane, 1924; A.T. Bolton, The Portrait of Sir John Soane, RA, London, 1927; H. Rooksby Steele and F.R. Yerbury, The Old Bank of England, 1930; W. Marston Acres, The Bank of England from within, 1931; J. Summerson, 'Soane: the case-history of a personal style', Journal of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 3rd series, LVIII, 1951, pp. 83-91; A. Graves, Royal Academy Exhibitors:A Complete Dictionary 1769-1904, Kingsmead Reprints, 1970, pp. 199-204; J. Summerson, 'The evolution of Soane's Bank Stock Office in the Bank of England', Architectural History, volume 27, 1984, pp. 135-149; M. Binney, Sir Robert Taylor, 1984, pp. 69-82; P. du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum'; A. Kelly, Mrs Coade's Stone, 1990; J. Summerson, 'The Evolution of Soane's Bank Stock Office in the Bank of England', The Unromantic castle, 1990, pp. 143-156; E. Schumann-Bacia, John Soane and the Bank of England, 1991; E. Hennessy, A Domestic history of the Bank of England, 1930-1960, 1992; 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. Stroud, Sir John Soane, architect, 1996, pp. 151-168; D. Watkin, Sir John Soane: Enlightenment thought and the Royal Academy lectures, 1996; M. Richardson & M. Stevens (eds), John Soane architect: master of space and light, Royal Academy of Arts, 1999; G. Darley, John Soane: an accidental romantic, 1999; J. Lever, Catalogue of the drawings of George Dance the Younger (1741-1825) and George Dance the Elder (1695-1768) in the collection of the Sir John Soane's Museum, 2003; M. Richardson, 'John Soane and the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli', Architectural History, volume 46, 2003, pp. 129-145; D. Abramson, Building the Bank of England: money, architecture, society 1694-1942, 2005; H. Colvin, Biographical dictionary of British architects, 1600-1840, 4th ed., 2008.