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London: St James's Palace: surveys, designs and design for the new Guard Room, 1792-93 (18)


A plan of St James's Palace in 1793 (J. Mordaunt Crook and M. H. Port, p. 393, op. cit. below) includes the semi-elliptical guard room with pilasters that was one of Soane's alternative designs (drawing [3]). A plan of that part of St James's Palace destroyed by fire in 1809 (Crook and Port, p. 395, op. cit. below) shows the distinctive outline of Soane's semi-elliptical guard room as among the buildings lost to the fire.

It may have been rebuilt to the same plan since Ptolemy Dean (op. cit. below) wrote that 'The 1st edition OS map, 1869-74, clearly shows the outline of Soane's semi-circular guard room in place with Soane's porch (drawing [10]) on its eastern face. A faceted building had taken the place of Soane's curved building by the time of the second edition 1894-6 OS map, and it is the outline of this structure, significantly larger in scale that its predecessor, and filling more of Engine Court, that survives today.'

The Office of Works was established in 1378 to oversee the building and repair of royal castles and residences. Between 1782 and 1796 Sir William Chambers was Surveyor General and Comptroller and under him Soane secured his first government appointment. This was on 28 October 1790 when he was made Clerk of the Works at St James's, Whitehall and Westminster. Conscientious at first, by 1793 Soane had became neglectful of his official duties and on 6 December 1793 and 3 January 1794, the Minutes of the Board (National Archives, Work 4/18) record that Chambers had written to him 'respecting his non attendance at the office' and again that his absence caused 'the Public service ... material injury'. In February 1794, Soane resigned his post.

According to the Board of Works quarterly accounts of February 1794 (National Archives, Work 18/4), Soane had nine jobs on hand when he resigned: the Secretary of State's office, Whitehall; general surveys of Westminster and St James'; parliamentary office and two houses or apartments in Westminster; the Chapel Royal, the Lord Chamberlain's office and a 'new Pastry &c' at St James's Palace - the old one having been 'converted into a Kitchen for the use of the Officers of the Foot Guards when on duty' (National Archives, Work 18/4, 14 June 1793). For a drawing by Chambers that may relate to the guard house see 'Original Sketches / Miscellaneous / Architectural / Subjects' (SM volume 42/5).

Literature. J. Mordaunt Crook and M. H. Port, History of the Kings Works, VI, 1973, pp. 363 & 365; P. Dean, Sir John Soane and London, 2006, p. 226.

Jill Lever / Tom Drysdale, January 2015



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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of London: St James's Palace: surveys, designs and design for the new Guard Room, 1792-93 (18)