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London: New State Paper Office, Duke Street, Westminster, 1829-34 (207)


The State Papers had since 1788 been deposited in a house in Scotland Yard. In 1819 they were transferred to a house in Great George Street (drawings 1-5). However, that building was in a bad state of disrepair and in 1824 the Home Secretary, Robert Peel (1788-1850), made the case to the Treasury for building a new repository. By 1828 the condition of the building on Great George Street had become even worse, prompting Henry Hobhouse (1776-1854), Keeper of the State Papers, to alert Peel to the urgency of the situation. The best solution, it was decided in April 1829, was to build a new State Paper Office on the site of the late Lady Suffolk’s house in Duke Street, Westminster – the existing house itself proving unsuitable for alteration.

After providing survey drawings and a report on the condition of Lady Suffolk’s house (drawings 6-12), Soane’s first designs were sent to the Treasury in May 1829. They show a brick building of two storeys with attic and basement, enlivened by quoins and an entablature decorated with a frieze of Greek fret mouldings (drawings 13-14). The estimate was £12,850. In June the Treasury took the unprecedented decision of inviting the other Attached Architects – John Nash (1752-1835) and Robert Smirke (1780-1867) – to submit their own designs in competition for the new building. They were advised to include a large, top-lit library with galleries on the upper floor and Soane was given the same direction. His revised designs were despatched on 22 June (drawings 15-38) along with an estimate of £17,600 (not including fixtures and fittings).

It was surely a relief to Soane that his designs were approved, although not before he had been forced to make alterations at the request of Henry Goulburn (1784-1856), Chancellor of the Exchequer. Goulburn ‘disapproved of the rusticated quoins’ and desired Soane to add pilasters to the elevations in imitation of the Banqueting House (drawing 27) (King’s Works, VI, p. 568). Soane objected and made drawings showing the New State Paper Office to Goulburn’s design in comparison with the Banqueting House to demonstrate the inappropriateness of pilasters to a building of such a scale or, as he put it, ‘the classical architecture of Inigo Jones compared with the dilettanti architecture of the present day’ (drawings 41-42). It is worth noting that Soane was very familiar with the Banqueting House – in 1772 his measured drawings of it had won him the R.A. Silver Medal and from 1829-32 he surveyed and carried out the restoration of the building for the Office of Works (q.v. Soane’s architectural education; Royal Academy; Measured drawing of the Banqueting House, Whitehall). Despite Soane’s opposition, and the concomitant increasing of the estimate by £3,000, the design with Goulburn’s additions was approved in December 1829 (drawings 43-46).

There was to be further interference in 1830 when Henry Bankes (1757-1834), MP for Corfe Castle and Soane’s nemesis at the New Law Courts, Westminster, requested that the attics be increased in height. This time Bankes’ input was rejected but perhaps as a result of his demand Soane decided to insert the attic windows into the metopes (drawings 53-56, 59-62, 68-70 and 72-75) (King’s Works, VI, p. 569). Another idea of Soane’s had been to decorate the cornice with the busts of ‘illustrious persons whose labours are supposed to be deposited within the walls of this edifice’ (drawing 63).

The order was given on 19 June 1830 to commence the building work ‘without further delay’. Site surveys, designs and working drawings for the foundations had already been made in April and May (drawings 47-51, 71 and 77-97). Difficulties were encountered with the water table, though, causing Soane to consult the specifications for the harbour wall at Plymouth, Staines Bridge and the New Junction Dock, Hull. Initial progress was therefore slow, but the pace quickened after May 1831, by which time the first four courses of the basement had been laid. In August it was noticed that the elevation did not correspond with the approved designs. When it was completed in 1833 the building was indeed astylar, lacking the pilasters proposed by Goulburn – Soane argued that they had been left out to offset other unforeseeable costs, namely the foundations and internal fittings (Memoirs, p. 67). Soane’s penultimate task was to design the furniture for the library and apartments (drawings 157-163 and 172-174). Robert Lemon (1779-1835), Deputy Keeper of the State Papers, was in residence by November 1833. In the following year Soane was forced to design new chimneys as those that had been built were causing some of the rooms to fill with smoke (drawings 198-206). The final sum expended on the new building was £23,593.

Soane’s last public building was designed in the style of the palazzo architecture of the Italian Renaissance and has been credited, alongside Charles Barry’s (1795-1860) Travellers Club (1829-32), with popularising the palazzo style in Britain (S. Palmer, ‘Sir John Soane and the design of the New State Paper Office’, Archivaria, 2005, p. 45.). Dorothy Stroud has suggested that Soane’s main inspiration was Vignola’s Villa Farnese at Caprarola (1559-73), a building that Soane had encountered some 50 years previously on 19 April 1780 during his grand tour (D. Stroud, Sir John Soane, Architect, 1996, p. 236). While there is little firm evidence for this attribution, the design of the main entrance from Duke Street is explicitly Vignolan, although Soane was forced to modify Vignola’s door to suit the proportions of his own building (drawings 65-66).

One of Soane’s chief concerns was to ensure that the New State Paper Office was as fire-proof as possible. To this end he conceived of a compartmentalised plan wherein the rooms were separated by solid walls. In his original designs the library had consisted of three separate rooms but he was subsequently obliged by the Lords of the Treasury to design one large room instead. Soane compromised by building a library of three connected compartments. Fire-proof materials were employed in the structure of the building – the ceilings in the principal rooms were formed of hollow brick arches springing from iron girders (drawings 100, 105-111 and 142-145). The book presses, however, were made of deal and wainscot (drawings 159-163 and 172-174). (See S. Palmer, op. cit., for a fuller discussion of Soane’s efforts to fire-proof the New State Paper Office).

The New State Paper Office was demolished in 1862 to make way for the new Foreign and India Office buildings by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-78) and Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-77). In addition to the 207 drawings catalogued here the Soane Museum also has four models relating to the design of the New State Paper Office as well as lecture drawings, publications and archive materials, which are available to consult by request (library@soane.org.uk). The correspondence and minutes of the Office of Works and some other Soane drawings are held at the National Archives.

SM Priv. Corr. XI.K.1-2; Sir John Soane, Designs for Public and Private Buildings, 1832; J. Soane, Memoirs of the Professional Life of an Architect, 1835; A. T. Bolton, The Portrait of Sir John Soane, 1927; D. Stroud, The Architecture of Sir John Soane, 1961; J. Wilton-Ely, 'The architectural models of Sir John Soane: a catalogue', Architectural History, XII, 1969; J. M. Crook and M. H. Port (eds), The History of the King's Works: Vol. VI: 1782-1851, 1973; P. du Prey, Catalogues of Architectural Drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum: Sir John Soane, 1985, cat. 458-488, pp. 109-112; D. Stroud, Sir John Soane, Architect, 1996; D. Watkin, Sir John Soane: Enlightenment Thought and the Royal Academy Lectures, 1996; G. Darley, John Soane: An Accidental Romantic, 1999; S. Palmer, ‘Sir John Soane and the design of the New State Paper Office’, Archivaria, 2005; P. Dean, Sir John Soane and London, 2006; D. McKinstry, ‘”Our great architect”: Inigo Jones in the 1830s – a forgotten source for the English Italianate?’, The Georgian Group Journal, XXI, 2013.

Tom Drysdale, April 2014



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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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: New State Paper Office, Duke Street, Westminster, 1829-34 (207)