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London: Buckingham Palace, Westminster: surveys and designs, 1817-? (8)


Buckingham Palace (as it became in the 1820s) fell within Soane's area of jurisdiction as Attached Architect with responsibility for Westminster, Whitehall and St James's. It was in this capacity that he surveyed the building in 1816, reporting in November that the outbuildings needed to be replaced (drawings 1-2). A room next to the great library was fitted up for rare books in 1818-19 and a gallery for the 'Library of the Great Room' was erected in 1821.* Another survey conducted by Soane in 1821, prompted by concerns for the roofs of the great staircase and drawing room, found that 'no danger exists from the state of the roof nor is any to be apprehended for years to come'. It was also in the period from 1817 to 1821 that Soane's pupils made drawings of the staircase hall to accompany Soane's Royal Academy lectures (drawings 3-4).

On 21 July 1821, however, Soane was informed by the Surveyor-General of 'His Majesty's commands to put the Queen's Palace in charge of Mr Nash'. Soane's fury was unabated when Nash attempted to make light of the situation, writing to 'Brother Soane' that 'You was in a miff when I saw you at the head of Your Masons. One of the Masonic rules, I am told, is to acquire a meek and humble spirit. I fear therefore You are not qualified for Grand Master... it occured to me that our appointments are perfectly constitutional, I, the King, You, the Lords, and Your friend Smirke, the Commons... It then struck me that You wanted to be both King and Lords, and in fancy I heard You cry out "Off with his head, so much for Buckingham"'. Soane was to have the last word, however. By 1831 the project had wildly exceeded Nash's estimate. Soane and three other architects were directed to make a report on the expense, condition and security of the palace (drawings 6-8) before Nash was dismissed under the damning charge of 'inexcusable irregularity and great negligence'.

An interlude was provided in 1827-28 by Soane's attempts to secure approval for a new royal palace on Constitution Hill (drawing 5). The palace was supposed to be central to the processional route concocted by Soane as a grandiose way for the King to travel to the Palace of Westminster for the annual State opening of Parliament. Although designs were exhibited at the Royal Academy, the project remained on paper.

*A drawing survives in the Soane Museum Archives, Corr. xii G(2) 4.

J. M. Crook and M. H. Port (eds), The History of the King's Works: Vol. VI: 1782-1851, 1973, pp. 263-77; H. M. Colvin, J. M. Crook, K. Downes and J. Newman (eds), The History of the King's Works: Vol. V: 1660-1782, 1976, pp. 133-38.

Tom Drysdale, January 2015



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

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

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.

Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).  

Contents of London: Buckingham Palace, Westminster: surveys and designs, 1817-? (8)