Sir John Soane and the Red Telephone Box

John Soane's portrait

John Soane

Sir John Soane, born son of a bricklayer in Goring-on-Thames specialised in the neo-classical style, his most influential building being the Bank of England, much of which was rebuilt in later years. The outer wall is still intact.

If Wikipedia is to be believed (not that I would doubt Wikipedia – I reckon it’s generally a lot more accurate than people give it credit for), Nikolaus Pevsner named the rebuilding of his work at the Bank as “the greatest architectural crime, in the City of London, of the twentieth century”.

A building that Soane designed which is still around is the Dulwich Picture Gallery (which houses one of the oldest collections of old masters in Britain). To get there is around 15 minutes from London Bridge but beware it’s shut on Mondays!

Soane acquired the Sir in Sir John in 1831, then died in 1837 and was buried in a vault designed by himself, in St Pancras Churchyard.

Sir John Soane's vault

His vault

This mausoleum inspired the design for Giles Gilbert Scott’s red telephone box. (Have a look at the dome at the top).

Red telephone box

Telephone box

The Museum

This is a remarkable place in Lincoln’s Inn Fields: admirable for the range of artefacts Soanes collected, as well as the number of objects he was able to cram into this relatively small, labyrinthine place. Museum drawings, an egyptian sarcophagus of Seti I, medieval, renaissance, oriental, classical busts, statues and assorted works of art litter the place. There’s a gothic library, Pompeii red walls, a crypt room, a picture room. The paintings include Hogarth’s The Rake’s Progress, Turners and Canalettos. There’s a monk’s parlour in the basement – designed for a fictional monk. In the monk’s yard there’s a gravestone engraved with the words “Alas, poor Fanny” – the name of Soane’s wife’s dog whose bones are interred beneath.

Visitors’ Information

You can download a free podcast introduced by Stephen Fry and read by Tim Know, the director of the museum – it’s an hour long, and I haven’t tried it out yet but intend to so at the first opportunity. You’ll find full details of opening times and directions on the Visitor Information page of the museum’s official website. Although the museum’s at 13 Lincoln Inn Fields, numbers 12 and 14 were bought by Sir John as well. Number 14 has been restored and will be opened to the public shortly – workshops and a model room will be accessible here.


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