When I find I have an unplanned day, its fun to randomly open a London guidebook and pick a place to visit. That’s how I found myself at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields the other day with my friend, Leslie. Upon arriving at the entrance gate of the John Soane Museum, we were asked to put our purses into a clear plastic bag which we then had to carry by hand rather than over our shoulder. It all made perfect sense once I entered the house ~ its so cluttered with a variety of objects and paintings from around the world and I was in fear every time I turned around that I’d knock a priceless artifact off the wall.
Sir John Soane was born in 1753, the son of a bricklayer, he studied at the Royal Academy and became a very successful Georgian era architect. Some of his designs include: the Old Bank Of England (it was demolished), St Pancras Old Church and also the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Soane was an avid collector who was so disappointed in his sons, he chose to establish the house as a museum upon his death, rather than leave it to his heirs. He became Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806 and he wanted both “amateurs and students” to have access to his extensive collection. I’m always so thankful for those who have the forethought to create such a public treasure for future generations.
Entrance is free but, be sure to arrive early as there can be long queues especially for the candlelight tours. I would highly recommend the guided tour for £10 since there isn’t a lot of explanation on the items and there are hidden panels lined with paintings which you’ll miss if you’re not on a tour.
One of my favorites is the famous painting series by William Hogarth: A Rake’s Progress. It’s a sad tale of a Rake’s (an immoral person) demise through too much drink, women & gambling. Perhaps his wife was reminding him about the excesses of wealthy and successful men when she gifted him the series.
The museum has been kept as close to how it was at the time of Soane’s death in 1837. To me, there is a randomness to the collection: a sarcophagus on the lower floor (in the crypt), an astronomical clock, the tombstone inscribed “Alas Poor Fanny”, Gothic carvings, 30,000 drawings, 6,000 books, Sir Robert Walpole’s desk, a pair of leg irons, plaster casts, sculptures & paintings. Can you call it hoarding if it’s a museum? The guide mentioned his wife refused to let him bring his collections into the main house which is next door to #13. Smart women! She died 22 years prior to him and left his collecting unfettered.
After going through the museum, you walk through the beautiful, airy and open townhouse where they actually lived. It felt like a decompression chamber after feeling so claustrophobic in the museum.
Leave yourself a little time to enjoy the surrounding area. There’s a pretty park across the street.
Having learned a bit about Sir John Soane, I’m interested in seeing his country home Pitzhanger Manor House in Ealing which was owned and rebuilt by him from 1800 to 1810. In the late 20th century, there was an extensive restoration done, returning the building back to Soane’s original design.