Amongst all of the amazing places to visit in London, there’s one that needs to go straight to the top of your MUST see list and that’s the Sir John Soane’s Museum. We absolutely detest the over used clichés like ‘treasure trove’ and ‘Aladdin’s cave’ but these are most definitely what sprang to mind when we visited last week.
A short stroll from Holborn tube station, the Sir John Soane’s Museum is set in the elegant surroundings of Lincoln’s Inn Fields and occupies number 12, 13 and 14 where Soane lived with his wife and two children. Much more than a home, it was also his place of business, studio and served ‘as a laboratory for his own evolving architectural ideas’. The house is preserved just as it was at the time of his death in 1837 and stands as a perfect example of Late Georgian architecture.
We can’t stress enough what a treat it is to step in to the Museum and would highly recommend taking the guided tour. It’s just £10, only an hour long and leads you through the otherwise labyrinth like property. Our guide was the archivist at the museum and was wonderfully interesting, telling us tales of each room and the endless artefacts in them whilst also fielding questions from our inquisitive group. The Museum isn’t set out like other museum’s you will have been to. The rooms wind from one to the next with little corridors here and there and decorative alcoves dotted throughout which could be easily missed without a guide. There aren’t any signs or bits of information below each artefact (an impossible task as you’ll see on a visit) but you can buy a guide book and map on entry which discusses many pieces if you prefer to wander around at your leisure.
Now we thought our showrooms were packed to the rafters but Mr Soane is in another league. Every single millimetre of space is filled with paintings, ceramics, sculptures, busts, architectural fragments, furniture….he’s even got a sarcophagus! Despite having a touch of the hoarders about it, every piece and the location of each, has been carefully considered so that the item can be viewed in the best light or at the best angle. The use of mirrors and coloured glass add to this and show just how innovative Soane was.
The top floor houses the bedrooms and bathrooms as well as some spectacular cork architectural models. On the ground floor you’ll find the newly restored kitchen, Monk’s parlour, catacombs and the courtyard complete with a monument to Mrs Soane’s dog, Fanny.
But by far the most impressive space in the Museum is the Picture Room. Although it’s one of the smaller rooms within the property it houses the most spectacular collection of paintings including four Hogarth’s, three Canaletto’s and one of three Turner’s in the house. In order to store such a large collection in such a small space, Soane created what he called ‘movable planes’ which are essentially hinged walls that open out so that you can see the next layer of breath-taking artwork. Truly stunning, and a feat of engineering.
The house and its contents are great for reference if you’re recreating a late 18th / early 19th Century set. Particularly the furniture, the colours used and the way things were displayed. If you’ve never been then you have to go and see it for yourself and if you haven’t visited for some time, pop back and refresh your memory, we guarantee you’ll spot something that you missed.
*If after a visit you’ve still got the energy for more, pop across the square and take a look at the collection in the Hunterian Museum within the Royal College of Surgeons. It’s free to look around and they’ve got some weird and wonderful specimens on show along with some quite beautiful period medical kits and equipment. Be quick though, we heard they are closing the collection soon while the building is renovated!*
All of the beautiful images that accompany this article are from the www.soane.org website which has more information about the Museum and collection.