Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Sir John Soane, a forgotten genius of 19th Century Architecture
This extraordinary man came from a very humble
background. His family
were agricultural labourers and he was one of seven children, but from
a very young age showed an extraordinary ability for draftsman ship and
drawing. On the death of his father, he moved to Chertsey to live
his uncle, a bricklayer who introduced him to a surveyor working with
George Dance the Younger. Under George Dance, and at the age of
15, Soane began his training as an architect and was doubtless
encouraged by Dance to join the schools at the Royal Academy where the
classes were free. He continued his education with Henry Holland
where he had ‘every opportunity of surveying the progress of building
in all its different varieties’. In 1776 he won a gold medal for
drawing and in 1777 won the Kings Travel scholarship which enabled him
to travel to Italy with a group of gentlemen as their draftsman.
He visited Paestrum and Sicily where he became exposed to ancient Greek
architecture which was to heavily influence his later designs.
Continuing through Italy, he returned to England in June 1780 and
subsequently in debt from his travels he went to Ickworth to see the
very wealthy 4th Earl of Bristol/Bishop of Derry who was planning a big
extension to the House. They fell out over designs and he didn’t
get this commission but friends he had made on the Grand Tour,
Thomas Pitt and Philip Yorke, gave him commissions for repairs and
alterations to help pay his way.
An innovator, at his own country house, Pitzhanger
Manor in Ealing, and
elsewhere he used the new Codestone for the statues on the building.
His London home, 12 Lincolns Inn Fields, was also used
as a library for
his extensive collection of antiquities and architectural salvage and
he remodelled and extended the house into two neighbouring properties
which can be visited today. It contains paintings by Canaletto,
and Hogarth, thousands of architectural drawings together with hundreds
of artefacts. In 1833 he obtained an Act of Parliament to
House and collection to the Nation.
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