Sir John Soane’s Museum is still unknown to many but that is starting to change as growing numbers of tourists descend upon the property at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (as evidenced by the queues you can now often find waiting patiently outside).
The museum is housed in the former home of noted architect and collector, Sir John Soane, who left it to the nation after he died in 1837 by an Act of Parliament with the caveat that it be kept “as nearly as circumstances will admit in the state” it was on his death.
Sir John, born the son of the bricklayer in Oxfordshire in 1753, rose to become a famous – and somewhat controversial – architect, his most famous contribution being the Bank of England.
Having married into money – his wife, Elizabeth Smith was the daughter of a wealthy builder whose fortune he inherited, Sir John bought 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1792 and subsequently demolished and rebuilt it. In the early 1800s, he bought the property next door, number 13, and again demolished and rebuilt it, and, in the 182os bought number 14, which received the same treatment, eventually creating the delightfully odd and expansive home which now occupies the site.
Sir John was an avid collector of statues, furnishings, paintings and curiosities and the uniquely designed house remains filled with his collections – ranging from the Sarcophagus of Egypt’s Seti I (dating from around 1370 BC) to Sir Robert Walpole’s desk, medieval European stained glass, and William Hogarth’s famous series of paintings, A Rake’s Progress.
This is a museum worth visiting for its sheer eccentricity but it should be noted that it’s not really a place for young children – many of the rooms are small and crowded with artefacts that may just prove too tempting.
WHERE: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Nearest tube is Holborn. WHEN:10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday; COST: Free to enter (there is a museum tour on Saturdays for £5); WEBSITE: www.soane.org