Prolific early 19th century architect Sir John Soane designed many public buildings in London including, famously, the Bank of England (since considerably altered) and the somewhat revolutionary Dulwich Picture Gallery. He also designed a number that were merely fanciful works and never commissioned nor constructed.

Royal-PalaceForemost among them was a sprawling royal palace which would occupy part of Green Park off Constitution Hill.

While Soane had been designing royal palaces as far back as the late 1770s when in Rome on his Grand Tour, in 1821 he designed one, apparently as a new home for the newly crowned King George IV.

Birds-eye view drawings show a triangular-shaped palace with grand porticoes at each of the three corners as well as in the middle of each of the three sides. Three internal courtyards surround a large central dome.

Despite Soane’s hopes for a royal commission, the king appointed John Nash to the job of official architect and so Soane’s palace never went any further than the drawing board.

He also designed a grand gateway marking the entrance to London at Kensington Gore through which the monarch would travel when heading to the State Opening of Parliament in Westminster – it, too, was never realised.

 PICTURE: Wikipedia

Bank-of-EnglandFounded in 1694, the Bank of England has been located on its current site – on Threadneedle Street opposite Mansion House – since 1734.

Known as the ‘Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’, the bank was originally situated there in a small, purpose-built building designed by George Sampson after it’s relocation from a rented property in nearby Prince’s Street (which now runs along the bank’s west side).

Its footprint was subsequently expanded by Sir Robert Taylor – this included covering a site to the west previously been occupied by the church of St Christopher-le-Stocks. Among Sir Robert’s design features were a centrally located rotunda.

In the late 18th century the bank underwent the start of a total transformation under the eye of architect Sir John Soane. Soane, who was Surveyor to the Bank of England between 1788 and 1833, saw the size of the bank more than doubled in a project which lasted well into the 19th century (indeed, such was the size of the bank that at its peak during Soane’s tenure more than 1,000 clerks were working in the building with some even having on-site residences).

Covering three-and-a-half acres on an asymmetrical site, Soane’s design was at least partly inspired by the ancient architecture of Greece and Rome and featured a complex arrangement of courts, halls and offices all surrounded by a high, windowless curtain wall. The buildings inside the wall were largely no more than three stories high and included public banking halls, offices for manufacturing banknotes, and a barracks housing the 30-strong Bank Guard. Given the great curtain wall around the site, the buildings were all either top-lit or faced into courts and light-wells.

Little today remains of Soane’s bank – it was demolished in the 1920s and replaced with a single building designed by Herbert Baker – but the exception is the dominating outer wall which surrounds the entire site (pictured above from the south-east corner).

You can see a reconstruction of Soane’s 1793 Stock Office in the museum (see our earlier entry here), which has just reopened its doors after a three month refurbishment, and it’s also possible to see some of the ‘caryatids’ which Soane had originally placed on the dome of the Old Dividend Office and which are now located on rotunda created by Baker. More of Soane’s work can be seen at the Sir John Soane’s Museum (see our earlier entry here).

WHERE: The Bank of England Museum, Bartholomew Lane off Threadneedle Street (nearest Tube stations are Bank/Monument and Mansion House); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (last entry 4.45pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/museum/visiting/default.aspx.

WHERE: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Nearest tube is Holborn. WHEN:10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.soane.org.

A quiet square at the heart of the area known as St James, the square’s origins go back to the 1660s when King Charles II granted what was initially a lease (and later the freehold) over a section of St James’s Field to Henry Jermyn, a favourite of King Charles I’s queen Henrietta Maria who was created the 1st Earl of St Alban.

William-IIIThe earl began developing the residential square (the original design had houses on the south-side fronting onto Pall Mall) and, thanks to its proximity to Whitehall and St James’s Palace, quickly attracted some of the who’s who of London to live there.

Indeed it’s said that by the 1720s, seven dukes and seven earls were in residence in the square – other residents included PMs William Pitt the Elder and William Gladstone (both lived in Chatham House, at numbers 9 and 10, albeit at different times) as well as two of James II’s mistresses, Arabella Churchill and Catherine Sedley, who apparently lived at number 21 in the late 1600s.

Among the architects who designed houses around the square were Robert Adam, Sir John Soane, and, in more recent times, Edwin Lutyens.

The square – which reached its final layout, designed by John Nash, around 1854 – remained a desirable place to live even as in the 19th century, some of the houses gave way to financial institutions, private clubs, offices and even lodging houses. These days it’s dominated by business and other institutional organisations.

Organisations located in the square today include the Naval and Military Club (number four – former home of Nancy Astor), the East India Club (number 16) and the London Library (located at number 14, it was founded by Thomas Carlyle in 1841) as well as the international headquarters of BP.

The gardens feature an equestrian statue of King William III at their centre (the work of John Bacon Sr and Jr, it was installed in 1808 and is pictured above). Other monuments include The Stag (located in the south-west corner, it is the work of Marcus Cornish and was installed in 2001) and, just outside the garden railings in the north-east corner, a memorial to WPC Yvonne Fletcher who was killed when a gun was fired from the Libyan Embassy (known as the Libyan People’s Bureau, it was located at number 5) during a demonstration on 17th April, 1984. The pavilion on the south side was designed by John Nash.

The gardens are private – managed by the St James’s Square Trust – but open to the public on weekdays from 10am to 4.30pm.

This version of the iconic British ‘institution’ – the red phone box – was designed by architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1924 (you may know him as the designer of the Battersea Power Station).

K2-KioskFormally known as the K2 telephone kiosk, Scott’s design was selected after a competition organised by the Royal Fine Art Commission (there’s a wooden prototype of Scott’s K2 located under the entrance to the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly – the location where it was originally positioned).

The design featured a classical-looking dome (said to have been influenced by the work of architect Sir John Soane) which featured the royal crest of King George V (done in perforation, so it also provided ventilation). The phone box was made in cast iron and painted red (Scott had apparently suggested silver). From 1926 onwards, around 1,700 of the K2s – which weighed more than a ton – were deployed around London (very few were ever erected outside the city).

The surviving K2s – there are said to be slightly more than 200 – are now listed buildings.

The telephone box is a part of the Design Museum’s permanent collection which is currently held in two locations but from 2015 will be housed in a new purpose-built museum in High Street Kensington.

The box, which will be displayed on the museum’s top floor which will be dedicated to the display of 20th century artefacts, is currently featured in a special exhibition, Design Museum Collection: Extraordinary Stories About Ordinary Things, which runs at the museum’s current premises until January, 2015.

To further explore the Design Museum’s collection, you can download a free Design Museum Collection App for iPad app via iTunes.

WHERE: Design Museum, 28 Shad Thames (nearest Tube stations are London Bridge and Tower Bridge); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (last admission 5.15pm); COST: £11.85 adults/£10.70 concessions/£7.50 students (children under 12 are free); WEBSITE: www.designmuseum.org

The Bank of England Museum, located on the east side of the “Old Lady of Threadneedle Street”, provides a fascinating account of life behind the bank’s fortress-like walls, spanning the period from its origins and founding in 1694 to its nationalisation in post-World War II Britain through to the high-tech nature of banking – and banknotes – today. 

The museum is partly housed in a 1988 reconstruction of architect Sir John Soane’s 1793 stock office (Sir John designed the bank’s original headquarters –  much of this was later demolished with the exception being the outer windowless walls of the bank which still frown down on passersby) as well as in the Rotunda – designed by Herbert Baker and dating from the 1930s, it features some of the original Caryatids which decorated Soane’s design.

Highlights among the permanent exhibition include the Great Iron Chest, a precursor to today’s safes dating from around 1700, the Bank of England Charter of 1694 still afixed with the Great Seal, the earliest known Bank of England running cash note (relating to a deposit of £22 and dating from 1697), muskets and pistols used for security at the bank, and documents relating to some of the bank’s more high profile customers (these include Admiral Lord Nelson and former US President George Washington) as well as extensive collection of banknotes and coins. There’s also the opportunity to feel the weight of a solid gold bar (worth £393,884 at the time of our visit).

The exhibition also includes a display on Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows and a long-time (30 year) employee of the bank until his sudden resignation, possibly in part due to him being shot by an intruder several years before, in 1908, only four months before his internationally renowned book was published. Key artifacts include his resignation letter in which he asks for “relief” from the burden of his responsibilities at the bank.

Among current temporary exhibitions is The Pound in Your Pocket which looks in detail at the issue of inflation through a variety of entertaining devices including a balance in which you have to keep inflation at a level during a series of “economic shocks”.

WHERE: The Bank of England Museum, Bartholomew Lane off Threadneedle Street (nearest Tube stations are Bank/Monument and Mansion House); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (last entry 4.45pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/museum/index.htm.