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

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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.

The-GeorgiansThe Georgians are under the spotlight in a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain explores the ways in which the Georgian world influenced pop culture in Britain today, everything from fashion and theatre-going to our obsessions with celebrity scandals. The display features more than 200 artefacts from the library’s collection and includes Jeremy Bentham’s violin, Joseph van Aken’s An English Family at Tea, rare books and magazines, and illustrations and designs of landmark building’s such as Sir John Soane’s home (and now museum) in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The exhibition, which is accompanied by a series of events (see the library website for details) comes ahead of the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I next year. Runs until 11th March. Admission charge applies. Meanwhile, to mark the exhibition, the library has joined with Cityscapes in launching a new Georgian garden installation on the library’s piazza. Titled Georgeobelisk, the six metre high installation, will remain on the piazza for five months. A tribute to the four King Georges, it also serves as a reminder that it was also during the Georgian era that the British love of gardening was cultivated. For more, see  www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/georgiansrevealed/index.html. PICTURE: Spectators at a Print shop in St Paul’s churchyard © British Museum.

Painting normally housed in “Britain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel” go on display in Somerset House today. The artworks, described as the “crowning achievement” of wartime artist Stanley Spencer, usually grace the walls of Sandham Memorial Chapel but are on display in London while the National Trust carries out restoration work at the Berkshire property. Spencer painted the works – which combine realism and visions from his imagination and were completed in 1932 – after serving as a hospital orderly during World War I.  The free display – Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War – can be seen until 26th January. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Regent Street’s Christmas lights – a preview of the upcoming DreamWorks film Mr Peabody and Sherman – will be turned on this Saturday night. Actor Ty Burrell, director Rob Minkoff and singer Leona Lewis will have the task of switching on the lights at about 7.15 pm while performers will include Passenger, Eliza Doolittle and former Spice Girls Emma Bunton and Melanie C. The event will be hosted by radio presenters Bunton and Jamie Theakston. The street will be traffic free all day and from 3pm to 7pm, Regent Street retailers will be showcasing fashions on a catwalk located just North of New Burlington Street. Programmes will be available from information points on the day.

A new organ was dedicated in Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel on Tuesday. The organ was commissioned by the Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, as a gift to the Queen to mark the 60th anniversary of her coronation in 1953. The Queen agreed the organ, which had briefly resided at the Lord Mayor’s residence the Mansion House, should be installed permanently in the Lady Chapel, built by King Henry VII. The new organ was dedicated by the Earl of Wessex. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.

Now On: Achievement: New Photographs 2011-2013. Inspiring Britons at the peak of their professions are the subject of an exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery. The display of recently acquired and previously un-exhibited photographs depict the likes of writer and presenter Charlie Brooker (by Chris Floyd), actress Gina McKee (Mark Harrison) and Skyfall director Sam Mendes (Anderson & Low). Admission is free. Runs until 5th January in Room 37a. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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

• An appeal has been launched to raise the final £500,000 of a £7 million project to restore Sir John Soane’s private apartments in his former home overlooking Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn. Phase one of the three year restoration project, Opening up the Soane, is expected to be complete by late 2012 with the entire project – which will see all of the rooms open to the public – to be completed by 2o14. The eight rooms being restored in the project, all of which are located on the second floor of No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields – one of three adjoining properties Soane owned , include the architect’s bedroom, bathroom, oratory and book passage as well as Mrs Soane’s morning room and a room containing Soane’s architectural models. The building  already contains the Sir John Soane Museum which features an eclectic and at time outright strange mix of artefacts Soane, designer of the Bank of England (although it has since been substantially altered), collected during his lifetime. For more information, see www.soane.org.

Highland cattle will return to Richmond Park in autumn to help create patches of bare ground for wildflowers to grow after the success of a recent grazing trial. Richmond Park has the most extensive area of natural grassland in London and the type of grassland – known as ‘acid grassland’ – is a nationally rare habitat. Richmond Park is already home to 650 red and fallow deer. For more information, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

On Now – A new exhibition of street photography in London has just opened at the Museum of London. London Street Photography showcases 200 candid images of everyday life in the city with images ranging from sepia-toned scenes of horse-drawn cabs captured by tripod mounted cameras through to the use of digital cameras in snapping images of 21st century residents. Among the 59 photographers whose work is on display is that of Paul Martin, who pioneered the idea of candid street photography in London in the early 1890s, freelance photojournalist Henry Grant who photographed London’s streets in the Fifties and Sixties, and Stephen McLaren, known for his contemporary “quirky and colorful” street images. Entry is free. The exhibition runs until 4th September. For more information, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

On Now – The first major exhibition in 30 years of the work of EO Hoppe has opened at the National Portrait Gallery. Hoppe, who lived from 1878 to 1972, is considered one of the most important photographers of the early 20th century and is described as the “prototypical celebrity photographer”, shooting among others Margot Fonteyn, George Bernard Shaw, King George V, David Lloyd George and Ezra Pound. He also published the Book of Fair Women – photographs of women he believed to be the most beautiful of earth – in 1922 and in the Twenties and Thirties increasinly spent time outside the studio photographing street life. Hoppe Portraits: Society, Studio and Street runs until 30th May. For more information, see www.npg.org.uk.

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