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.

Advertisements

An artist with a social conscience, William Hogarth’s sketches and paintings summed up much of what was rotten with 18th century England – the society in which he lived – much as Dickens’ writing did in the following century.

Hogarth was a native Londoner – he was the son of Richard Hogarth, a Latin teacher and publisher, in Smithfield in 1697. Despite the ups and downs of his father’s fortunes (during Hogarth’s childhood, Richard Hogarth was confined to the Fleet Prison for debt for five years following an unsuccessful venture running a coffee house), at the age of 16 William was apprenticed to an engraver named Ellis Gamble.

Following his apprenticeship, he set up his own shop in 1720 and it was at this time that he started producing political satires. Hogarth was also painting  and around this time met with artist Sir James Thornhill. He became a regular visitor to Thornhill’s art academy in Covent Garden and their friendship grew, so much so that Hogarth eventually married Thornhill’s daughter Jane in 1729.

In the early 1730s, having established himself as a painter – both of portrait groups and some early satirical painting – Hogarth turned to painting his ‘moral tales’, the first of which, A Harlot’s Progress, was published in 1732 and tells the story decline of a country girl after coming to London. It was followed by A Rake’s Progress in 1733-35 (now at the Sir John Soane’s Museum).

In 1735 Hogarth was also successful in lobbying to have an act passed to protect the copyright of artistic works – it was unofficially known as “Hogarth’s Act”. The same year he also established St Martin’s Lane Academy – a school for young artists and a guild for professionals.

In the late 1730s, Hogarth turned his hand to individual portraits of the rich and famous. Among his most famous works at this time is a magnificent portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (founder of the Foundling Hospital – it can still be seen at what is now the Foundling Museum), and another of actor David Garrick as Richard III for which he was paid the substantial sum of £200, an amount he apparently claimed was more than any other artist had received for a single portrait.

In 1743, Hogarth completed his landmark work Marriage a-la-mode, a series of six paintings which can now be seen at the National Gallery. He was also painting historical scenes – like Moses brought before Pharoah’s Daughter (for the council room of the Foundling Hospital) and Paul before Felix (for Lincoln’s Inn). In 1747, he published a series of 12 engravings, Industry and Idleness, which tells the parallel stories of two apprentices – one successful, the other not – and this was followed by a series of prints such as Beer Street, Gin Lane, and The Four Stages of Cruelty illustrating some of the less savory aspects of everyday life.

Other works completed around this time included The March of the Guards to Finchley – which looks back to the mid-1740s when the Scottish Pretender’s Army was believed to be about to threaten London, The Gate of Calais – which draws on Hogarth’s own experience of being arrested as a spy when he visited France in 1748, and the Election series – four painting which take for their subject the Oxfordshire election of 1754.

There were some clouds on his horizon at this time with unfavourable criticism of his works and beliefs about art but even as he was engaging in a robust debate with critics of his works (largely through a written work he produced called The Analysis of Beauty), Hogarth was appointed in 1757 to the post of Sergeant-Painter to King George II (he commemorated the event in a painting).

Hogarth ran into further trouble in his later years with works deliberately created to provoke – among the more famous was The Times, a work which led to a breach in his friendship with influential MP John Wilkes who then launched a personal and devastating attack on Hogarth in his newspaper The North Briton. Hogarth responded with a non-flattering engraving of Wilkes.

His last work – The Bathos, an apocalyptic piece – seems to capture his gloomy mood at the time, and having suffered a seizure in 1763, Hogarth died at his house in Leicester Fields on the 25th or 26th October, 1764, possibly of an aneurism. Buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Chiswick, he was survived by his wife Jane to whom he left his properties – these included his country home in Chiswick, now known as Hogarth’s House. She made her living reprinting his works until her own death five years later.

Hogarth’s legacy lies in the impact of his works which not only attacked some of the evils of his day but have since inspired countless artists and been adapted in all manner of artistic endeavours over the ensuring centuries. Hogarth’s works can still be seen at various galleries around town – including that of the Foundling Museum – and there is a fine statue of him and his pug dog, Trump, in Chiswick High Road (pictured) as well as a bust in Leicester Square.

• 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