In days of yore, men of distinction liked to keep a country pad to escape from the smells and noise of the metropolis where they went about their daily affairs. Think William Hogarth, JMW Turner, Horace Walpole, the Rothschilds. And there were many more. Of course, these are now no longer in the country, but rather in modern suburbia. Being a denizen of West London, I’m in the happy position that many of these buildings are in very convenient reach.
Last weekend we visited Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing. It once belonged to the celebrated architect Sir John Soane (1753 – 1837), who designed and built most of it. Apart from servants’ quarters to the immediate north and an ancient folly which have both disappeared, the complex today it is still pretty much how Soane left it.
When Soane first bought the house in 1800, it was the version he co-designed with his former boss, George Dance the Younger (1741 – 1825). He demolished most of it, leaving just what is now the South wing, it is said in deference to Dance. That’s the bit on the left with the boarded up window in the picture below. By 1804, the new house was complete, but Soane only kept it for another six years before selling it on in 1810. The architect frequently preferred to walk there from his town house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields which must be a good eight miles. Imagine that.
Here are some pictures:
Existing examples of Soane’s work – which included the old Bank of England building, demolished – are relatively few. But what we do have to see and enjoy are instructive and well worth the effort. To achieve your London Historians virtual Sir John Soane badge, you must visit at least all of the following London sites:
Pitshanger Manor, Ealing, as described above. Entrance: free.
Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields (London’s largest square). The museum is housed in Soane’s town house, which he used for architectural experiments and to house his eclectic and wacky collection of paintings, sculptures and antiquities (including Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress series – worth the visit alone). He bequeathed the lot to the nation. Entrance free. While you’re in the neighbourhood, try and find time to visit the Hunterian Museum across the square. Entrance also free.
Dulwich Picture Gallery. Founded in 1811, and designed by Soane. A gorgeous art collection. Entrance £5.
St Pancras Old Church. The Soane family tomb in the church yard was designed by the architect himself. The dome was famously copied by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 20C for the roofs of London’s red public phone boxes. Entrance: Free.