In a city famous for its museums, the former home and collection of renowned architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) is one of the most fascinating and atmospheric. Brimming with bizarre curios, artefacts and personal effects, this place reflects the eccentricities and broad tastes of its founder in the stunning surroundings of Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn, central London. Sir John Soane rose from his humble origins as the son of a country bricklayer to become a renowned architect, most famous for designing the Bank of England. Other of Soane’s notable works include the Grade 1 Listed Moggerhanger Park in Bedfordshire, the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. As befits such a figure, his house – which he also designed – is an architectural wonder in itself, and has been left more or less untouched, as per his request, since the day he died almost 180 years ago.The Marble Arch by Montcalm London, a haven of luxury in the heart of London’s finest shopping district, is a short journey from Sir John Soane’s Museum and is the ideal base from which to explore this and London’s many other cultural attractions.
The museum houses Soane’s own drawings and models as well as the many and varied artworks and artefacts which he collected throughout his life: among the many unusual pieces are a 3,000 year-old Egyptian hieroglyphic sarcophagus, slaves’ chains and a mock-up of a monk’s cell. Soane’s collection of paintings includes works by Hogarth, Turner and Canaletto. Other highlights of the collection include the Naseby Jewel, a ruby-studded hatpin dating from 1630 which is believed to have been dropped by King Charles I at the fateful Battle of Naseby in 1645. Drawings by some of Soane’s fellow architects, including Sir Christopher Wren, the mastermind behind St. Paul’s Cathedral, are also fascinating. Soane’s collection spans millennia and features pieces from throughout history and from all over the world: Hindu sculptures from India can be found alongside items from closer to home, such as exquisite embroidered gloves belonging to his wife, Elizabeth Soane.
That which is exhibited at Sir John Soane’s Museum is varied and extensive enough to occupy visitors for days, but his collection is so far-reaching that only a fraction of it can ever be put on display: a vast amount, including no less than 30,000 of his architectural drawings, are not on permanent display but can be viewed by appointment at the Research Library, which also contains Soane’s personal collection of books. A range of tours are available at the museum, including a free tour of Soane’s private apartments, which were hidden from the world for 160 years before their refurbishment in 2015. This tour also takes in his famous Model Room, which houses 40 of the finest architectural models to be found anywhere in the world, of Soane’s own buildings and ancient monuments.Also free is the evening candlelight tour on the first Tuesday of every month, which renders this already impossibly atmospheric collection even more evocative, taking you back to when Soane lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. A highlights tour, which takes in the best of the collection over the course of an hour, is available to book for a small fee. However you choose to experience it, a visit to Sir John Soane’s Museum is an unforgettable trip which is not to be missed during your stay in London.