Friday, 10 May 2019

Gardens, Glasses, Royals, and a Curious House

On impulse we decided to visit Sir John Soane's house, in Lincoln's Inn, the legal quarter of London. Here's a link to the website but be warned it doesn't give you the slightest idea of what this place is like!  Nor do they allow photos (and they're really strict about it).  In fact, that might be just as well, because if ever a house needed to be experienced in real life, this is it.

 Soane was a famous 18th century architect, and the house contains his collection of artistic and antique items. He designed it himself, and lived there with his wife, so although many of the rooms are most unusual, several (though by no means all) are also comfortable to live in.  

Soane's most famous building was the Bank of England - but not the present one. In fact, there aren't many buildings left that were designed by him at all. But you can get an idea of the peculiar ideas people had about architecture in his day by looking at this picture, which shows his design for the Bank of England ... as a ruin. It was done by painter Joseph Gandy, and I think was probably meant to suggest Soane's designs were like that of Ancient Rome.


I didn't see anything about the Bank of England in Soane's house, and the theme of the house is really his collections of historical and architectural items. There are about 40,000 objects, none arranged chronologically, and hardly any labelled, and the volunteers running the house wisely keep it that way. The layout is strikingly original.  Soane aimed to play with light and devised many ways to make the rooms in the house relate to each other, aiming to use natural light creatively. Vaulted or domed ceilings let in light, daylight filters in from variously shaped skylights and windows, not to mention the occasional sculptural hole in the floor (railed off).  There are innumerable archways and doorways leading into a maze of small corridors, mostly open down one side.  I found a photo  of a curious little room, not more than four feet wide, about 12 feet tall and about 16 feet long, at a guess. Perhaps Mrs. Soane sat there to do her sewing.  Or perhaps she didn't - perhaps it has no purpose at all.  It has a striking stained glass window and pieces of white sculpture on shelves.


For me the house's most memorable object is a gigantic (genuine) Egyptian sarcophagus, and when it arrived, Soane was said to have held a celebration party which lasted three days. But many people will have a different favourite object among the architectural models, busts, fragments, ancient stained glass, furniture that he designed himself or the many paintings and drawings which he also collected. 

The strangest room might be a picture gallery where you can get within inches of the oil paintings, largely Hogarth but with Canalettos, Watteaus and many others too. And just as you have looked at these,  you will find the gallery can be literally opened up to reveal a whole new batch of oil paintings on the walls - one of the attendants opens it up every hour or so.  

Or perhaps the strangest room, on second thoughts, is a Hermit's Grotto, in the basement, with table and comfortable chairs and an astonishing but tiny decorative plaster ceiling, naturally lit with magnificent stained glass.  If you want to know more, the best thing is to visit if you can, but if not, then my friend Jeanie Croope visited the house on her trip to London last year and did a lovely post, here, She even managed to find some photos. 

Other than this, I've been working hard on Durrell, so very little to report, except that we've had the twins over, and I have been going out into the communal garden whenever it is sunny, which hasn't been that often.  May is such a beautiful month that I like it whatever the weather - though better in the sunshine. 


Below is a shot in what used to be the Victorian gardeners' compound at the edge of the garden, with one of the neighbours starting to rebuild a very peculiar wall indeed. I have 
been wondering about that wall for a while. 


I haven't been reading the papers, so the royal birth almost passed me by, but I did like this informal picture when I saw it. It shows the Royal Family in laid back mode, looking very much like real people, and citizens of the world as well as of Britain.  I know a lot of people object to the Royals, but I am one of those who thinks they generally do a pretty good job.  Although their lives might seem wealthy and glamorous, I wouldn't like to be trapped in a very public social role from my earliest infancy.  Maybe that's just me, I don't know. 


And I've broken my favourite pair of glasses, and am thinking of getting another one. I am not sure this pair will fit the bill, but there's something about them that I like. 



52 comments:

  1. Dare we say that Sir John was a bit eccentric? I did go check out the post by Ms. Croope and am glad. Just those few pictures gave me a better idea of what it all looked like. Seems like one of those places you would have to visit many times to get any sort of real perspective. And wouldn't that be a pleasure?
    That IS a strange wall. But what a beautiful garden.
    And you know? I love that picture of the Queen looking at her newest great grandchild. Doesn't she look just like any darling old Granny cooing at a baby? To me it almost seems as if she's trying to restrain her hands from reaching out to touch him. I also like how ALL eyes are on that little boy. And I swear- at this point and time in the world, people loving on a newborn is just a breath of fresh air.

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    1. I think "eccentric" is definitely the word to use. I must say that I noticed all kinds of things in it this time which I hadn't on my last visit, which was about 3 years ago. And I don't suppose anything had been added! I am wondering who took the picture of the queen. It's the first royal picture I have ever posted on the blog I think, and it touched me just as it touched you, I think.

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  2. It certainly sounds fascinating, i wonder how anyone could enjoy over 40,000 objects in their home, i might be overwhelmed.

    Those glasses are certainly fascinating, although impractical for an everyday pair.

    Enjoy your spring in the communal garden!

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    1. I suppose it is not impossible to enjoy 40,000 objects if you actually live in the house, but it makes me feel a bit exhausted even to think of BUYING 40,000 objects, let alone taking care of them all!

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  3. I like your royals very much, and could not be one--literally as well as figuratively. They work so hard! Soane's house and collections must have been equally overwhelming.

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    1. I think it would drive me completely mad to be a royal. I like an unstructured life anyway but I think I would have a nervous breakdown to know what I would be doing at 3 PM on this date five years hence, which I understand is what their schedules can be like.

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  4. All architects are a wee bit strange I think. This man took that to another level, especially when so well off.
    Shame you could not take pictures.
    I never got around that place, and to think it is free entrance!
    A strange collection but without direction, our curator would have a fit!
    May, the Spring month, is great when the rain stops.

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    1. I do agree about architects. They are the only people I know who get really worked up about things like door handles. It is purposely unlabelled, to retain the feeling of Sir John Soane just being about to walk around the corner. They even lit some of the darker corners with candles, which is a sort of a risk although they certainly have a lot of volunteers hanging around to keep an eye on things.

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  5. Jenny, another bright idea to visit Sir John Soane's house, when I come to London. I've never heard about it, and am interested in now. Thank you for sharing!
    The photo of the Royal family was in some newspapers here as well, the amazing thing is that the Queen (I respect Her Majesty very much) looks like an ordinary granny looking at her grand child.

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    1. It must be such a strange life to be in the Royal Family. I am in some ways very fascinated. I hope you get to visit the house next time you're in London. It does not have a garden, but I suspect that the garden may have been built over some time after the house was built.

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  6. Hello Jenny, I was lucky enough to make it to the Soane House on a trip to London, and agree that it is a unique experience. We must have similar tastes--my favorite single object was also the sarcophagus--note that it is the royal sarcophagus of Seti I, from Egypt's New Kingdom, one of the best artistic periods. (Notice by saying 'single object' I am able to include the set of Hogarth oils in another favorite category.

    Bu as you say, it is mostly the stunning effect and wonder of the house, adn the very clear picture of a unique mind, that leaves the greatest impression.
    --Jim

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    1. I could probably have done a whole post on the Hogarth pictures! I never tire of looking at them and often wish he was alive today! But Canaletto also had a wonderful ability to bring a place alive in the detail. I don't know enough about Egyptian artefacts to know the background, but as I said in response to someone else I was interested to find that originally the heiroglyphs were blue. It must have been a stunning site during his 3 day celebration party.

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  7. I have been wondering about visiting Sir John Soane's house on our next visit to London, and now you have made me much more curious and interested in this house. It certainly sounds fascinating. I also liked that photo of the new royal baby, and particularly loved the expression on the face of the Queen: sheer delight. What a star she is for 93!

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    1. I think she is absolutely amazing - the pair of them are pretty good for their age, but then the Queen Mum lived to over 100 didn't she? I'm glad you liked the sound of the house and hope you do get to visit next time.

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  8. It seems like you had an intriguing visit.

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  9. The house was on my doorstep when I was working and I used to like to take visitors there...always wondering about the mentality of its creator!

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    1. I thought about you when I posted it, and as for his mentality, I think he was probably a little odd. Or more than a little.

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  10. Oh goodness thank you for sharing the new baby photo, I am and always have been fond of them, and when we were in London we made sure to capture as much as we could. My daughter caught a photo of the Queen waving back from her car during her birthday celebration a few years ago. I always enjoy your posts, and photos, and you had me at Curious house!

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    1. Thanks Karen. I am not sure I have ever seen the Queen in person although I once attended an event where Prince Charles gave a talk.

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  11. I want to see Soane 's house! Also, I liked the photo of royal family too, the Queen 's real smile is a joy to see.

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    1. Lovely family picture, isn't it, so much nicer than the type they always used to have.

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  12. Those glasses can fit you well!

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    1. Haha! I would certainly attract attention...

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  13. That home sounds so strange and compelling.
    Glad you have had visits from the twins. :)
    I'd be wondering about that wall, too. ???

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    1. "Compelling" is a good word. I love visits from the twins, and I always enjoy your tales of little Ian.

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  14. Soane's house read as a must visit wonderful place.

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  15. There is very little about the royal life that appeals to me. I wouldn't want to be on display or have to abide by a rigid set of rules. I suppose it would be nice to be able to travel as extensively as they can, though.

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    1. I don't think I would enjoy that, although one thing in its favour for them is that they don't have to fly "cattle class" like most of the rest of us.

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  16. I never heard of Sir John Soane but, from your descriptions, he must have been breathtakingly creative. I would love to see his home (too bad they don't allow photos).
    Your communal garden is really lovely and peaceful. Here in the wilds of Tennessee, May has been extremely rainy so far.

    As for the Royals - I've always liked them, and Queen Elizabeth has always done a superb job. What annoys me the most is that they seem to be intent on marrying commoners lately. They are drastically tainting the Royal blood.....

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    1. I sometimes wonder if part of the reason is that there aren't quite so many royals left these days as there used to be in ye oldene tymes. Even their families are smaller!

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  17. Looks like a trip to London is needed - what an extraordinary house!
    And I’m glad you’re having some fun with your twins in that lovely garden. And the Royals ... they do their job, and I’ll do mine. But at least they gave us something to smile about in the middle of all the other B bollocks!

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    1. Yes, I must say the Royals are rather a welcome relief from what is going on in politics, Jo.

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  18. The model of the Bank of England as a ruin is most mysterious. I thought I'd been to Soane's House but I don't recall that model, or any of the other items you mention, so maybe I haven't.

    Can't share your appreciation of the Royals, I'm afraid, though I share your opinion that being in such a perpetual goldfish bowl must be quite an ordeal. I don't think those glasses would suit me either. But they would probably look good on Grayson Perry!

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    1. It is quite possible that you have been to Soane's house, and don't remember everything, given the number of things on show! I think people must surely remember different aspects of it. You might find it worth another visit if you are ever in the area.

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  19. That's such a pretty garden in the sunshine, and certainly an intriguing wall of brick . . . I wonder what the finished product will look like?

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    1. My neighbour has almost finished it now and it sure is a big improvement....doesn't look as if it is about to fall down for a start!

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  20. In the 1990s, when my sister lived and worked near London, I used to visit frequently, and went inside the Soane house once. I remember it well, as it is so unique and fantastic that it created a lasting impression on my mind. Walking around there, it felt like being in the type of house one sometimes dreams about, where nothing really is as expected in a "normal" house but somehow it still all fits.

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    1. Yes, it is quite dreamlike. I used to dream a lot about particular houses, and in the end I suspected that the house might represent myself in some way. I think this is one reason I grew to love "Alice in Wonderland."

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  21. Gorgeous house! :-) Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

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  22. The glasses are fun and funky! Let me know if you get them!

    I'm so glad you went back to the Soane house. I'm not sure I would have thought to go had it not been for your earlier recommendation and it was one of my favorite sites on our trip, more so than some of the larger and more famous museums. I loved that you were RIGHT THERE -- I suppose you could touch anything (I didn't dare!) but no one seemed to mind. I will never forget that massive sarcophogus or the fact that the house had a crypt at all! And the library room. Sigh. We timed our visit so that the Rake's Progress was being opened when we were there and that was really special, but even without it, things would have been fine. If one is visiting on a nice day it's fun to get a baguette and cheese or whatever and enjoy a little picnic in the Lincoln's Inn Fields in front of it. Oh, and my pix came from photographing postcards as you know we couldn't photograph within. It was a small selection; alas...

    I love your garden and I think I know that gardener's area where the wall is being built. And I, too, appreciate the Royals for what they do. I loved that photo of the grands and greats with Archie. Happy week, Jenny!

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  23. I love this post, Jenny! Soame's house was so wonderful and I never would have found it without your earlier recommendation. I loved the sarcophagus, too -- so big, like a supersized bathtub for a giant! And to have a crypt was pretty cool! All those windy bits - not for those who couldn't climb steps but so fun. Loved the library, too. Did you see the Rake's Progress? I couldn't believe I could be so close. We did a little picnic before we went right outside in Lincoln's Inn Fields and it was such a nice day for it.

    I adore your communal garden and I remember that spot where the woman is building the wall. There was a super-sized rosemary bush! I couldn't believe it would ever be so very big! It must be wonderful to be there at this time of year.

    And I like the Royals a lot. They fascinate me! I wouldn't want their job but I appreciate the history that goes with it and the lives that have had to live through that history. I think many of them do good things as well (and as well they should). Loved that photo!

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    1. I am glad it stirred some happy memories. The writing in the sarcophagus was originally coloured blue, apparently, which made me think of it in a different way, less like a bathtub with blue heiroglyphs all over it ! :)

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  24. I agree with you. May is the good month to realize the greatness of nature.

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    1. Perhaps the best month. Everything is so fresh and new.

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  25. Don't you sometimes wonder what motivates someone to design a building/house like that ? I.M. Pei died today, who would have thought someone would design a glass Pyramid for the Louvre !
    Love the photo of the Queen, very sweet.
    parsnip x

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    1. I love original houses but I must say that the most striking designs are not always the most practical. I don't think I'd have enjoyed living in Soane's house very much, but his wife seemed happy enough with it, from all accounts!

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  26. Love hte glasses and love the royals. They live in a glass house and manage to do a very good job of it.

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  27. There is so much to focus on but to consider just one tiny part of what you said I would simply comment that the older I get the fewer possessions I want around me. That's all relative, of course, because I am one of those fortunate to have adequate possessions.

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    1. I find that I don't want the possessions too, Graham, but often end up with them anyway. It's quite a problem knowing what is best to do with them!

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