Sir John’s House of Curiosities
December 15, 2005 8:33 AM   Subscribe

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was responsible for the design of quite a few of London’s public buildings (and to some extent, its phonebooths). His home, now a museum, is filled to the brim with architectural relics, sculptures, paintings, drawings, stained glass, and assorted curiosities. Almost unchanged since his death, it also contains the gravesite of his wife’s beloved dog Fanny, a mummified rat, an Egyptian sarcophagus, and an imaginary monk named Padre Giovanni. Best of all, on the first Tuesday of every month the museum has a candlelight tour which enhances the spooky splendor of the rooms.
posted by annaramma (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The photographs really don’t do it justice, but this (scroll down) gives you an idea of the elegance and kookiness of the house/museum.
posted by annaramma at 8:33 AM on December 15, 2005

Fantastic, thanks annaramma. You've reminded me of the days when I used to work off High Holborn and ate my lunch in Lincoln's Inn Fields, right in front of Soane's house. Ah, salad days...
posted by londonmark at 8:43 AM on December 15, 2005

Plus, if you like Soane's house, you'll love Lord Leighton's.
posted by londonmark at 8:46 AM on December 15, 2005

It's a great great place.

In Paris, don't miss the Jacquemart-Andre (also a fab home/museum, but not quite as eccentric)
posted by amberglow at 10:00 AM on December 15, 2005

The museum is superb and well worth a visit. Not just for the exhibits: the whole house is preserved in its original style so you get to see how they lived then: it was practically spooky when the antique clocks started chiming.

They seem to have had a much better grasp on city living back in the 18th century: it's a luxurious house with its own courtyard, but tucked into a tiny footprint.

The Hogarth paintings in the basement are excellent too.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 10:00 AM on December 15, 2005

If you ask the guides (or did, circa 1990), they will gladly show you the many hidden niches and secret doors. Hogarth's "The Rake's Progress" is there, a series of painting depicting the decline of a young man; wonderful stuff.
posted by sgarst at 10:08 AM on December 15, 2005

The museum is definitely fun--the amount of ingenuity required to get All. That. Stuff. into one place is just amazing.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:39 AM on December 15, 2005

Nice, thanks! Something to do next time I am in London.
posted by carter at 11:12 AM on December 15, 2005

As a young London newspaper reporter I once got a nice little scoop about the Soane's house/museum. There had been a burglary at the museum - not a major Hogarth theft or anything - but something nice was nicked - and I was sent to do a standard follow-up from the police report.

Because I was stupid and didn't know the museum was right around the corner from the paper's office, I took a cab.

When I gave the museum as my destination to the cabbie, he laughed at how lazy I was, but said: "Funny you going there - I was watching an arts program late on TV just the other night about the Soane's - it showed all these really gorgeous paintings they had." (He didn't know anything about the burglary - he was just making jolly conversation and liked paintings).

So - after a bit of checking - I was speedily able to write a disgracefully excited and juiced up story: "Did TV Arts Show Expose Our Priceless Heritage To London Gangs"...
No other paper had my "exclusive" angle.

(I don't think we ever established whether the museum burglary had been merely opportunistic - or due to "London gangs" of criminals casing the joint by watching late night TV arts shows. Still, the story caused some nice ripples).

I've had the fondest feelings for the lovely place ever since.

(Yes, I know. This is all strangely pointless...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:27 PM on December 15, 2005

The breakfast room is one of my favourite bits of London. You want to sit down and spend the day there.
posted by holgate at 3:56 PM on December 15, 2005

That was a great story, Jody.

I love the Soane museum. I think it is my favorite underrated bit of London.
posted by grouse at 4:09 PM on December 15, 2005

it is a great story...i'm assuming it was a tabloid?

my favorite part of Soane is that plaster cast room(s) with the skylights and lower level.
posted by amberglow at 5:33 PM on December 15, 2005

I have loved Soane for a very long time. Seeing this in the blue made my week.

If I have any money left at the end of the month, I'm going to order a copy of Visions of Ruin from the museum. I've been wanting to read _Crude Hints Toward a History of My House_ for years and years.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:03 PM on December 15, 2005

Oh yeah, if you're interested in the telephone box connection, here's a picture of Sir John Soane's Tomb in St. Pancras Old Churchyard I took (self-link, obviously).
posted by grouse at 12:12 AM on December 16, 2005

Both of you clearly have far too much generous Christmas spirit:)
The paper was indeed a "sort of" tabloid. It was the old fraud Robert Maxwell's "London Daily News" - a rival to The Standard for seven months or so before The Standard killed it with a rollicking circulation war. Historical footnote: I think we were just about the last paper still physically based in Fleet Street, along with the Daily Express. (Since the "Daily News" was probably funded by Mirror group stolen pensioners' money, it deserved to die.)
It was great fun, though.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:22 AM on December 16, 2005

I too love the house, and even managed to snap this photo of the front room (egregious self-link) before the museum staff descended upon me like a plague.
posted by LondonYank at 6:58 AM on December 16, 2005

Count me among the Soane groupies. Truly a curious house. The sarcophagus is quite impressive.

This is a good post.

Declarative sentences are power.
posted by gramschmidt at 12:38 PM on December 16, 2005

It warms my heart to see how many other people love Soane's house. I had the incredible luxury of getting a behind-the-scenes tour while on a college research trip and I fell in love with the place.

Ever since, I've had several photos of the house pinned up in my cubicle/office as antidotes to grey walls and soulless office furniture.
posted by annaramma at 1:47 PM on December 16, 2005

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