Yesterday was, weather-wise, the second decent day this week, so I was again tempted outdoors, this time to visit a couple of places which have long been on my ‘to do’ list.
First of all, Sir John Soane’s Museum, on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This was the house and studio of John Soane (1752-1837), one of the foremost architects of his generation. Soane greatly favoured the Neo-classical style (he said rude things about Gothic architecture) and his house is crammed full of statues, tracery and masonry brought back from Italy, or casts of the originals.
A member of the Royal Academy, Soane was friends with many of the artists of the day, and the house contains a small, but significant collection of paintings and prints, including works by Turner and Hogarth. But Soane had an eye for the eclectic, and collected everything from ancient funerary urns (including an enormous Egyptian sarcophagus) to remnants of the mediaeval Westminster Palace. He continually reshaped the rooms of his house to show off his collection to its best vantage. Among the most fascinating items are the paintings of Soane’s own designs, many of which never came to fruition, including a neo-classical House of Lords.
Some time ago I discovered Sir John’s tomb in Old St Pancras graveyard (said to be the inspiration for the classic British telephone box) so it was good to visit his house. No photos of the interior, as photography is not allowed inside, so an outdoor view will have to do.
Soane’s Museum looks out over Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the largest public square in London. Many of the houses around the square are of architectural merit, but the most prominent building in the area is the library and hall of Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four surviving Inns of Court to which all barristers must belong.
Around the corner in Portsmouth Street is an old building which claims to be the inspiration for The Old Curiosity Shop in Dicken’s novel of the same name, and proclaims this in large Gothic lettering on the outside. Now a shoe shop, it was built as a dairy around 1567 and is probably the oldest building used continuously as a shop in the UK.
The Old Curiosity Shop is a rare survivor of the old Clare Market, an area that survived the Fire of London, but was redeveloped as part of the Victorian programme of slum clearance, with Kingsway and Aldwych cutting through the heart of the area. Today many of the buildings in these backstreets accommodate the London School of Economics. I walked through here at lunchtime, when there was considerable student activity, en route to my next port of call, the church of St Clement Danes.
Described as “an isle of humility in a sea of architectural ostentation in the centre of London”, the church is one of two St Clements that claims to be the church mentioned in the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clements’ (the other is St Clements, Eastcheap). The curious name of the church refers to the original church being built in an area of Danish settlement in the 9th century. Rebuilt several times over the centuries, the present church is the work of Christopher Wren (built 1680-82) with the steeple by James Gibbs added a few years later.
However, this is a little deceptive. As a result of wartime bombing, the church was reduced to an empty shell. However in the 1950s it was restored and was consecrated in 1958 as the Central Church of the Royal Air Force. It is now the home to numerous memorials and standards. However these do not detract from the beauty of the interior, which is stately and spacious. Fortunately the splendid Grinling Gibbons pulpit survived the war, having been transferred to the crypt of St Paul’s cathedral for safekeeping, and was reinstalled in the church as part of the restoration.
On leaving St Clement Danes, I crossed over to the south side of the Strand, where I was hoping to find another church that was restored after wartime damage, although far older than Wren’s St Clements. But this will be the subject of my next post.
Plenty more photos here.