John Soane in Regalia as Grand
Superintendent of works by the
artist John Jackson
Pen and watercolour of the
Lothbury Hall and Tivoli Corner
of the Bank of England building.
The Tivoli Corner represented
the Bank’s most spectacular
Both pictures courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum
Sir John Soane (1753–1837) symbolises Britain’s architectural
heritage of the late Georgian period at its best – the end of
which coincided with his death in 1837. It is a period that gave
England some of the nation’s most beautiful buildings and
Soane’s unique style in some of them is still in evidence today.
John Soane, during his long and distinguished career,
became involved with Freemasonry before his initiation.
When invited to join, he was put through the three Degrees
in one single afternoon and he remained dedicated to the
Craft and enthusiastic for the remainder of his life.
He was born on 10 September 1753 near Reading in
Berkshire and immediately after primary school his education
was directed toward architecture. At 15 he joined George
Dance the Younger (1741–1825), from the distinguished family
of architects. Soane continued his training from 1772 under
the equally celebrated architect Henry Holland (1745–1806),
whose fame, among many other buidlings, rests with the
Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and the Royal Opera House.
The young John Soane’s talents were soon to manifest
themselves. In 1771 he was accepted into the Royal Academy
of Art aged just 18 and within a year one of the drawings he
submitted to the Academy’s competition won him the Silver
Medal award. Four years later he received the prestigious
Gold Medal, as a result of which he was introduced to George
III by Sir William Chambers (1723–1796), the influential
architect who was Soane’s patron.
There were several ramifications, some Masonic, following
this encounter. Soane’s extraordinary achievements induced
the King to sponsor and fund him, through the Academy,
on a three-year travel scholarship to Italy, from which Soane
profited to the fullest. This was also the start to a Royal
connection – later enhanced by Soane’s appointments as
Clerk of the Works to St. James’s Palace and the Houses
of Parliament (1791) and Deputy Surveyor to His Majesty’s
Woods and Forests (1797) – which Prince Augustus
Frederick, later the Duke of Sussex, the King’s penultimate
surviving son and future Grand Master, would have noted.
Intellectualy armed with vast knowledge of fine ancient
and renaissance buildings, in addition to well placed contacts
in Europe, Soane returned to England in 1780 to set up his
own business. His career took on a most positive turn when
he followed in the footsteps of Sir Robert Taylor (1714–1788)
as the newly appointed Architect to the Bank of England, in
which capacity he continued until 1833.