Day Out: Soane Museum, London

Saturday 17 January 2015 by

Soane Museum, Exhibition, Candelight, History

Tuesday night, about 5.30pm, and I am stood in a shivering queue of people around Lincoln’s Inn Fields. We are huddled for warmth, peering further down the line and checking our watches. It’s the first Tuesday of the month, and that means that something very special is about to happen. The rare and beautiful Soane Museum is about to open its doors for a candlelit tour of its wonders.

Soane Museum, Exhibition, Candelight, History

Sir John Soane was an architect in the early 1800s, creating not only his home in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, but the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery and Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. But one of his finest creations was the collection, kept at his home.

Soane was neither discerning nor snobbish about what he collected, simply choosing interesting, beautiful and magnificent pieces. He left his collection, and house, with strict instruction: it is to remain exactly the same. And so it has.

Soane Museum, Exhibition, Candelight, History

Monks Parlour by night // Lewis Bush // Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum

The three houses that the collection occupies are labyrinthine mass of quirky, intriguing and unexpected treasures. One staircase features a shrine to Shakespeare, whilst the library houses Oriental pieces, and Hogart and Canaletto originals line the walls. Explore further and you find a vaulted ceiling-ed area crushed with busts and sculptures, including a soaring statue of Ares, God of War, a bust of Soane himself, and a collection of marbles that once belonged to Henry Holland’s collection in Holland House. Peer over the balcony straight in to a gaping Egyptian sarcophagus, or try to decipher Raingo of Paris’ astronomical clock. I particularly admired the Sir Robert Walpole’s desk – something I would like to have myself!

Soane Museum, Exhibition, Candelight, History

The Colonnade by candlelight // Lewis Bush // Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum

But the most interesting part of this whole experience was the fact that it was conducted almost entirely by candlelight. The whole collection is shrouded in dim shadows, and loom at you as you walk around. You half expect to walk through a door and come across Soane himself. It is almost easy to get lose amongst the gloom, but at the same time, you feel the weight of the collection. There is nothing so rare as this wholly preserved collection of bric-a-brac. Soane clearly loved to discover and own all manner of things, and frequently altered his house to accommodate it (breaking down walls to fit the sarcophagus in, for example), and although his taste may not have been picky, it was of the utmost quality – there are a great number of original paintings from people who would have been mere beginners in his day, but whose works now boast values of thousands of pounds.

Soane Museum, Exhibition, Candelight, History

No.13 Breakfast Room by night // Lewis Bush // Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum

I would like to go back, to see it in the light of day and explore some of those dimmer corners. I missed a whole floor, for example, but spent so much time in the library I could probably name a great number of titles on the shelves!

The Soane Museum is free, though ask for any donations if possible. It is also hugely popular (if you’ve heard of it!) and that often means there is a queue – be prepared to wait.

The Ship Tavern, Holborn, Gin and tonic, Sipsmith, Alcohol

I was determined to uncover something a little different in my first few months living in London, and supping on Sipsmith gin and tonic in the Ship Tavern after the tour, I certainly felt that I had. (I also highly recommend the Ship – it has a huge cabinet of gins and the building dates from 1549!) If you get a chance to go by candlelight, it’s an experience like no other. The perfect evening of discovery.

Find out more about the Soane Museum here

Please note all interior pictures are courtesy of the Soane Museum as no photography is allowed inside

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1 Comment

  1. This sounds so cool! I would so love to visit someday! The historian in me is swooning right now <3

    XO Katie @ paperbackplanes.blogspot.com

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