Image by DEA / A. C. COOPER De Agostini
This little museum is one of the most atmospheric and fascinating in London. The building was the beautiful, bewitching home of architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837), which he left brimming with his vast architectural and archaeological collection, as well as intriguing personal effects and curiosities. The museum represents his exquisite and eccentric tastes, persuasions and proclivities.
A famous Regency architect and professor of architecture at the Royal Academy, Soane was a country bricklayer’s son, most famous for designing the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. In his work, he drew on classical ideas picked up while on an 18th-century grand tour of Italy. After his marriage to the wealthy Elizabeth 'Eliza' Smith, the architect built his house-museum at No 13 Lincoln’s Inn Sq, and eventually bought the one next door at No 12, which now serves as an exhibition and education space.
The heritage-listed house is largely as it was when Soane died and is itself a main part of the attraction. It has a canopy dome that brings light right down to the crypt, a colonnade filled with statuary and a picture gallery where paintings are stowed behind each other on folding wooden panes. This is where Soane’s choicest artwork is displayed, including paintings by Canaletto and the original Rake’s Progress, William Hogarth’s set of satirical cartoons of late-18th-century London lowlife.
Among Soane’s more unusual acquisitions are the sarcophagus of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I and his precious Model Room, located in his private apartment on the 2nd floor of the house, in which a large portion of his collection of original architectural models of classical buildings is on display. This floor can be visited by 30-minute guided tour only (maximum eight people) departing at 1.15pm and 2pm. It is free but you must sign up on arrival.
Mobile phones must be switched off and photography is not allowed. Hour-long Highlights Tours (£12.50) of the house, including the private apartment and Model Room, leave at 11am Saturday and Sunday and at noon Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Saturday. Look out for info on the 'Soane Lates' evening candlelit tours on the website and social media accounts. They are very popular, so arrive early to avoid the long queue.