Sunday, November 4, 2007

Our Day in the Soane

London is filled with museums, ranging from massive famous places like the British Museum to small unusual places like the Thames River Police Museum or the Bramah Tea and Coffee Museum. We've only been here a few months now, but we have been wanting to get out and see more of these museums in our time off. On Saturday, Maggie and I took the tube to Holborn (more or less pronounced "ho-bun"), in central London. Unlike the hoards of people that were headed to the British Museum just a few blocks away, we headed the opposite direction to the more obscure Sir John Soane's Museum. This museum is the former private residence of, you guessed it, Sir John Soane, which overlooks the beautiful Lincoln's Inn Fields, the largest public square in London.

The Soane Museum (and Maggie)

I have seen a number of amazing things in London, but the Soane Museum has to be one of my very favorites so far. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed inside, so I'll have to do my best to describe it. John Soane (1753-1837), one of England's most renowned architects, was a specialist in Neo-Classical architecture perhaps best known for building the Bank of England and bits of 10 Downing Street. During his lifetime, he consciously made his house into a museum of architecture, art, and sculpture, obsessively collecting objects from around the world and contriving ways to display them in his house. He slowly modified the house over time, trying out designs he would later build on a larger scale for clients, or emulating designs from buildings he had seen on his travels. Soane was a master of light and illusion, and though the house is of a fairly modest size, even the smallest rooms seem huge, and every nook is filled with sculpture or architectural elements brought to him from around the world. His collection is truly stunning, including multiple originals by Hogarth, Canaletto, and F├╝seli, and even includes the alabaster sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I (which he bought for £2000 after the British Museum refused to pay for it, probably because it clashed with their "plunder, don't pay" policy). But the best part of the museum is the building itself, the preservation, and the incredible attention to detail that Soane paid to the building. This is an undeniably eccentric and atmospheric place, including a crypt for his wife's lap dog that simply reads "Alas, poor Fanny!", a basement room for an imaginary monk named Padre Giovanni, walls that fold out to reveal further paintings behind or to let light into floors below, and intricate glass domes for even the smallest cupboard of a room. Once a month they open the museum at night for candlelight tours, and I think we will have to come back for one of these, although it will be spooky for sure.

About the only picture I could find online of the inside of the Soane Museum

This area of London has a series of four connected "Inns of Court" (one of which is Lincoln's Inn) running from Holborn south to Temple. These Inns are essentially the law schools and professional societies that all English Barristers must belong to. Each Inn, due to some historical quirk, is legally independent from the City of London, and they operate under traditional, and sometimes peculiar, sets of rules (such as "no whistling," "no rude children," and "no old clothesmen," whatever those are). The Inns are particularly beautiful places with large greens, and the requisite amazing old churches and buildings. During the week, the Inns are the chosen habitat of the many robed and wigged barristers that practice law. Despite the imposing appearance of the Inns, they are open to the public - as long as you don't whistle and don't bring in rude children or old clothesmen.

Lincoln's Inn Fields

Since it was the weekend, we couldn't wander the Inns, so we went to a place I had been once before, the pub Lamb on Lamb's Conduit Street for lunch, this time armed with a camera (more pictures, as always, on our Flickr site).

The Lamb Pub

Sometimes a picture says it all

SPECIAL BLOG READER CHALLENGE: On the way back across town, we went to a specific address on purpose - unfortunately the building was covered in scaffolding. Still, can anyone identify what TV character lived in the building below? You may have to use your little grey cells...


Hildegard von Bingen said...

Was it George Jefferson? Oh, how I love that show! I believe that my Ordo Virtutum was the inspiration for the theme song.

Doug said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess Poirot?

Don't ask how i acquired said information.

Andy Murdock said...

And Doug wins the prize! Unfortunately, to collect the prize you'll have to come to London.

Sorry Hildegard, it was not George Jefferson. You may have invented an alternative alphabet for your Lingua Ignota, but you did not identify the correct television character.