The Chelsea Society has been consulted by the Royal Hospital on their plans to restore the old stable block designed by Sir John Soane, together with associated buildings including the old guardhouse and the old bakery, on the western side of the estate adjacent to the National Army Museum. The Chairman of the Society’s planning committee met with the Governor and the architects on 6th December 2017.
The plans are to remove the later additions and restore the buildings as closely as possible to their original state. The stable block would then be used as a visitor centre to provide lecture-rooms and other facilities for the many visitors who visit the Royal Hospital every year.
It is also intended to construct a new building at the rear, which would accommodate a subterranean swimming pool, together with gymnasium and physiotherapy facilities for the in-pensioners, and also for the local community.
The Society welcomes these proposals in principle, but would need to be satisfied on matters of detail concerning the type and colour of bricks, the mortar joints, the fenestration, the rainwater goods, the paint colours, and other important matters of detail. It would also need to be satisfied with the Construction Management Plan and the Construction Traffic Management Plan to ensure the minimum impact on the quality of life of local people during the works, and would also wish to ensure that visitor traffic is properly managed when the new facility opens. It is intended that a planning application will be made before the end of the year, and if approval is granted the work should commence in 2018.
Sir John Soane RA (1753 –1837) specialised in the Neo-Classical style of architecture. The son of a bricklayer, he rose to the top of his profession, becoming professor of architecture at the Royal Academy and an official architect to the Office of Works. He received a knighthood in 1831 from King William IV.
His best-known work was the Bank of England (although his work there is largely destroyed). He also designed Dulwich Picture Gallery, which, with its top-lit galleries, was a major influence on the planning of subsequent art galleries and museums. His main legacy is his museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, which comprises his former home and office, designed to display the art works and architectural artefacts that he collected during his lifetime.
Soane was made Clerk of Works of the Royal Hospital on 20th January 1807 and held the post until his death thirty years later. In 1810 he began work on a new infirmary (destroyed in an air-raid in 1941) and the stable block. He also extended his own official residence in 1814; and built a new bakehouse in 1815.
Soane’s original designs for the stable block are in his museum, and the Society would like to see facsimiles of them displayed in the new visitor-centre at the Royal Hospital, together with a portrait of him and perhaps other artefacts relating to his life and work.