Time seems to stand still at Sir John Soane’s Museum.
I’ll level with you: most of the furniture I own was bought during an IKEA trip at university, and still faithfully follows me from flat to flat. But eight-year old bedside tables can’t compare to the furniture that sits in Sir John Soane’s Museum, a London house that’s been frozen in time. When you walk in the doors, you’re entering a place that hasn’t been changed at all since 1837.
See also: All of London’s fabulous free museums.
That’s at the behest of Sir John Soane himself, who went as far as negotiating an Act of Parliament to preserve his home exactly as it was the day he died. A celebrated architect who built the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery, Soane also transformed his house into an eccentrically-arranged museum.
In collecting plaster casts, Roman marbles, antiquities, paintings, and architectural drawings, the architect turned his spacious house into a treasure trove of historical objects. Indeed, he had to buy the properties either of his to house the growing collection, which was open to his students at the Royal Academy. When Soane died in 1837, a board of trustees honoured his wishes, and Sir John Soane’s Museum was born.
Fast forward almost two centuries, and Sir John Soane’s Museum attracts over 100,000 visitors a year. As per Soane’s wishes, the museum is, to this day, free to enter – and it’s well worth a visit. Pretty much every inch of the house is filled with curiosities, including a much-photographed room bursting with marble busts.
Soane had an eye for spectacular objects, and a bank account big enough to afford them too. He collected artwork from the likes of Canaletto, Hogarth, and Turner, which are still on display today. Amongst the most incredible antiquities he acquired is the sarcophagus of Egyptian king Seti I, which now sits alongside Peruvian pottery and Napoleonic art in the museum. Meanwhile, an active research library and conservation initiatives support the museum’s collections.
One of the most charming aspects of Sir John Soane’s Museum is the idiosyncratic arrangement of objects. Whereas the likes of the British Museum have carefully organised collections, Soane’s house is a purposeful mish-mash of items, designed to complement one another rather than sit in perfect order. In this vast collection, there’s a potent beauty which emerges from the chaotic arrangement.
The museum is a great spot for a lazy, lingering wander, either self-directed or with the guidance of a themed trail (see them all here). Whilst the museum itself is joyously free, you can book an expert-led tour for a more in-depth look. Happily, Sir John Soane’s Museum also provide British Sign Language and audio described tours, whilst the occasional themed late opening is a great time to visit – a recent ‘Gin Late’ tour proved exceedingly popular.
Keeping Sir John Soane’s vision alive hasn’t been an easy task – for instance, I really feel for the person who has to do the dusting – but the museum’s hard work has been a blessing to Londoners. Here’s to absolutely nothing changing for another 180 years!
Location: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP. Nearest station is Holborn. See it on Google Maps.
Opening hours: 10am-5pm (Wed to Sun), last entry at 4:30pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but is open on Bank Holidays and Easter.
Entry: free! (See more free things to do in London).
More information: from their website.
Featured image: @periodportraits
Also published on Medium.