Day 6 in England- From Churches to Sir John Soane
Day six of our English adventure was filled with architecture and eccentric men, a historically common pairing. We started the day running between parish churches and ended it at the John Soane Museum, where we saw his home, studio, and collection of Robert Adams papers. Peter Guillery was our highly-qualified guide to London’s parish churches, of which we saw almost a dozen within three hours. Peter took us through some of the oldest and most architecturally significant structures, notably St Mary Woolnoth and St Stephen Walbrook.
St Mary Woolnoth’s unique façade and imposing structure demand attention, even in the middle of the busy city of London. It was originally designed by Nicholas Hawksmore and restored by William Butterfield, and their excellence shows. The amalgamation of elements caused Peter to classify Hawksmore as England’s first post-modern architect—very first, as he was working in the early eighteenth century.
Being somewhat squished between neighboring buildings, the excellence and exceptionality of St. Stephen Walbrook is found within the interior. Walking into the ambiguous building, I was struck breathless by its high center dome, column schedule, and sheer size. The contrast between the white interior and dark-wood furniture gave the space a rich texture, and the light brought in by the large windows covering the sanctuary gave it a surreal, glorious tone.
St. Stephen Walbrook was not only aesthetically and structurally breathtaking, but it was alive with music. Walking through the main entrance, we were met with passionately played organ music that emphasized the majesty of Wren’s central plan and extended dome.
Few homes can boast of having an Egyptian sarcophagus and the dwellings of a monk named Padre Giovanni. Even fewer can add a prominent, eighteenth-century exterior with classically inspired sculptures to such a dynamic interior. The museum of Sir John Soane includes these curiosities and many more; it is his house and studio conserved and restored to his death date of 1835. We were lucky enough to be the first public visitors to see the second floor of this amazing house. The dedicated team at the museum was finishing a renovation program to display the private apartments of Soane and his wife. Moreover, the curator of the drawings collection, Stephen Astley, generously opened their collection of Robert Adams papers and shared many entertaining stories about the two architects.
By Kiersten Mounce, doctoral candidate in the Art History Department at the University of Delaware
Photos by Michael Emmons and Willie Granston