The architect Sir John Soane’s house, museum and library at No. 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields has been a public museum since the early 19th century.
Soane designed this house to live in, but also as a setting for his antiquities and his works of art. On his appointment as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806, Soane began to arrange his books, casts and models in order that the students might have the benefit of easy access to them and proposed opening his house for the use of the Royal Academy students the day before and the day after each of his lectures.
After the death of his wife (1815), he lived here alone, constantly adding to and rearranging his collections. Having been deeply disappointed by the conduct of his two sons, one of whom survived him, he determined to establish the house as a museum to which ‘amateurs and students’ should have access. By 1827, when John Britton published the first description of the Museum, Soane’s collection was being referred to as an ‘Academy of Architecture’.
In 1833 Soane negotiated an Act of Parliament to settle and preserve the house and collection for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture. On his death in 1837 the Act came into force, vesting the Museum in a board of Trustees who were to continue to uphold Soane’s own aims and objectives. A crucial part of their brief was to maintain the fabric of the Museum, keeping it ‘as nearly as circumstances will admit in the state’ in which it was left at the time of Soane’s death in 1837 and to allow free access for students and the public to ‘consult, inspect and benefit’ from the collections. Since 1837, each successive Curator (since 2005 ‘Director’) has sought to preserve and maintain Soane’s arrangements.
The entire collection of this museum is a Designated Collection of national importance.