(Soane) (Royal Hospital, Chelsea)

Papers, presented to the House of Commons, relating to the building a new infirmary, and leasing of ground, at Chelsea Hospital (bound with) Further papers … relating to the building a new infirmary (etc.) (and) Further papers … relating to the building a new infirmary (etc).

(London), “ordered, by the House of Commons, to be printed” 20 April 1809, 10 May 1809, 8 June 1809.

Reference: 13678
Price: £840 [convert currency]

Full Description

Folio. 3 items in 1. (2) + 11 + (1)pp, with 2 folding engraved ground plans, partly hand-coloured in outline, the second of the plans accompanied by explanatory text printed on the same sheet ; 23 + (3)pp, 7 folding engraved ground plans, one partly hand-coloured in outline ; (12)pp, partly numbered (25)-32, including 3 folding engraved plates, all fully hand-coloured, the first providing an elevation, section and ground plan of a proposed design for the infirmary by the architect George Saunders, and the second and third plates providing ground plans to illustrate alternative sitings of the infirmary building. Nine further government papers relating to Chelsea Hospital’s financial accounts for the period 1810-24 bound in at end of volume (all but one are single printed leaves only). Recent quarter cloth, top edges gilt.

These informative documents, printed for the House of Commons in April, May and June 1809, are the best surviving evidence for an interesting architectural controversy over the siting and construction of a new infirmary building to deal with the medical needs of the Chelsea Pensioners, in which a major part was taken by the future Sir John Soane, then the recently appointed Clerk of Works at Chelsea Hospital. What had happened was that a plot of land immediately adjacent to Chelsea Hospital had been purchased by the British Government, but that a decision as to whereabouts on this land the new infirmary should be built had been pre-empted, unknown to Soane, by the intended sale of a long lease over part of the site to a private individual, Colonel Gordon, on which to build a house for his personal occupation. Soane was understandably angry about this, and the papers printed here record Soane’s initial adverse reaction to what was being proposed, and his subsequent reports to the Commissioners of Chelsea Hospital explaining with force and clarity the position as he saw it and setting out various alternative suggestions for the siting of the infirmary, with accompanying engraved ground plans. By May 1809 the Government had found it necessary to commission an independent report from another London architect, George Saunders (1762-1839), respected for his administrative efficiency, and Saunders’s report, included here and, very unusually for a government-issued publication, illustrated by fully hand-coloured engraved plans, endorsed Soane’s general approach, while offering a design of his own for the infirmary building, to be erected in a different position to that most favoured by Soane. The papers printed here do not show the outcome of these events, but it will come as no surprise, given that the project was to be government-funded and governments are always keen to save money, that Soane was instructed to build the infirmary on the part of the site least acceptable to Saunders and himself, utilising the structure and foundations of an existing building in that position. More interestingly, Colonel Gordon’s house, eventually built a little further away from the infirmary than originally planned, is currently the subject of a multi-million pound restoration scheme that will make it one of the most expensive residences in central London, at a price beyond all but the richest of billionaire purchasers. Not in BAL Cat (surprisingly).