Wednesday, 15 August 2012

My Guilty Secret - London Trivia #4

Photo courtesy of
I have a guilty secret - I quite like watching 'Bargain Hunt' - (for my US friends, this is a daytime TV show where generally clueless couples buy trash from antique fairs with the aim of selling it at auction for profit. The couple that makes the most profit, or smallest loss, wins!) Hosted by the epitome of an English gentleman, Tim Wannocott, halfway through the show Tim visits a place of historical interest and on the occasion that inspired this post, he visited the Sir John Soanes museum London.
Tim Wonnacott - photo courtesy of the BBC.
Sir John Soanes was the Georgian architect who designed the Bank of England, amongst other notable buildings. But what sparked my interest during Tim's segment, was the sheer eccentricity of Soanes home - which also doubled as a museum in his lifetime. Soanes was a collector of architectural artefacts and filled his house with antique marble fragments of statues and friezes, mainly from ancient Rome. From the glimpse I got on the TV it looked too interesting to miss and living close to London I went to visit.

Soanes Museum - the cream coloured building to the left of the picture.
Soanes Museum is at 12 - 14 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London and entry is free!
Greek and Roman marbles line the stairwells, a full sized Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement, a room of Hogarth's mounted on hinged walls. In the basement, Soanes created an atmosphere reminiscent of catacombs or Roman burial chamber, of which the centre piece was the magnificent Egyptian sarcophagus of King Seti I; bought by Soanes when the British Museum refused to pay 2,000 pounds for it. With hieroglyphics as yet deciphered in his time, and a very important antiquity, Soanes celebrated the arrival of his new piece with three evening parties, illuminated by three hundred oil lamps and attended by nearly a thousand people.

The Bank of England - designed by Sir John Soanes.
Mrs Soanes must have had the patience of a saint to put up with the stamp of her husband's overwhelming personality, but by all accounts they were a happy couple. A mark of Soanes' eccentricity was his 'Monk's Parlour.' This was a downstairs room designed in a gothic fashion, with dark sombre colours and heavy furniture to illustrate the importance of light (or lack of it) in creating atmosphere. What is even more delightful is that when Soanes wanted to be alone he would claim:
"Padre Giovanni has come to visit," and disappear into the Monk's Parlour to take tea. However since Padre Giovanni was fictitious, actually a play on Soanes' own name 'John' - his visits were an excuse to enjoy solitude.

The sarcophogus in Soanes house - and yes it is as mad as this!
 I've gone a long way round the houses to say I'm proud that my 'guilty secret' inspired a visit to a place I hadn’t heard of before- and I feel less guilty as a result!
Have you ever visited somewhere you saw on TV and were blown away by the experience?
Do leave a comment and join the conversation!

Portraits of Sir John Soanes by Sir Frances Chantry.


  1. I would love to visit the Grand Canyon which I have seen in movies, TV shows and read about in books. But I love going up to Valley of Fire (30 min north of Vegas) it has been in many sci fi movies because of the desolate desert beauty of the landscaping.

    1. That sounds awesome, I'm guessing thee Valley of Fire is so-called because it's very hot there.
      Thanks for visiting,
      G x

    2. Hubbie has visited Valley of Fire, although only very briefly and was thoroughly overawed by the place. Being Brits though, the heat was just a bit too much for him, especially in the height of Summer, which was when his work took him to 'Vegas'.

      I have reltives who live in California and when younger, they always took visiting British relatives to the Grand Canyon, including my 75 year old grandmother, who rode down as far as she was able, on a donkey!


    3. Agreed,Yvonne, Brits aren't good with heat. I have vivid memories of as a girl, seeing Brits abroad with knotted hankies on their heads - not good, not good at all.
      G x

  2. First off, I love Bargain Hunt, and my favourite part of the show is Tim's little segment. As for guilty secrets, Homes Under The Hammer is mine.

    Secondly, I visited the Soanes Museum before I left London last year and LOVED it (I worked for a firm of architects and they wouldn't shut up about it) I love the fact that you think you've seen everything, and then you spot a door...and beyond it lies even more architectural treasure!

    I just still can't believe it's free entry...

    1. From start to finish it was just magical!
      Even the chap in charge of the (short) queue was lovely - cracking jokes whilst people waited. Then once inside it was one wonder after another and so atmospheric. I loved the use of orange and yellow glass in the 'light wells' and all I could think of was that my son (who is studying fine art) just HAS to visit to check out the use of light.
      A fabulous place...but I do feel a bit sorry for poor Mrs Soanes, living with such eccentricity.
      Thank you for commenting,
      Grace x

  3. Hi Grace,

    I have to say that I can't stand 'Bargain Hunt', or its presenter. I am just not into this kind of 'reality' TV entertainment at all.

    That aside, Soanes Museum, looks like a splendid place to visit and is definitely going on my list of things to do next time we are up in town.

    This kind of collecting and eccentricity really intrigues me and as you say, Mrs. Soanes must have had the patience of a saint, I don't think I could have done it.

    I don't have an experience related to a television programme, however, a place we have visited which boasts of occupants with much the same eccentricity (in fact I think this is much worse in some ways), is 'Snowshill Manor', a property in The Cotswolds, which is now administered by the National Trust. The many rooms of this large manor house, are literally jame packed full of collections made by the owner, Charles Wade. He never actually travelled personally to amass these collections simply ordering them in. In his own right he was a very talented artist and many of the rooms are given over to his self-made collections.
    The manor house became so overcrowded, that he and his wife moved into one of the outbuildings, where they lived lives akin to those of many servants, so that the house space could all be given over to memorabilia.

    Great post,


    1. Oh, that sounds just my sort of place. I wonder if this Mr Wade is related to the maker of those small porcelain animal figurines that were popular to collect in the 60's - 70's - thinking about it, they will be way too late.
      Definately putting Snowshill Manor on my 'to visit' list.
      I've just finished Lucy Worsley's book, "Courtiers" which was inspired by a painting executed for George I, of the staff of Kensington Palace. I'm not a royalist but reading the story behind this 300 year old picture has whetted my appetite to visit and see it.
      Watch this space!
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Yvonne.
      G x


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