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A Dark Portrait: John Britton’s Denunciation of John Soane

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 November 2023


This article presents hitherto overlooked documents at Vassar College in the United States relating to the character and reputation of the architect John Soane (1753–1837). The antiquarian and topographic author John Britton (1771–1857), a lifelong friend and associate of Soane, planned to write a ’tell-all’ biography in which he would reveal the malicious nature of the architect, and his obsession with remembrance and veneration, to scandalous effect. The scope and purpose of Britton’s intended exposé are established here through notes and correspondences that describe the resentful microclimate of the architects, writers, employees and family members in Soane’s orbit. A further manuscript by Britton, which satirises his devotion to Soane and the architect’s house museum, is also analysed. In the process, the article broaches the role of architectural journalism in fashioning the reputations of architects and their private and public personas in early Victorian London. It also considers the relationship of temperament to architectural invention and historiographic permutations in the controversial appraisal of Soane.

Shorter Notice
© The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain 2023

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