A room inside the Sir John Soane museum that’s never been open to the public is now open twice a week, and it’s quite a remarkable space, even for this already remarkable museum.

It’s also a room that thousands of people have walked under without even realising, but until recent conservation and cleaning work, wasn’t possible for the public to visit. As a room, superficially it looks not that dissimilar to the rest of the house, being packed full of plaster casts acquired by Sir John Soane, but that belies the cleverness of the space.

Imagine a large double-height space in a house. Now put a free-standing floor held up on pillars in the middle of it — that is the Drawing Room.

It’s a freestanding floor with drawing tables on either side that creates the illusion of a room. But look around the edges and the floor doesn’t touch the sides of the walls. And that’s the cleverness of the space, as that then allows light from the roof windows to illuminate both the drawing room and also flood down the sides to the main floor below.

The Drawing Room was used by Sir John’s students, whose parents would pay a handsome fee for their sons to be educated by the great man. He was a bit of a taskmaster, only later relaxing the onerous working hours to a mere 11 hours a day and had strict rules about bans on students talking to the house staff.

A visit to this hidden room is to appreciate the cleverness of the space when you step back downstairs and realise that the ceiling you’ve been walking under every time you visit is actually a false ceiling hiding a secret room. In a peculiar way, if you step back a bit in the cramped ground floor space and look around, it’s not unlike a medieval tomb in a cathedral, in that it’s a large sealed-off box sitting inside a larger room.

Because it’s a very small space with a tiny staircase to get up to it, the Sir John Soane Museum is starting visits with two tours a week.

The tours will take place on Thursdays and Saturdays at 2pm. Tours are expected to last around 20 minutes, departing from the Library-Dining Room. These free tours are not bookable in advance, and they can only take a maximum group size of six into the Drawing Office, so they will operate on a first-come first-served basis.

When you arrive at the museum, tell the visitor assistant you want to join the tour, and they will add your name to the list, if there are spaces left.

My tip would be to go sooner than later, simply that as it gets better known, more people will want to go on the tours and you might need to go back another day if all six spots are filled.


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