Perhaps if I start writing about it, it will happen.
As you may have heard, my company has found a great little studio in Bloomsbury. The crazy part is that it’s at 4 Bloomsbury Place. That address is significant because it was owned at one time by Sir Hans Sloane, whose brilliant library and natural history collection was bequeathed to the British Museum upon his death in 1753.
I find this hugely inspiring.
Today, the foyer is the epitome of 80s utility, replete with terrible hotel-style art, and if you look closely you can see that the “art” is two copies of the same two terrible pieces.
Imagine the walls covered with things from Sloane’s collections, or letters he may have written here, or specimens from his amazing natural history bits and pieces. That would be better. If you have a look at the things he bequeathed to the British Museum, it’s a rich, colourful, informative, beautiful selection of all sorts of things.
I love that he let people come to visit, and have enjoyed reading various accounts in a handy book called The British Museum: a case-study in architectural politics.
Sloane’s private museum began as a collection of botanical specimens which he brought back from France and the West Indies. John Evelyn noted in his Diary for 16 April 1691:
I went to see Dr. Sloane’s curiosities, being an universal collection of the natural productions of Jamaica, consisting of plants, fruits, corals, minerals, stones, earth, animals and insects, collected with great judgement; several folios of dried plants, and one which had about eighty, several sorts of ferns, and another of grasses; the Jamaican pepper, in branch, leaves, flower, fruit etc.
Even though the idea has been floating about since we moved here in March, I’m calling yesterday Day 1. I went to the National Archives in Kew to start my search to find records about him, and found an ‘office copy’ of Sloane’s will. It’s a bit hard to read, but I’m looking forward to ‘getting my eye in’ as the enquiry desk helper assured me I’ll be able to. I’ll post a transcript if/when I have one. My quick searches there suggest I should go to the London Metropolitan Archives, the Historic England Archive, and the Chelsea Physic Garden.
Another interesting element about Sloane’s collection is that it’s now dispersed across London. There are bits in the British Museum, the British Library, Natural History Museum, Chelsea Physic Garden, and places I haven’t discovered yet. I’d love it if our foyer could bring some of those bits and pieces back to where they were together, once.
I’ve also discovered that, of course, someone else is interested in Sloane, and has been researching him deeply for years. Lisa Smith, a historian, has been documenting and writing about him on Sloan Letters for some time, focused around his correspondence with his patients. It’ll be good to meet, and hopefully, collaborate.
Does this sound interesting? How could we do it well? Would you like to help?
I guess I should ask the landlord, whose ancestor Bedford probably knew Mr. Sloane.