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The Serif-Less Letters of John Soane


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This historical research documents Soane’s early-career use of serif-less (Sans serif) letterforms within his architectural drawings following his return from his RA scholarship grand tour of 1778-79, in order to establish a time-line of both hand titling on drawings and proposals for serif-less inscriptions on his distinctively purist neoclassical buildings. The research confirms the author’s discovery of a surviving extant building by Soane which contains a preserved sans serif inscription: ‘TOVJOVS FIDELE’ – the Beauchamp-Proctor family motto on the south-east lodges at Langley Park in Norfolk, England. With early Langley gate-house proposals from 1784 onwards, these letterforms were delineated on a drawing dated 1790, and the lodges were completed and ‘billed’ in 1793, by James Nelson, the contracted stonemason known for cutting inscriptions for Soane. Sir John Soane (1753-1837) is recognised as a progenitor of a style of lettering which represented the ‘antique’ and neoclassical which, within the last quarter of the eighteen-century, leads through his work and those of his close contemporaries, to the first commercial sans serif metal typeface c.1816 by the William Caslon IV type foundry. Being the pre-cursor of the countless modernist sans serif typefaces of the twentieth century and an increasingly commercial and technological world. This research therefore, confirms Sir John Soane as an influential ‘prophet of modernism.’ This chapter contributes insight and material discovery within 'soaneon' architecture and through archival research offers significant knowledge to type history and the origin of sans serif typography. It provides the platform for ongoing research by the author in establishing Soane’s influences and ‘inspiration’, and the context for the revival of the ‘primitive’ serif-less Roman letterform. These new research findings were explored through type revival practice and presented at leading international conferences and symposia; leading to the production of a new typeface and type specimens – which represent our primordial sans. Melton, J. (2020) The Serif-Less Letters of John Soane. Chapter 14, pp.215-228. Pen, print and communication in the eighteenth century edited by Caroline Archer-Parré and Malcolm Dick. Academic Press: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 978-1-789-62230-0. Available at: This book comprises of selected papers presented at ‘The Beauty of Letters: text, type and communication in the eighteenth century’ on the 14-15 March 2015, the 2nd International Conference organised by the Baskerville Society, Birmingham. This research was submitted within a Portfolio to the REF21. The Webinar book launch hosted by the University of Wolverhampton on the 19th November 2020, included a short talk presentation on the inspirational model for the serif-less letters of John Soane available on YouTube: NOTE: This chapter had a publishers embargo of 24 months in print but is now available here on ResearchGate and available online at:
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An Ancient Saxon Inscription over the South Porch of KIRKDALE CHURCH in Rydale Co. Ebor (1776)
  • J C Brooke
J. C. Brooke, An Ancient Saxon Inscription over the South Porch of KIRKDALE CHURCH in Rydale Co. Ebor (1776), engraved by [James] Basire Se. [Senior].