Background and training
Soane was born in Goring-on-Thames on 10 September 1753. He was the second surviving son of John Soan and his wife Martha. The 'e' was added to the surname by the architect in 1784 on his marriage. His father was a builder or bricklayer, and died when Soane was fourteen in April 1768. He was educated in nearby Reading in a private school run by William Baker. After his father's death Soane's family moved to nearby Chertsey to live with Soane's brother William, 12 years his elder. William was also a bricklayer.
William Soan introduced his brother to James Peacock, a surveyor who worked with George Dance the Younger. Soane began his training as an architect age 15 under George Dance the Younger and joining the architect at his home and office in the City of London at the corner of Moorfields and Chiswell Street. Dance was a founding member of the Royal Academy and doubtless encouraged Soane to join the schools there on 25 October 1771 as they were free. There he would have attended the architecture lectures delivered by Thomas Sandby and the lectures on perspective delivered by Samuel Wale.
Dance's growing family was probably the reason that in 1772 Soane continued his education by joining the household and office of Henry Holland. He recalled later that he was 'placed in the office of an eminent builder in extensive practice where I had every opportunity of surveying the progress of building in all its different varieties, and of attaining the knowledge of measuring and valuing artificers' work'. During his studies at the Royal Academy, he was awarded the Academy's silver medal on 10 December 1772 for a measured drawing of the facade of the Banqueting House, Whitehall, which was followed by the gold medal on 10 December 1776 for his design of a Triumphal Bridge. He received a travelling scholarship in December 1777 and exhibited at the Royal Academy a design for a Mausoleum for his friend and fellow student James King, who had drowned in 1776 on a boating trip to Greenwich. Soane, a non-swimmer, was going to be with the party but decided to stay home and work on his design for a Triumphal Bridge. By 1777, Soane was living in his own accommodation in Hamilton Street. In 1778 he published his first book Designs in Architecture. He sought advice from Sir William Chambers on what to study: "Always see with your own eyes ... [you] must discover their true beauties, and the secrets by which they are produced." Using his travelling scholarship of £60 per annum for three years, plus an additional £30 travelling expenses for each leg of the journey. Soane set sail on his Grand Tour, his ultimate destination being Rome, at 5:00 am, 18 March 1778.