Apsley House stands proudly on London’s Hyde Park Corner. It was once known as Number One, London. Come with me and discover the home of one of England’s heroes, the Duke of Wellington.
WHO LIVED AT APSLEY HOUSE?
Robert Adam built Apsley House for Lord Apsley (hence the name) who was at the time the Lord Chancellor, in 1771. Fast forward a few decades to 1807 when Richard, Marquess of Wellesley purchased the house for £16,000 and promptly set about spending £20,000 on alterations. Ten years later the Marquess’s marriage was in tatters and he was on the brink of bankruptcy. Step forward the Marquess’s younger brother, now the victor of the Battle of Waterloo and newly enobled as the Duke of Wellington.
A grateful nation had granted £700,000 to build a Waterloo Palace fit for our hero. He opted to put in a bid for £40,000 to buy his brothers pad and add a few embellishments of his own. Benjamin Wyatt drew up plans for banqueting halls and picture galleries fit for a conquering hero. Wyatt’s final bill came in at more than three times the original estimate much to the annoyance of the Duke.
The Dukes of Wellington have lived in the house ever since. In 1941 the 5th Duke died and a couple of years later the 6th Duke died of wounds sustained during battle in the Second World War. Two deaths in quick succession prompted the 7th Duke to offer the house to the nation. The Wellington Museum Act then created a museum with the top floors remaining as a family house. The Duke of Wellington still lives at Apsley House.
Opulent interiors awash with gold are what await you inside. These are some of the few examples of a Regency aristocratic town house interior that survive. Europe’s leaders rushed to show their gratitude to the Duke of Wellington for defeating Napoleon and showered him with gifts. The walls are awash with the high quality art that pressed upon the Duke.
Much of it is displayed in the Waterloo Gallery, ninety feet long and two storeys high. It was here that the Duke held the annual Waterloo banquet to mark his great victory – the table is still there set for celebration.
At the heart of the Wellington Collection are 82 works from the Spanish Royal Collection. Joseph Napoleon helped himself to the cream of the Spanish Royal art collection during his stint as King of Spain. When Joesph was defeated in June 1813 the paintings were discovered rolled up and ready to make the journey to France. They were rescued by the Duke and sent to London. When Napoleon was finally vanquished, the Duke offered the paintings back to King Ferdinand VII, the restored Spanish King, but Ferdinand insisted that he keep them.
In the Wellington Museum room you can see the many dinner services that grateful European leaders gave the Duke. To me a dinner service means plates and bowls, Wellington had those but also hugely elaborate centre pieces the best that Sèvres and Meissen could produce.
Set in the footwell of a spiral staircase is an enormous, naked, marble statue by Canova of Napoleon in the guise of Mars the Peacemaker. Napoleon had the statue made but hated it. In 1816 the British Government bought the statue from the restored French King and presented it to Wellington. Quite a keepsake!
APSLEY HOUSE – need to know
- 149 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NT
- Open: April – December, Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm
- January – March 10am – 4pm Saturday and Sunday
- Admission: Adult £10.50, Child £6.30, Concession and family tickets available
- Members of English Heritage go free.
- Art Fund members also go free
- If you are visiting the Wellington Arch opposite the house there are combined tickets available.
London has a wealth of Historic Houses to visit, check out my post for more inspiration.