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Apsley House. London.
Who could not be impressed with what was once the most prestigious address in London after Buckingham Palace of course. Number 1 London as it was once known because it was the first house you would come across after the toll gate to enter the city of London at Knightsbridge. Nowadays its official address is unglamorously 149, Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London. W1J 7NT.
Originally the great Georgian looking house was built for Lord Apsley in 1771 taking six years to build. The house was built and designed by the great architect and interior designer Robert Adams who was instrumental in building many grand houses in London and around the country including Keddlestone Hall in Derbyshire, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Poulteney Bridge in Bath just to name a few of his works. The original house was built of red brick but it was remodelled and covered in Bath Stone giving the appearance of a grand Georgian house with a pseudo portico façade. The house appears to be three floors high but in fact there are five floors inside the building only two floors and the basement are open to the public.
The house is the official residence in London of the Duke of Wellington and when the 6th Duke was killed in battle the 7th Duke discussed with his heir that that they would never be able to afford to maintain the building and approached the government to donate the house to the Nation. An act of parliament was passed which ensured the maintenance and ownership of the building. The Duke of Wellington retained apartments on the north side of the house for their own personal use. Today the house is maintained and run by English Heritage.
The Duke of Wellington.
The Duke of Wellington was born in Ireland the son of the Earl of Mornington and known simply as Arthur Wesley. He later changed the spelling to Wellesley. He rose through the ranks becoming a colonel and saw action all over the world including battles throughout war torn Europe, India and he also visited the Philippines. Following the Duke of Wellingtons successes in battles around Europe and notably freeing the Iberian Peninsula from the occupation of Napoleon and the battle of Waterloo he was revered as a national hero and elevated in people's eyes as a great battle genius. Some of his success was due to chance but some was by his own prowess following him observing and learning from the mistakes of his predecessors. He had several short spells as British Prime minister and was given the title of Lord Warden of the Cinq ports. His official residence was Walmer Castle where he died aged 83. His death bed is still on display in Walmer Castle. His body was brought to London by train where a state funeral was held and his body interred in the crypt of St. Pauls Cathedral.
Entering Apsley house through the main entrance on Piccadilly you enter the main reception hall. This was remodelled as the original entrance to the house was to the right. Inside the reception hall is the desk where you pay your entrance fees. To the left of the entrance hall is a small museum containing some of the porcelain and silver dinner services given to the duke following his successes in battles. Some of the sets contain over 1000 pieces to make up the dinner services. One of the most expensive services is a silver dinner service given to him by Portugal. The centre piece is on display in the dining room along the centre of the table. It cost so much to make and there was so little silver left that Portuguese silver coins were melted down to finish it. It nearly bankrupted the country. There are swords and sabres presented to Wellington following his battle successes and Generals Maces given to him in recognition of his success.
To the right of the entrance hall is the original entrance hall which was then used as a secondary reception hall. Surrounding the hall are marble busts of generals on pedestals and sideboards. This room leads to the staircase. The central staircase is a magnificent set of stairs and standing at the bottom you can look up to the sky light which allows light to shine right down the inside of the building. The staircase is round and goes up to the top floors of the house. At the bottom of the stairwell is a statue of Napoleon as Mars the peacemaker by Canova holding a large decorated pole in his left hand and on his right outstretched hand a gilt ball and a nike are held. It had been commissioned by Napoleon and was put on display in the Louvre but he insisted that it for modesty it be covered. The government bought it from the French government for £66,000 and presented it to the Duke. The only place that it would fit was in the stairwell. It weighs so much that the floor had to be supported underneath by a pillar otherwise eventually it would have fallen through to the basement. Opposite the statue there are two double doors which lead into another staircase and to the private apartments of the current Duke of Wellington.
Mounting the spiral staircase brings you to the formal rooms of the house. Along the front of the house which overlooks Hyde Park corner with the Wellington arch in the middle of the roundabout and the bronze of the Duke of Wellington on horseback facing towards Apsley house. The first room you enter is the Piccadilly drawing room which is decorated in yellow damask wallpaper. Yellow was the Dukes preferred colour. The room is slightly oval shaped and has a fire place at one end. The walls are graced with many paintings of which the house is full of. There are over 3000 paintings, statues and pieces of art in the house given to the Duke. These had been presented to him by Tsars, Kings, Queens, Emperors and governments from around Europe in recognition of his status. A large collection of Paintings that were stolen from the King of Spain by Napoleons brother were found abandoned by the withdrawing French troops. There are 165 in total and these were presented to the Duke in gratitude for the restoration of the Iberian Peninsula by the King of Spain.
Passing along a small slip corridor to the left of the fireplace where more dinner services are on display you are led into the large state dining room. There is a beautiful shining long dining table and the centre piece of the Silver Portuguese Dinner service runs from one end of the table to the other end. The room has paintings of the Duke of Wellington in the centre of the room and other portraits around the room. There are sideboards to hold the silver plate when formal dining was taking place in this room. The guild of Bankers merchants presented to the Duke a large gilt silver tray and a pair of candelabra which are displayed in the museum room on the ground floor they are displayed in the room during the Waterloo banquet which is held every year in the Waterloo Gallery. Leaving the dining room which overlooks Hyde Park you enter the small striped drawing room which appears quite cosy with striped wall paper and matching sofas surrounding the room. The walls have portraits and paintings on them. This room then leads onto the yellow drawing room and then finally into the Waterloo Gallery which is the longest room in the house overlooking the entrance to Hyde Park.
The Waterloo gallery is two stories high and is now decorated with red damask wall paper although originally it was decorated in the Dukes favourite yellow colour much against the suggestions of his advisors as it was felt that the yellow wall paper would deflect the gilt frames of the paintings. Just after his death his heir redecorated the room with the red paper which helps make the paintings stand out. Along the great gallery there are small red sofas to sit on so that you can admire the many paintings on the wall. There are copies of the Painting of Charles I on horseback the original being in Windsor castle and another copy in the gallery at Buckingham Palace. The waterloo banquet is held here to celebrate the battle of Waterloo and seats 85 people in the 90 foot long room. The Portuguese dinner service is used.
Returning down the grand staircase passing through the side reception hall leads you to the stairs to the basement. In the basement there is a room that contains different artefacts of the duke. The awards of honour awarded to him and the insignia that was presented to him. There are personal items and his uniform and a pair of his wellingtons. In one case there is his death mask and a bronze death mask of Napoleon. There are apparently 30 rooms down in this basement area although only one room housing the Dukes personal items is open and on display. The rooms in the basement included servant's quarters, the kitchens and the stables.
Would I recommend a Visit to Apsley house?
Yes I would as it contains many beautiful pieces of art work and magnificent views over Hyde park corner. There are some interesting pieces that have been presented to the Duke which have been left to the nation to enjoy. Thankfully as it has been left for the nation to enjoy I think anyone with an interest in Military history might enjoy the house.
Sadly this house is not wheelchair friendly or for people who have mobility issues. The first obstacle is five steps leading into the house. There is a lift to the first floor but you have to be able to walk down some stairs to reach it. They do have a wheelchair on the premises which can be loaned during a visit but to be honest it would be very difficult if you have major mobility issues.
There are toilet facilities available which are reached by a flight of stairs towards the basement. There is a small area at the entrance selling souvenirs and various books but there are no other facilities in the house.
English Heritage run the house and entrance fees are as follows:
The house is closed on Monday and Tuesdays but is open from 11:00 to 17:00 daily.
The house is going to be closed for refurbishment from November 2013 to March 2014