Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Apsley House

Home to the first Duke of Wellington, Apsley House was popularly known as “Number One, London” as it was the first house passed in London after the Knightsbridge toll gates.

Today, it overlooks the very busy Hyde Park Corner and remains the London Residence of the Duke of Wellingtons direct descendants. However, they now share this magnificent town house with English Heritage who run the museum.

Having beaten Napoleon at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington was responsible for preserving English as our national language! He bought Apsley House in 1817 from his brother who was suffering financial difficulties. He immediately set about extending, re-facing and renovating the property until, 50 years after it was built, it became more or less unrecognisable from the original.

It now houses the first Duke’s outstanding collection of paintings as well as porcelain, sculptures, medals, silver and general memorabilia. In the 1990’s the house was restored to its early 19th Century appearance and it is a credit to English Heritage that it feels not restored but untouched.

As a nod to his former enemy, there is an 11 foot marble statue of Napoleon whose modesty is only covered by a fig leaf (!) dominating the central stairwell. There is also a small gallery of Wellington memorabilia and pictures charting the history of the house from the first Duke to current members of the family and the house itself.

It was the seventh Duke of Wellington who gave the house to the nation in 1947 but ensured the family would retain the use of half of the house “so long as there is a Duke of Wellington”. Apsley House therefore has the feel of a family home and not just a well preserved historic property. The private quarters are, of course, not open to the public.

The highlight in this incredible collection is the elaborate Sevres Egyptian dinner service which Napoleon had made as a divorce present for Josephine (which she declined) and was later presented to Wellington by Louis XVIII. It was not unusual for Wellington to receive presents from Europeans monarchs who were all grateful to him for saving their kingdoms.

Apsley House is well worth a visit for a touch of 19th Century London and to discover the life of one of Britain’s great heroes. The house may be decorative and ornate but the first Duke of Wellington was famously down to earth and reserved these extravagancies for his public persona; he actually lived in a very modest apartment at the top of the house.

Apsley House is open Weds-Sunday and bank holidays 11am-5pm
Adult Entry: £5.50

London Pass holders can visit Apsley House free of charge

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