Doesn’t that sound like a cool address? It ought to be where the king lives, or perhaps the prime minister. But it just so happens to be the former home of the Duke of Wellington, and a fete there was one of the most sought after invitations in nineteenth century England.
Originally built by the famous architect Robert Adam for the first Baron Apsley Henry Bathurst, Apsley House sits at the north side of Hyde Park Corner, with a commanding view over some of London’s busiest streets. Lord Apsley sold it to Wellington’s older brother, who in turn sold it to Wellington. The duke had it enlarged and remodeled to suit his needs.
Part of that remodeling involved moving the entrance hall to one side. Then as now, portions of the house were open to visitors, so a room just off the entrance was made into a museum showcasing some of Wellington’s trophies and mementoes. Of course, even at the time, his friends remarked that the entire house felt like a museum because so many pieces of furniture, paintings, and plate were in fact gifts for Wellington’s services in putting down Napoleon.
Napoleon is a large part of the house, beginning with a larger-than-life marble statue of him as Mars, which takes up much of the main stairwell. Then again, one of the most beautiful rooms at Apsley House is the Waterloo Gallery, named after the battle where Wellington finally triumphed. Over 90 feet long and two stories tall, the room boasts walls covered in silk damask, gilded doors and ceiling, and mirrored shutters for the windows. As the story goes, Wellington and his designer argued over how the room would look. In the end, Wellington insisted on yellow damask for the walls, although today it can be seen in scarlet. The grand gallery was the scene of many an entertainment, including an annual banquet to celebrate the victory at Waterloo.
Because something that big needs to be celebrated annually in a room that gorgeous in London’s first residence.
And speaking of celebrations, I’m delighted to report that next Friday will see the beginning of a special two-part guest post by Jo AnnBrown, author of this month’s A Bride for the Baron, who promises to tell all about smuggling in early nineteenth century England and the secrets of Robin Hood’s Bay! Join us!