London’s Burlington House

© Cheryl Bolen

Burlington House, located on London’s busy Piccadilly near the Piccadilly Circus, is now seen by thousands who view exhibits there of the Royal Academy.

But the former aristocratic home is significantly altered from what it was when Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, engaged Scottish architect Colen Campbell to redesign it in 1718 when the earl was 26. Indeed, the earl’s home significantly altered the previous home there, built in 1667 by the 1st Earl of Burlington. The 1st earl engaged William Kent to design the baroque interiors, some of which remain today.

During the 1st earl’s lifetime, Burlington House was a hub for artists, including Handel, who reportedly lived there for three years, Swift, and Pope.

The 3rd earl succeeded at age 10. (See my previous blogs on the 3rd Earl of Burlington in “Chiswick House: Quintessentially Georgian” https://cherylsregencyramblings.wordpress.com/?s=chiswick+house and “The Grand Tour” https://cherylsregencyramblings.wordpress.com/?s=the+grand+tour.)

Campbell was heavily influenced by Italian Andrea Palladio—whom the earl also came to emulate when he designed his Chiswick House as a Thames-side villa.

This is a view of Burlington House from Piccadilly as it looked in the lifetime of the 3rd Earl of Burlington

This is a view of Burlington House from Piccadilly as it looked in the lifetime of the 3rd Earl of Burlington

Burlington House was one of a handful of London residences that were constructed on large plots of land with outbuildings. (I’ve previously blogged on Devonshire House and Albany, both located on Piccadilly near Burlington Houston, and both of which were on large plots set back from the street.) The main house is some distance away from the Victorian archway into the forecourt in front of the house.

Campbell’s Palladian main house remains today, but a third story was added in Victorian times. Also added in Victorian times was the building, centered by a huge open arch, which lines the sidewalk on Piccadilly. This building houses the various “learned societies” which occupy the site and is not open to the public.

The earl’s estate passed to his grandson, the Duke of Devonshire, who never resided there. In 1815, the 6th Duke of Devonshire sold Burlington House to his uncle Lord George Cavendish, and Lord George built the adjacent Burlington Arcade (see my previous blog).

In 1854, the property was sold for £140,000 to the British government, which eventually leased it to the Royal Academy for 999 years. It also was chosen to house five “learned societies.”

Burlington House today (now the Royal Academy), note the third floor added in Georgian times

Burlington House today (now the Royal Academy), note the third floor added in Victorian times

The main house’s John Medejski Fine Rooms, often open free to the public, were restored in 2004 to what they would have looked like when The Earls of Burlington lived there. I have had the good fortune of viewing these lovely rooms, which include some designed by Kent 300 years ago. For those planning a trip to London, I would suggest seeing The Royal Academy on the weekends, when more rooms are open.

Kent's ceiling today

Kent’s ceiling today

Kent's dinner room

Kent’s dinner room

Sidewalk (on Piccadilly) entrance today. This addition was completed in Victorian times.

Sidewalk (on Piccadilly) entrance today. This addition was completed in Victorian times.

 

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