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.

 

London’s Devonshire House–Gone

© Cheryl Bolen, 2014

Though it was demolished 90 years ago, Devonshire House was one of London’s most fabulous aristocratic homes for a couple of centuries. One of the things that set it — and a handful of other aristocratic homes — apart from typical town homes of the nobility was the plot of land that surrounded it. While many of London’s grandest houses were terraced (what Americans might refer to as “row houses”), Devonshire House sat on three choice acres on Piccadilly, with a view of Green Park from the front and a view to the garden of Berkeley Square from the rear (across the gardens of Landsdowne House).

Devonshire House, late 1800s

Devonshire House, late 1800s

As with Melbourne House (now Albany), Burlington House, and Landsdowne House (all significantly altered), Devonshire House was entered through gates large enough for a carriage to pass, and gardens and outbuildings were located within the walls.

Cheryl Bolen with Devonshire House Gate behind her

Cheryl Bolen with Devonshire House Gate behind her

Today, the gates of Devonshire House have been relocated across Piccadilly to serve as an entrance to Green Park. (In the photo, I’m seated within Green Park with the Devonshire House gates behind me.) A London underground ticket office now lies beneath what was once Devonshire House, and now the Ritz is across the street. (In the photo below, the French-looking Ritz Hotel is on the right, abutting Green Park, and the office building that replaced Devonshire House in the 1920s is the larger building in the picture.)

Home to the Dukes of Devonshire, the Palladian house was completed in 1740 for the 3rd Duke, with William Kent serving as architect. This structure replaced the former Berkeley House, which burned. Berkeley House, bordered by Piccadilly and Berkeley Street, had been built in 1665-1673 by Lord Berkley and was later the residence of Charles II’s mistress, Barbara Villiers before the 1st Duke of Devonshire bought the classical mansion.

Though the exterior of Kent’s Devonshire House was plain, the interiors were said to be sumptuous, with a 40-foot long library the highlight of the three-story house.

It also housed what was said to be the finest art collection in England. Many of these paintings can now be found at the current duke’s opulent country house, Chatsworth House.

Devonshire House was famed in the late 18th century as the nucleus of Whig politics, presided over by the duchess Georgiana, wife to the 5th duke. A hundred years later a grand dress ball to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee was held there. Also during Victorian times, the house was altered by James Wyatt, who was one of the most fashionable architects in the late 19th century.

Large white building replaced Devonshire House in the 1920s; French building at right is Ritz; white, flat building in foreground is for London Underground. Taken from Green Park.

Large white building replaced Devonshire House in the 1920s; French building at right is Ritz; white, flat building in foreground is for London Underground. Taken from Green Park.

Following World War I, Devonshire House was abandoned in 1919 as the 9th Duke was the first to be required to pay high death duties. These amounted to £500,000 (approximately $16 million today). The 9th duke sold off much of his fine library, including a Caxton and many first editions of Shakespeare. In 1921, he sold Devonshire House and its three-acre garden for $750,000. The house was demolished in 1924, and an office building–also called Devonshire House–now stands on the site–Cheryl Bolen. See http://www.CherylBolen.com for more articles.