Apsley House

Large house in/near Hyde Park Corner, existing between 1799 and now

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Large house · Hyde Park Corner · W1J ·
JANUARY
8
2018

There is a rumour that the 1st Duke of Wellington insisted his post to his home, Apsley House, be addressed as Number One, London. It however was not due only to ego.


Apsley House stands alone at Hyde Park Corner, on the south-east corner of Hyde Park, facing south towards the busy traffic roundabout in the centre of which stands the Wellington Arch.

The house is now run by English Heritage and is open to the public as a museum and art gallery, although the 8th Duke of Wellington still uses the building as a part-time residence. It is sometimes referred to as the Wellington Museum. It is perhaps the only preserved example of an English aristocratic town house from its period.

The practice has been to maintain the rooms as far as possible in the original style and decor. It contains the 1st Duke’s collection of paintings, porcelain, the silver centrepiece made for the Duke in Portugal, c. 1815, sculpture and furniture. Antonio Canova’s heroic marble nude of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker made 1802-10, holding a gilded Nike in the palm of his right hand, and standing 3.45 metres to the raised left hand holding a staff. It was set up for a time in the Louvre and was bought by the Government for Wellington in 1816 (Pevsner) and stands in Adam’s Stairwell.

The house was given the popular nickname of Number One, London, since it was the first house passed by visitors who travelled from the countryside after the toll gates at Knightsbridge. It was originally part of a contiguous line of great houses on Piccadilly, demolished to widen Park Lane.

In 1807 the house was purchased by Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley, the elder brother of Sir Arthur Wellesley, but in 1817 financial difficulties forced him to sell it to his famous brother, by then the Duke of Wellington, who needed a London base from which to pursue his new career in politics.

Gerald Wellesley, 7th Duke of Wellington, gave the house and its most important contents to the nation in 1947, but by the Wellington Museum Act 1947 the right of the family to occupy just over half the house was preserved so long as there is a Duke of Wellington. The family apartments are now on the north side of the house, concentrated on the second floor.


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Hyde Park Corner

At the other end of Park Lane from Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner has struck terror into many a learner driver.

In the centre of the roundabout stands Constitution Arch (or Wellington Arch), designed by Decimus Burton as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington and originally providing a grand entrance to London. It was built as a northern gate to the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Originally the arch was topped with an equestrian statue of the Duke by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, but it was replaced with the current work, The Angel of Peace descending on the Quadriga of Victory (1912) by Adrian Jones.

Other monuments at Hyde Park Corner include Jones’s Monument to the Cavalry of the Empire (off the west side of Park Lane), Alexander Munro’s Boy and Dolphin statue (in a rose garden parallel to Rotten Row, going west from Hyde Park Corner), the Wellington Monument (off the west side of Park Lane) and a statue of Byron (on a traffic island opposite the Wellington Monument).

To the north of the roundabout is Apsley House, the home of the first Duke of Wellington. Such was Wellington’s ego, that he insisted that his letters were addressed to Number 1, London.

Hyde Park Corner was used as a code to announce to the Government the death of King George VI in 1952.

Hyde Park Corner tube station was opened by the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway on 15 December 1906. It is one of the few stations which have no associated buildings above ground, the station being fully underground.

The original, Leslie Green-designed station building still remains to the south of the road junction, notable by its ox-blood coloured tiles; it was until June 2010 used as a pizza restaurant, and since January 2013 it is the Wellesley Hotel. The building was taken out of use in the early 1930s when the station was provided with escalators in place of lifts although an emergency stairway provides a connection to the platforms. The lift shafts are now used to provide ventilation.

After the station was rebuilt with escalators the adjacent little-used station at Down Street to the east (towards Green Park) was taken out of use.
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