Friday, 26 April 2013

(5) Carlton House London - A Virtual Tour of the Staircase, Gallery and Upper Floor

Sultan Tipu astride his Horse

This is a continuation of our fully guided 'virtual tour' of Carlton House, London. Should you not have read the earlier instalments in this series, please commence from HERE.

Should you reference this Blog elsewhere, please cite

Marked plans of each floor will show your location as you progress through each room.

To refresh our memory, we are again in the 'Octagon Room' or Vestibule.

Location of The Octagon Room

Although we have viewed this engraving of the 'Octagon' Room (or Vestibule) before, we should first take another look up at the gallery above from which we may very shortly again view the 'Octagon' room below us.

The Vestibule (Octagon Room) with the Gallery above

To view the Gallery we must pass through the doorway on the western side of the Octagon (to our left on the above engraving) and ascend the Great Staircase to the upper level.

The Entrance to the
Great Staircase

So, let us now ascend the Great Staircase :

Location of the Great Staircase

Leading from the Basement level of Carlton House (we shall descend down here shortly), a graceful double staircase (as shown in the 1812 engraving below) sweeps up the oval shaped circular walls past the Principal Floor to the 'Chamber Floor' above. Although major remodelling of the 'Great Staircase' appears to have taken place around 1814, the engraving below illustrates some of the figures and termini within the wall recesses (which are at Principal Floor level) referred to below by our visitor from 1816.

"....It is not placed in too conspicuous a situation : the access to it is perfectly easy; it is well and equally lighted in every part;... The [staircase] cannot be seen till you advance close to it, when the most brilliant effect is produced by the magical management of the light. Opposite the entrance is a flight of twelve steps, thirteen feet long; and on either side of the landing-place at the top of these is another flight of steps of the same length, which takes a circular sweep up to the chamber-floor.
On a level with the first floor are eight divisions, arched over; two of these are occupied by Time pointing to the hours on a dial; and AEolus supporting a map of a circular form, with the points of the compass marked round it. [one period commentator acknowledged the two "bronzed colossal figures" referring to one figure to "Atlas" but also to the latter  figure as "Time" - and not AEolus - as supporting a circular map of Europe].

The central division forms the entrance to an anti-room; and the others are adorned with female figures of bronze in the form of termini, supporting lamps." [J.N.B., 1816]

The Great Staircase as it appeared around 1812
From "Microcosms of London"

The railing is particularly rich, glittering with ornaments of gold, intermixed with bronze beads. The sky-light is embellished with rich painted glass, in panes of circles, lozenges, prince's plumes, roses &c." [J.N.B., 1816]

Hung on the staircase wall is an equestrian portrait of "King George II" by Morier; and "The Archangel Michael" by Reynolds.

King George II on a Horse by Morier, c.1745

Below is the 'Floor Standing Clock' by 'Breguet et Fils' of Paris which King George IV acquired in 1824, being placed at the top of the Great Staircase. It does not appear on our engravings which pre-date this period.

This 'Floor Standing Clock'
by Breguet et Fils, 1824

Ascending the 'Great Staircase' to the upper 'Bedchamber Floor', we enter the adjoining 'Gallery of the Staircase' where we can then look down on the 'Octagon' room below. But first our eyes are instinctively drawn up to the delightful fan vaulting and the octagonal shaped fan-light window which allows light to filter through the open centre of the gallery down to the 'Octagon' Room below and, it would appear, also to the staircase. Arranged around the walls are a number of statuettes on plinths.

The Gallery of the Staircase

Views of the interiors of the 'Bedchamber' floor of Carlton House are sadly lacking. Britton and Pugin in their 1838 work "Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London" note that the house "....can henceforth be known only by the records that have been preserved of it." But for even these images we must be thankful.

Windows on the upper [Bedchamber] Floor facing Carlton House Gardens, were of the sash type (sliding up and down) and almost square but, as with the Principal Floor, also included a small decorative iron railing. Those windows facing the Principal Court and Pall Mall lacked the iron railing.

But surprisingly, the eastern side of the upper floor also contained not only a valuable and unique "Armoury Museum" containing arms and armoury, but also displays "... of various works of art, dresses, &c.". This area was not generally shown to guests, nor were any of these rooms specifically engraved for the 1819 work in which the majority of the engravings shown here appeared. The Armoury rooms are described in 1824 as being situated "....on the attic-story of the eastern wing and gallery, which leads to the upper vestibule....".

"It is arranged with great order, skill, and taste, under the immediate inspection of his Royal Highness... [and] occupies five rooms in the attic story; the swords, fire-arms, &c. disposed in various figures upon scarlet cloth, and inclosed [sic] in glass cases;... Here are swords of every country.... In another room are various specimens of plate armour, helmets, and weapons...; a curious collection of fire-arms, from the match-lock to the modern improvement in the firelock, air-guns, pistols, &c. In this room are also some curious saddles, Mameluke, Turkish, &c... Another room contains Asiatic armour; and effigy of Tippoo [Tipu] Sultan on horseback, in a dress that he wore; also models of cannon and a mortar... ; some delicate and curious Chinese works of art in ivory, many rich Eastern dresses, and palanquin of very costly materials. In another apartment are some curious old English weapons, battle-axes, maces, daggers, arrows, &c.; several specimens from the Sandwich and other South Sea Islands, of weapons, stone hatchets, &c. Boots, series of them, as worn in various ages... In presses are kept an immense collection of rich dresses of all countries; also sets of uniforms... All sorts of banners, colours, hore-tails, &c.; Roman swords, daggers, stilettoes, sabres, the great two-handed sword,.... Besides the portraits of several Dukes of Brunswick, and Count de Lippe, are those of the Emperor Joseph II [as shown below], Frederick [sic Peter?] the Great, and of various Princes and great men renowned for their talent in the art of war."  [David Hughson LL.D., 1809]

A Room in the Armoury, as drawn by Pugin in 1814
The effigy on horseback is Sultan Tippoo.
Note the weaponry even decorating the ceiling!
[Source : The Royal Collection]

Not mentioned by Hughson, but perhaps even acquired later, were another model of a horse [placed alongside that of Sultan Tipu and visible in the image above] and described as being "comparisoned with the ornaments which belonged to Murat Bey", the saddle and bridle of Herman Platoff, a coat of mail belonging to Elphi Bey, a Persian war-dress, the war-dress of a Chinese Tartar, the dagger of Zhingis [Genghis] Khan, and a magnificent palauquin of ivory and gold belonging to Sultan Tipu. The whole collection was observed as being "unrivalled".

A monochrome copy of the painting of "Peter the Great" of
Russia acquired by the Prince Regent and hung in the
Armoury. Restoration in 1905 identified the portrait as
King Carlos II of Spain.
After Luca Giordano, c.1680-1720
[Source : The Royal Collection]

Monochrome copy of the painting of Joseph II,
the Emperor of Austria, by Hickel, c.1785
[Source : The Royal Collection]

Another observer, with his account being published in "The Crypt, Or Receptacle For Things Past" in 1828 [after the demolition of Carlton House] additionally describes the 'Plate Room' :

 "Next to the armoury... was the plate-room. This has been allowed to contain the finest collection of the kind in Europe. The plate is chiefly silver-gilt, and most of it in modern fashion. It occupied three sides of a large room, the fourth side being formed of bronze rail-work. The larger portions of plate were tastefully spread within glass cases, and an uncommonly beautiful sight was thus presented to the spectator. The fronts of the cases were formed of plate-glass, each square of which cost £30 to £40. In this room were preserved some fine specimens of King Charles's plate, as well as some splendid presents from various branches of the Royal Family; particularly a curious silver-gilt antique salt-stand; &c. from the Princess Elizabeth, given on the day of her marriage. The centre of the room was occupied with closets so formed and closed so as to appear like, and in reality to make, a large round table : the interior was wholly composed of plate, columns being formed by piles of gold and silver knives, forks, spoons &c. The service of plate spread out in the glass cases, and the masses of plate when opened, which formed the centre of the room astonished everyone who beheld them."

This now brings us to another mystery which involves some detective work. We know that a set of four Gobelins tapestries depicting the story of Don Quixote were acquired by the [then] Prince of Wales. An account dated 1794 refers to the cost of purchasing crimson damask curtains for the "Princess' Private Drawing Room" at Carlton House. George had married Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel in April 1795, a disastrous marriage but that's another story!

"Sancho Panza Despairs at the Loss of his Donkey" - one
of a set of four Gobelins tapestries from c.1786 believed
 to have decorated the Queen's Private Drawing Room.
[Source : The Royal Collection

As was the custom at Carlton House, the curtains were almost certainly intended to match the other hangings in the room. As there were no other Gobelins tapestries in the Royal collection at this time with a crimson background it is assumed that these four Gobelins tapestries were used to decorate Queen Caroline's Private Drawing Room. As no suite of rooms are marked for the Queen's use in our 1795 plan of the principal floor it must be assumed that they were located on the upper floor. It is recorded that prior to 1814 the basement floor had primarily contained service rooms (although the 'Prince's Dining Room' had apparently been on the basement floor in the same location as post 1814). So it is most unfortunate that there does not appear to be an extant upper floor plan.

My previous Blog in this series would lead one to the assumption that the Prince's Daughter Charlotte occupied this suite of rooms with her Governesses, which would have included a bedchamber, until Charlotte moved to Montague House in 1804. We simply don't know if the Prince himself then occupied this particular suite of rooms.

We must now return to the 'Great Staircase' and descend fully two floors down the elliptical staircase to the Basement Floor where the Lower Apartments are located. 

"Underneath is another staircase, descending to the lower apartments. The general form is an ellipsis, forty-one feet long, by twenty-three feet wide, lighted by a sky light of the whole extent." [J.N.B., 1816] 

The remodelled Great Staircase, as viewed
from just above the Basement Floor

This is the view we see in the engraving of the remodelled 'Great Staircase' above. We can also clearly see the French Pedestal Clock made by Jean-Baptiste Farine in 1740, which had formerly resided at the Palace of Versailles, being acquired by the Prince Regent in 1816. 

The French Pedestal Clock by
Jean-Baptiste Farine dated 1740
which can be seen in the
engraving above, having been
 acquired in 1816
[Source : The Royal Collection]

We can also observe a servant carrying a tray down the staircase to the Basement Floor. The life of a servant would have involved a daily ritual of waiting, carrying, fetching, and running up and down stairs, but wherever practicable via the servants back-stairs rather than the Great Staircase lest he pass his Royal Master. Etiquette demanded that servants not speak and look down or turn away should they be passed by any member of the Royal family. The Prince "constantly complained of the servants staring at him, and that strict orders had been given to discharge any one caught repeating the offence" [Gronow, 1866] 

Location of the Great Staircase as viewed on a plan of the
 Basement Floor. This plan of the Basement Floor is post
1813 after rebuilding work was completed. 

The next Blog in this series, which takes us on a 'Virtual Tour' of the varied and magnificent East Range of State Apartments on the Lower Floor may be viewed HERE.

Comments or corrections of any unintentional errors are appreciated however please cite your source.

Bibliography :

- Unless otherwise stated all images are from Wikipedia Commons and are in the Public Domain.
- Please refer to the first instalment in this series for the full bibliography.

1 comment:

  1. Standing in the vestibule or octagon room and looking up to the gallery above must have been an amazing experience. Symmetry and elegance, along with light streaming into the lower room from above.

    We can tell that the gallery must have been important to the room below because of the money spent on decoration that might not have been seen that often - fan vaulting, an octagonal shaped fan-light window and splendid iron railing. Noone spends truck loads of money on something they don't value.

    Can you think of this architectural model (gallery above a room below) in more recently built or renovated country homes?


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