Monday, 27 May 2013

(8) Carlton House London - Demolition and Disbursement

The North Court and Frontage of Carlton House London facing
Pall Mall. Eight of the pillars you can see at left were 'recycled'.
From an engraving by T. Malton, 1800.
[Source : The Royalty Society]

This is the conclusion of my eight part series on Carlton House which included a fully guided 'virtual tour' of this great London 'Town House'. Should you not have read the earlier instalments in this series, please commence from HERE.

Should you reference this Blog elsewhere, please cite

As we know, Carlton House was 'pulled down' during 1826-27. But what prompted this seemingly wilful act of vandalism? 

It had simply "fallen from favour". His Majesty King George IV considered that its rooms were too small for large receptions, it lay too close to the busy Pall Mall, and that despite huge expenditure it was "antiquated and decrepit". The almost non-stop remodelling and redecoration of Carlton House effectively ceased after the celebrations marking the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. The Prince then toyed with the idea of almost totally rebuilding Carlton House to a grand plan produced by his Architect John Nash which was to include a dome and a pair of large flanking wings. But in the end the proposed site facing Pall Mall was considered too restrictive and the Government Treasury would not support the cost. The landscape painter and diarist Joseph Farington relates that on the 27th October 1821 Nash told him that "[the King] ...had felt a dislike to Carlton House and wished to remove to Buckingham House". The latter had been the residence of his late Mother, The Queen, and after her death in 1818 he had now 'transferred' his ambitions to "The Queen's House". Nash produced his first designs for the new Palace in 1821. 

Amusingly, on the 29th July 1831, Nash recounted to a Government Select Committee looking into the cost over-runs on Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace that the late King had declared to him that "I am too old to build a Palace. If the Public wish to have a Palace, I have no objection to build one, but I must have a pied-à-terre [a small private residence away from a primary residence]. I do not like Carlton House standing in a street...." No doubt the King meant that Windsor Castle would be his 'pied-à-terre'! One way or another the King would still have his Palace.

The previously mentioned fire in June 1824 appears to have further diminished the King's interest in Carlton House while he also lost a number of irreplaceable paintings. The fire-damaged painting below is described by the Royal Collection as "a wreck of what might once have been an imposing full-length portrait".

A monochrome copy of the badly
fire-damaged painting of the
Duke of Clarence by Hoppner,

In 1806 there had been no less than 40 indoors personal staff and servants working in Carlton House including, "a housekeeper, a wardrobe keeper, a maître d'hôtel, an inspector of Household deliveries, nine housemaids, four cooks, three watchmen, two kitchen boys, two confectioners, two coal porters, a coffee-room woman, a silver-scullery woman, and a table decker." This increased still further after George became Prince Regent in 1811 and no doubt again after 1820 when he finally became King George IV. 

Interestingly, while the frontage of the house was lit by gas from 1808, parts of the house are also recorded as being lit by gas prior to 1820. 

Carlton House London, as it appeared in "A Description of London :
Containing a Sketch if its History and Present State, and of All the
Most Celebrated Public Buildings, &c.", by William Darton, 1824.

Besides the King, Carlton House now had some quite vocal detractors. The House was "constantly under repair, but never improved, for no material alterations were made in its appearance". The King now craved privacy and found the workmen constantly engaged on repairs and maintenance at Carlton House "a great source of annoyance", not least for their natural curiosity. By now Carlton House was "blackened with dust and soot" and even a simple coat of lime-wash would not have gone amiss. 

The Italian Sculptor Antonio Canova, who had undertaken commissions for the Prince Regent, bluntly described Carlton House thus : "There are at Rome a thousand buildings more beautiful, and whose architecture is in comparison faultless, any one of which would be more suitable for a princely residence than that ugly barn". In his memoirs published in 1866, Captain Gronow described it as, "One of the meanest and most ugly edifices that ever disfigured London, notwithstanding it was screened by a row of columns...". 

A Plan of the Principal Floor of Carlton House as it stood in 1761.
Comparing this to our plan of 1813 below reveals considerable
 alterations and enlargements to the original fabric of the building.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

During a fractious Parliamentary debate on the question of the Royal Palaces in 1824, the Hon. Sir MW Ridley succinctly summed up his opinion on the matter :

"...he would put it to any man who heard him, whether there was any private Gentleman in the Kingdom so ill lodged as his Majesty. The situation of Carlton House was, he believed, well known to be so bad, that it could not possibly go on longer without a thorough repair. [He urged] the House to make a stand, and refuse to continue the wasteful system of voting away money year after year for small repairs, and require the attention of the Treasury to be directed to the providing at once of some more suitable residence, upon a grand and magnificent scale, fitting the dignity of the Sovereign of this country." Despite some dissention the vote was carried.

A Plan of the Principal Floor of Carlton House as
drawn in 1813.
[Source : British History Online]

It is apparent that the King, together with his Architect John Nash, jointly did their best to persuade Parliament that Carlton House was beyond economic repair and that public monies were now better spent elsewhere. Nash was not backward in actively promoting his grand scheme for not only the new Buckingham Palace but also for the grand Regency buildings which would replace Carlton House. 

In 1826 Nash went so far as to claim that Carlton House was in "poor structural condition and should be demolished". While he was naturally biased one must remember that parts of the original house dated from the beginning of the eighteenth century and had been enlarged even before the Prince took possession in 1783. Therefore parts of the house had already been standing for up to 120 years so there could still have been some truth to his claim. 

Buckingham House was fortuitously located on a large section of land which would allow for almost absolute privacy and future expansion. Carlton House was, one must freely admit, inconveniently wedged up against Pall Mall, surrounded by other residences in close proximity, with a long but perhaps not always private garden. As Queen Victoria inconveniently found at another of George's residences, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, one could simply be too close to one's subjects. 

What would replace Carlton House - A view of the East Front of
Buckingham Palace from St James's Park, as painted in 1846
[Source : The Royal Collection]

King George IV is noted as having used Carlton House on the 10th Dec 1825 when he inspected a "curious pony which stood only 32 inches high". The King asked that the pony be brought inside for him to view it whereupon it was allowed to trot up to his apartments. But by this stage the King was residing in 'Cumberland Lodge' in the grounds of Windsor Castle. 

The last recorded evidence of full-time occupation of Carlton House is the 5th November 1826 when a delivery of meat was made by Mr R. Hudson the Butcher. But we know that during 1826 the task of emptying the house had begun in earnest with the contents being stored in both the Riding House adjoining Carlton House and at St James's Palace - despite the latter having had a very serious fire in 1806. And as previously noted, many of the King's paintings had been placed on public display in the National Gallery in Pall Mall during 1826. By July 1827 the demolition of Carlton House is recorded to have been well under way. Unfortunately two workmen were killed while this work was being carried out but the circumstances are unknown. 

But what became of the valuable furniture and architectural fittings? 

In order to keep the cost of the new Buckingham Palace down, the furniture and very many of the "choice fittings" would be transferred primarily to the new Palace but also to Windsor Castle which was also being concurrently rebuilt. These very considerable cost savings helped persuade His Majesty's Government to provide additional funds from the public purse. But all would not be plain sailing. While The King would later be sternly criticized for his expenditure on Windsor Castle, he would also be "severely censured" after expenditure on his new Palace eventually rose from £252,690 to £700,000 But the commitment to build a new palace had been made. In the light of current values it was probably still an absolute bargain.

Much of the furniture and many of the architectural features at Carlton House would have proved impossible or at least very expensive to replace. The loss of Carlton House was but a small price to pay to achieve far greater things. 

A fine oak cabinet veneered with tulipwood, purplewood, mahogany
and boxwood; fitted with brocatello marble, gilt bronze mounts and
inset with ten soft-paste porcelain plaques; by Martin Carlin c.1783.
Purchased by the Prince of Wales for the 'Saloon' at Carlton House
around 1790.
[Source : The Royal Collection]

Fortuitously the sale of land leases upon which Carlton House and Gardens stood could also be used to defray the cost of the new Buckingham Palace. As the freehold belonged to the Crown Estate (and still does) a steady income could be derived from any new buildings. While the space where the actual Carlton House stood provided the central opening of the present day Waterloo Terrace, the Architect John Nash designed a series of handsome and still extant Regency buildings along the newly named 'Carlton Terrace'. These beautiful buildings are still an asset to central London.  

The West Terrace of Carlton House Terrace.
Built 1827-32 to an overall design by the Architect John Nash
but with detailed input from Decimus Burton.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

The majority of significant paintings and furniture are well recorded within the Royal Collections, having been safely transferred to either the new Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle. Very many architectural features in both these Royal residences also have a Carlton House provenance. 

"In the year 1828 [sic?]....Carlton House was demolished; much of the ornamental interior details—such as marble mantelpieces, friezes, and columns - being transferred to Buckingham Palace." "Old & New London", Vol IV by Edward Walford, 1878.

King George IV himself also insisted that "...he did not want his beautiful fireplaces and doors from Carlton House to disappear with the rest of the building; those that were not required at Buckingham Palace must be found a place at Windsor Castle". Wyatville, the architect for the 1823-26 rebuilding of Windsor Castle, duly obliged, also being asked to re-use some armorial stained glass from the Carlton House Conservatory. Through some interesting 'architectural archaeology', a number of doors from Carlton House have been positively identified at Windsor Castle.

The White, Green and Crimson Drawing Rooms in Windsor Castle include a total of sixty-two 'trophies' comprising of carved, gilded wooden panels illustrating weapons and the spoils of war, many with Masonic meanings. These were originally brought from Carlton House in 1826, some being originally imported from France and others carved by the English Carver and Gilder, Edward Wyatt. Restored or replaced after the fire in 1992, these trophies are well-known for their "vitality, precision and three-dimensional quality".

Armorial stained glass from the Conservatory was also incorporated into the windows at Windsor Castle however I have been unable to locate any images to display on this page.

But it would appear that architectural features not wanted at the two primary Royal residences were also made use of in at least one other property having a strong association with the King. In some cases it would now appear that items of no use such as panelling and other 'architectural salvage' were simply sold, either commercially or through the Office of Works. Recent 'architectural archaeology' has proved quite fascinating and further interesting discoveries may yet be made.

Painted detail of a door at Tor Royal in Dartmoor,
reliably confirmed as having been the Prince's
Bedchamber door at Carlton House, London.
[Used with kind permission of Patrick Baty]

Through some clever research Patrick Baty, a qualified "Paint Detective", has proven beyond reasonable doubt that two sets of decoratively painted doors from Carlton House are now located at Tor Royal House in Dartmoor, a house which does have a proven association with the Prince of Wales. More precisely, Mr Baty's research established that one set of doors had hung between the Blue Velvet Room and the Prince Regent's own Bedchamber. The full article may be read Here. As previously mentioned, Mr Baty had also rediscovered the gilded panelling from the Gothic Dining Room, "which had been dismantled and moved to another location and was hidden under layers of later paint." Unfortunately the location has not been divulged, I believe at the request of the current owner.  

The Gothic Dining Room - Research has shown
 that panelling survives from this room, but
sadly under subsequent layers of paint.

Interestingly, only about ten years ago, I can recall seeing an old and rather large Georgian styled open cast iron fireplace pan with supporting side andirons, and carrying George's Royal Cypher on the back plate, and quite surprisingly sitting for sale in a second-hand shop in a country town here in New Zealand. A written note stated that it had originally come from Carlton House, most probably a less important service room or bedroom. The provenance would have been hard to prove but for its obvious age and the indisputable inclusion of George's own cypher. While I use the word "cypher" this may have been the Prince of Wales's feathers but my memory unfortunately eludes me on that exact point. I was fascinated but had no desire to pay the asking price. I wish now that I had taken a photograph.  

An "elaborate fountain in imitation of the Temple of Jupiter at Rome" had been proposed for the space between the two new Nash ranges on Carlton Terrace, utilising eight columns from the portico of Carlton House. But it then occurred to those in authority that this area couple be opened up to create a grand entrance from Pall Mall through to the Mall and St. James Park. William Wilkins, the Architect for the new National Gallery in London was then "forced" to use the columns due to "a thrifty piece of Government recycling" which caused him to alter his plans to suit. Apparently the front elevation of Carlton House had been advantageously viewed from "rising ground" but the National Gallery is viewed from a "low viewpoint" which did not best suit the architectural style employed. This has led to some derision, then - and now. Interestingly, the National Gallery state that the Architect, William Wilkins, "selected eight of the columns for use in his new National Gallery building. In the event, he then decided they were too small for the central portico. However, it is conceivable that they were eventually used in the east and west porticos." This is quite plausible but it would also appear that the central portico does not, as many believe, include any columns from Carlton House nor in any case was Wilkins particularly keen to make use of them! 

The National Gallery London, Jan 2013.
Four of the Ionic columns believed to have come from
Carlton House are highlighted in the red box.
[Source : "The Anglophile"]

Columns from the Ionic 'screen' which separated the Principal Court from Pall Mall were used in the construction of (I believe) all four Buckingham Palace [Nash designed] Conservatories, one later being moved to Kew Gardens in 1836. 

These columns from the portico and the screen were, even as early as 1832, believed to be the only remaining and identifiable exterior parts of Carlton House remaining. 

The Nash Conservatory at Kew Gardens, having been moved from
the grounds of Buckingham Palace in 1836. The Ionic columns from
the Carlton House 'Screen' are marked in a red box at right.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

All items from the Armoury were also transferred to two new rooms in a purpose built Armoury in the "South Tower" of the new Buckingham Place located next to the Chapel.

The greatest loss appears to have been the elegant cast-iron Carlton House Conservatory, I can find no confirmed reference to its fate other than the Armorial glass mentioned above which was re-used at Windsor Castle. Perhaps rust and brittle cast iron construction took their toll? 

While elements of Carlton House remain, primarily still in Royal ownership, we shall ever be thankful that two Master Engravers preserved so many views of this great house for posterity.  

In 1991, The Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace held a fascinating exhibition "Carlton House: The Past Glories of George IV's Palace" which brought together many objects previously within Carlton House. The Director of the Gallery, Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue, observed that "One could easily do another exhibition of equally important material without a single duplication." One hopes that this shall be possible, even dare I suggest, the interesting scenario of recreating one or two rooms within a painted backdrop complete with all extant objects which had been placed within these rooms. Either way, we wait and hope....

Comments correcting any unintentional errors are welcome but a reference source would be appreciated.

Should you reference this Blog elsewhere, please cite

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. Great post. Who said that destruction of heritage architecture is a modern phenomenon? You have cited King George himself not wanting the architectural and decorative features to be totally lost, but hey... that is what happens. Nash could have certainly adapted Carlton House, had the will been there.

    1. Thank you Hels, The whole question of why Carlton Houses needed to be demolished has always troubled me but I feel I have a more balanced view now. I still feel sad that the shell of the building itself had to go but without it's treasures it would merely have been a sad shadow of itself. Nash was obviously filled with equally grandiose schemes but was ably aided and abetted by others with their own agendas.


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