Tuesday 19 March 2013

(1) Carlton House London - A Background to this Great House

Carlton House, London A view of the North Front facing Pall Mall
and showing the elegant Corinthian styled Porte-Cochère

"At domus interior regali splendida luxu Instruitur
[From "The Æneid" by Virgil, 29-19 BC]

While Carlton House has not existed since 1826-27, the story of this grand London 'Town House' and its colourful owner and principal occupant, George, Prince of Wales, later to become Prince Regent in 1811 and then H.M. King George IV in 1820, endure. Carlton House was simply the most important house of its time in Britain.

Should you reference this Blog elsewhere, please cite 

But thanks primarily to the Master Engravers, William James Bennett and William Henry Pyne, we can still view the opulent and breathtaking interiors of this amazing house in great detail, and even more surprising considering they were published in 1819, do so in vibrant colour.

The Prince of Wales, as painted
by Richard Cosway in 1792
[Source : Wikipedia]

In this new series, we shall embark on a fascinating fully escorted 'Virtual Tour' of Carlton House using the above-mentioned good quality colour engravings. Of necessity, this series is broken up into eight separate but contiguous blogs as follows : (with clickable links)

1) A Background to this Great House.
2) A 'Virtual Tour' of the Entrance Rooms.
3) A 'Virtual Tour' of the State Apartments on the Principal Floor.
4) A 'Virtual Tour' of the Prince's Private Apartments on the Principal Floor.
5) A 'Virtual Tour ' of the Staircase, Gallery and Upper Floor.
6) A 'Virtual Tour' of the East Range of State Apartments on the Lower Floor.
7) A 'Virtual Tour' of the West Range of State Apartments on the Lower Floor including the Gardens.
8) Demolition and Disbursement.

Carlton House sat on the present day Waterloo Place and
 between The United Services Club and The Athenaeum Club.
From an early map, circa pre 1790.

But first, a little background to the history of Carlton House which will help to put your tour into perspective :

In 1783, King George III, granted his son, George Prince of Wales, the "old-fashioned and in parts dilapidated" Carlton House, along with a refurbishment sum of £60,000  Directly facing Pall Mall to the north, the south side was at least separated from The Mall by a garden [shown on above plan] safely hidden from public view behind a wall. George promptly engaged the Architect Henry Holland to substantially rebuild this large and rambling early 18th century London mansion into a Town House more befitting his Royal position. Holland favoured the fashionable neoclassical and Parisian French style of Louis XVI and these became evident in his work at Carlton House. The majority of craftsmen, decorators, cabinet-makers, metal-workers, and wood-carvers employed on the house were brought over from France.

"Design for the Pediments, Panels over the Doors, Pateras and
 Trophies over the Columns and Pilasters" of Carlton House, as
drawn by the Architect James Adam and published in
"Works in Architecture" sometime before 1822.

The house reflected the neoclassical style favoured by Holland. But cost over-runs, along with the Prince of Wales's personal debts (of around £250,000), plagued the rebuilding work, primarily due to his opulent lifestyle and his desire that only the best would do for what would be his primary residence. In 1787 George "contritely" approached his Father, King George III, who was finally persuaded to advance a further £60,000 to finish the rebuilding work. Such rebuilding work included the purchase of neighbouring properties which were then demolished to make way for new wings. In 1789 yet another £60,000 was required for "continuing improvements", further adding to the the Prince's debts. By 1796 the Prince himself owed the quite staggering sum of £630,000

An engraving of The Prince of Wales out for a Morning Ride
on Pall Mall, by James Gillray, 1804. Note the 'Ionic screen'
fronting Carlton House.
[Source : The National Portrait Gallery]

Opinions varied and for many, the sumptuous interiors of Carlton House were "really all too much", "superfluous", and "almost vulgar in its opulence", yet everyone wanted to see them. The Novelist Robert Plumer Ward believed that "[Carlton House] was worthy to stand comparison to Versailles". But Robert Smirke, the rather staid Architect of many public buildings in London including the British Museum, considered "it overdone with finery". To celebrate his Regency in 1811 [due to the serious illness of his Father, King George III], The Prince Regent opened his house to the public for fully three days. On the third day no less than 30,000 people tried to get in.

"Design of the Entablature & Britannic Order for 
the Gateway [portico?] proposed for Carleton
 House", As drawn by the Architect James
Adam and published in "Works in Architecture"
sometime before 1822.

In 1814, during the celebrations for the defeat and exile of Napoleon Bonaparte, which included the visit of the Russian Tsar and the King of Prussia to London, "Carlton House was illuminated... with green and yellow flares placed between palm trees in painted tubs..."

Coins of the Realm 1816 & 1822 - King George III on the left,
who reigned from 1760 to 1820, and King George IIII [IV] on
 the right, who reigned from 1820 to 1830 (and as Prince
Regent from 1811 to 1820).
[From my own family collection]

Despite considerable personal debts [still over £500,000 in 1811] the Prince Regent authorised further rebuilding work by the Architect John Nash, the premier Architect of the Regency Age, between 1814 and 1815. Nash worked in many architectural styles, from Gothic to Italianate, Palladian and Greek, and these are reflected in Carlton House.

A hand-coloured engraving of Pall Mall and the Ionic 'screen'
fronting Carlton House, 1809. Note the gas lamps within the
columns, having been installed as early as 1808.
[From "Ackerman's Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce,
Manufacturers, Fashion and Politics"]

While the Prince Regent no doubt had access to further Government funds on account of his new Royal duties, he was still hardly economical with his spending. At least one vocal Whig politician openly criticised his "reckless expenditure". But it must still be said that he was invariably generous to family and friends should the need arise.

The Ionic 'screen' which separated Carlton House from Pall Mall
[Source : Ackerman's Repository, 1811]

As a connoisseur of the arts - and a very knowledgeable one by most accounts - only the best would do. It is recorded that the furniture in Carlton House alone cost the nation an astonishing £260,000 But the Prince's patronage of the arts and of artists, scientists and scholars was commended by the otherwise critical Architect Robert Smirke, "...as compensation for his many faults and follies, and that he was a truly discerning connoisseur as well as a generous patron."

The Prince Regent, as painted
by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1816
[Source : Wikipedia]

Alongside the magnificent collection of primarily French styled furniture, Carlton House also contained a large collection of valuable paintings which were intended to form the nucleus of a new National Collection, also replacing the valuable Royal Collection sold during the Commonwealth. These include contemporary artists which George patronised, including Reynolds, Gainsborough, Dance, Hoppner and Conway. With his Art Adviser, the Prince also bought a valuable collection of Old Masters by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Van Dyck. An 1816 inventory of Art Works in Carlton House lists 136 pictures in the State Rooms, a further 67 in the Prince of Wales' private suite, and another 250 spread around other rooms within the house. When lending pictures for an exhibition at the National Gallery in 1826 [then located at 100 Pall Mall], George is quoted as saying, "I have not formed it for my own pleasure alone.... but to gratify the public taste."

Carlton House London, South Front

After the death of his ailing Father, King George III in 1820, the Prince Regent was finally crowned King George IV. Considering that of the Royal residences in London neither Carlton House, St James's Palace, Kensington Palace, or his late Father's Buckingham House were adequate for his needs, some consideration was given to further enlarging Carlton House. Ceremonial occasions demanded additional space including the necessity of housing an "enormous" army of household staff. Space considerations finally favoured Buckingham House, then with Government approval, being rebuilt as Buckingham Palace. Carlton House was thus demolished in 1826-27, with many architectural features being transferred to the new Palace. But unfortunately, King George IV died in 1830 before his new Palace was completed.

King George IV, as painted
by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1822
[Source : Wikipedia]

The final Blog is this series will discuss in greater detail the reasons behind the demolition of Carlton House. But as we shall read during this series, we also came so uncomfortably close to losing many, if not all, of the irreplaceable treasures within this great house. That would definitely have been a far greater tragedy.

The next blog in this series commences [click here for link] the actual fully guided 'virtual tour' of Carlton House using extant period engravings with each room marked on a floor plan while highlighting significant objects.

Should you reference this Blog elsewhere, please cite 

Bibliography :

- Unless otherwise stated all images are from Wikipedia Commons and in the Public Domain.
- "The Beauties of England and Wales, Or, Delineations, Topographical, Historical and Descriptive", Volume X, Part V, by J Norris Brewer, 1816.
- "Life in London", by Pierce Egan, 1821.
- "British Galleries of Painting and Sculpture", by CM Westmacott, 1824
- "Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London", Vol 2, by Augustus Pugin and John Britton, 1838.
- "Old & New London", Vol IV by Edward Walford, 1878.
- "George IV", by Christopher Hibbert, 1972.
- "Nineteenth Century Decoration- The Art of the Interior", by Charlotte Gere, 1989.
- The Royal Collection Website.
- Various Internet written sources including Wikipedia. All have been considerably re-worded.
- Unless otherwise stated, all engraving were originally published in "The History of the Royal Residences" published in 1819, being the work of master engravers William James Bennett (1787-1844) and William Henry Pyne (1769-1843).

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