Saturday, June 7, 2014

Take The Duke of Wellington Tour

by Kristine Hughes

The Duke of Wellington’s lifetime spanned the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras – Wellington served four monarchs, defeated Napoleon, served as Prime Minister and knew most of the famous and infamous personalities of the periods. Kristine Hughes and Victoria Hinshaw, authors and bloggers at Number One London, have taken all the best bits of Wellington’s life and incorporated them into The Duke of Wellington Tour, September 2014, with stops in London, Kent, Brighton, Hampshire and Windsor.

The Duke of Wellington Tour will take in many of the sites associated with the Duke’s lifetime, including a selection of diverse and visually stunning stately homes in England – Apsley House, Walmer Castle, the Brighton Pavilion, the Regency Town House, Stratfield Saye, Basildon Park, Highclere Castle, Frogmore House and Windsor Castle. Each of these properties will afford us with a unique perspective on the daily lives of those who lived in, worked in and visited these homes. Here are the highlights, and literary connections, of just a few of the stops on the Tour.

Apsley House - The house became familiarly known as Number One, London as it was the first house after the Knightsbridge toll gates upon entering London. Originally a red brick building, the House was built between 1781-1787 by architect Robert Adam for Baron Apsley, later the second Earl Bathurst. It was purchased by Marquess Wellesley, elder brother to Arthur Wellesley, in 1807, who ran into financial difficulties soon after. Needing a base of operations and residence in London, and seeking to ease his brother's financial burdens, the ever practical Duke purchased the house in 1817 and then hired Benjamin Wyatt to carry out restorations to Apsley House. Many elements of Adam’s and Wyatt’s work remain and we’ll have the opportunity to see many examples of Regency architecture as we tour rooms that have also been visited by the Prince Regent, Queen Victoria, the Marquess of Angelsey and a host of Waterloo veterans who returned each year to attend Wellington’s famous Waterloo Banquets.

We’ll also be amongst the first to see the recent renovations made in order to return the Entrance Hall to its original designs, though we’ll be far from the first tourists to desire a peek into the interior – the Duke of Wellington had the following notice posted outside Apsley House: “Those desirous of seeing the Interior of the HOUSE are requested to ring at the door of entrance and to express their desire. It is wished that the practice of stopping on the paved walk to look in the windows should be discontinued.”

The Brighton Pavilion – The embodiment of the excesses of the Regency era, the Royal Pavilion was the Prince Regent’s seaside pleasure palace where the likes of Beau Brummell, Mrs. Fitzherbert and Lady Jersey held sway. No expense was spared when the Prince hired John Nash to turn a Marine Pavilion completed by Henry Holland in 1787 into a fantastical building that has inspired many a wry comment down the centuries. Sydney Smith remarked upon seeing the Pavilion, "It looks like St. Paul’s Cathedral came down and pupped,” whilst Princess Lieven recorded the Duke of Wellington's reaction to his first visit to the Pavilion in 1822: “I wish you were here to laugh. You cannot imagine how astonished the Duke of Wellington is. He had not been here before, and I thoroughly enjoy noting the kind of remark and the kind of surprise that the whole household evokes in a new-comer. I do not believe that, since the days of Heliogabalus, there have been such magnificence and such luxury. There is something effeminate in it which is disgusting. One spends the evening half-lying on cushions; the lights are dazzling; there are perfumes, music, liquers – 'Devil take me, I think I must have got into bad company.' You can guess who said that, and the tone in which it was said.”

The Prince Regent engaged the celebrated French chef,
Antonin CarĂªme, to cook for his guests and a tour of
the Pavilion’s period kitchens will be a highlight of our visit.

Basildon Park – This stunning Georgian mansion, once home to the Fane and, afterwards, the Sykes family, was derelict when rescued in the 1950’s by Lord and Lady Iliffe, who scoured the country salvaging 18th-century architectural fixtures and fittings to replace those lost by time and while the house was used in the war effort. When the building work was done, Lord and Lady Iliffe filled the home with period paintings, fabrics and furniture, as can be seen today, along with a fully fitted 1950’s kitchen.

A testament to the authentic restoration of the house is that it has frequently been used as a film setting, appearing as Netherfield Park during the filming of the 2005 version of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and as a set for another Keira Knightley film, The Duchess, in 2008. The interiors of Basildon Park were most recently used as the Crawley family’s London residence, Grantham House.

However, the grounds are also of interest, as this passage from a letter written by Elizabeth Montagu in August 23, 1747, explains: "The situation is, like most grottoes, placed where a grotto would not be looked for: it joins to the house. Now having told its only defect, I will go on to the rest. The first room is fitted up entirely with shells, the sides and ceiling in beautiful mosaic, a rich cornice of flowers in baskets and cornucopias, and the little yellow sea snail is so disposed in shades as to resemble knots of ribbon which seem to tye up some of the bunches of flowers. There is a bed for the Hermit, which is composed of rich shells, and so shaded that the curtain seems folded and flowing. . . . The room adjoining it is the true and proper style for a grotto; it is composed of rough rock work in a very bold taste, the water falls down it into a cold bath. This grotto is about 50 yards from the Thames, to which the descent is very precipitate.”


Full Itinerary and Details for the Duke of Wellington Tour can be found here.


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