[A]s a life long supporter of the National Trust I find writing this post a very depressing experience, for we in London have destroyed much of our heritage in the name of modernity. Many of London’s demolished buildings were not, of course, of sufficient merit to keep, or in an economically repairable condition, but here I give you eight of our lost London gems:
Carlton House, Pall Mall
Thirty years in the making, the sums involved sufficient to virtually sink the monarchy and according to architect Robert Smirke ‘overdone with finery’. Like all boys’ toys no sooner was it finished than the Prince Regent ascended to the throne, lost interest in it and started work on Buckingham House for his palace. By 1827 the whole thing had been swept away. The only lasting reminder is Carlton House Terrace.
Devonshire House, Piccadilly
Completed in 1737 and with footmen who wore epaulettes of solid silver and entertainment that featured the Duke of Devonshire’s own private orchestra you get the idea of what William Kent’s masterpiece for the 3rd Duke of Devonshire was like for opulence. Torn down in 1924 to make way for a car showroom, there is only a large pair of wrought-iron gates into Green Park at the end of Broad Walk marking its place in London.
Dorchester House, Park Lane
The grandest house on one of London’s most prestigious thoroughfares built for millionaire
R. S. Holford by Louis Vulliamy in 1857 and modelled on Rome’s Villa Farnesina. One chimney piece alone of Carrara marble took 10 years to complete, and the principle staircase cost £30,000, more amazing considering the fact that its owner was a commoner. In 1927 the house was demolished and the staircase knocked down to salvage for just £273 to make was for the hotel of the same name.
Lansdowne House, Berkeley Square
Robert Adam built this in a style that can only be described as a palace for Lord Bute, but it was acquired by the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne before completion. Leased by Gordon Selfridge, before he lost all when he took up with a pair of Hungarian-American cuties known in music-hall circles as the Dolly Sisters, and fell into rakish ways. After that in the 1930s it was brutally shorn of its façade to make way for traffic streaming into Fitzmaurice Place. The main drawing room and dining rooms were preserved, intact, and shipped off to museums in North America while what remained was remodelled for a new “cock and hen club”, the Lansdowne, which has occupied it ever since.
Monmouth House, Soho Square
Clearly a magnificent palace with a frontage of 76 ft, and a depth of 280 ft with extensive stabling and coach houses running along the east side of Frith Street. We know work began in 1682, but little else about the Duke of Monmouth’s Soho mansion besides its staggering dimensions and the fact that the Duke never lived to enjoy it. The eldest of Charles II’s illegitimate sons, he engaged in rebellion and was beheaded after losing the Battle of Sedgemoor three years later. His battle-cry had been an appropriate shout of ‘so-ho’.
Norfolk House, St. James’s Square
Bought by the 8th Duke of Norfolk in 1722 for the incredible sum of £10,000 and occupying the east side of the square (shown on the right of the illustration), it remained in the family for the next eight generations before being sold in 1937. Described as “plain without but glorious within”, it was the birthplace of George III and when it was demolished to make way for an office block in 1939 the music room was removed to the Victoria and Albert Museum were it can still be seen.
Northumberland House, Strand
This last of the great Strand mansion to succumb to development, it was built as the London home of the Dukes of Northumberland. Positioned between Trafalgar Square and the river Thames it somehow survived until 1874, now only the road that bears its name is left. As a memento of their London presence the giant, emblematic Percy lion which stood high above the main gateway for nearly 150 years was removed to Syon House, the Dukes’ estate at Isleworth.
Somerset House, Strand
England’s first renaissance palace, designed for the Lord Protector the Duke of Somerset, possibly by the celebrated John of Padua, it was Tudor London’s finest address. Completed in 1550 the proportions were vast with a river frontage of some 600 ft, using material plundered from the cloister of old St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Priory Church of St. John, Clerkenwell. When an attempt was made to plunder more from St. Margaret’s, Westminster, the workmen were beaten back by the parishioners.