Apsley House, home of the first Duke of Wellington and his descendants, stands right in the heart of London at Hyde Park Corner. For over 200 years, this great metropolitan mansion has been known colloquially as ‘Number 1 London’, because it was the first house encountered after passing the tollgates at the top of Knightsbridge.
Apsley House was originally designed and built by Robert Adam between 1771 and 1778 for Baron Apsley – from whom it takes its name. It passed to the Wellesley family in 1807, being first owned by Richard and then his younger brother Arthur Wellesley – the Duke of Wellington.
Wellington is most famous for defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but this was only the culmination of a brilliant military career. He was also a major politician, rising from representing a small Irish constituency in 1790 to Prime Minister in 1828.
The current appearance of Apsley House is the result of alterations made by the Wellesley family, who twice extended the brick Adam house and encased it in stone. The Corinthian portico and two bays of the west wing were added in 1828. Perhaps more importantly, many rooms were redesigned to reflect the Duke of Wellington’s rising status, and remain important survivals of Regency interiors. They provided the perfect backdrop for entertaining, particularly at the annual Waterloo Banquets which commemorated the great victory.
Inside Apsley House you will see many aspects of the first duke’s life and work, outstandingly his amazing art collection. Paintings by many famous artists are hung throughout the first floor, many of them part of the Spanish Royal Collection which came into Wellington’s possession after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. A colossal nude statue of Napoleon by Canova dominates the stairwell at the centre of the house.
Throughout his military career, the duke was presented with a vast collection of silver plate and unique porcelain as trophies from grateful nations. Many of these can be seen in the Plate and China Room.Wellington’s victories are celebrated in the fine British craftsmanship of the magnificent Wellington Shield, designed by Thomas Stothard, and the impressive candelabra presented by the Merchants and Bankers of the City of London.
When the seventh Duke of Wellington gave the house to the nation in 1947, the family retained the private rooms, which they still use today. This makes Apsley House not only the last surviving great London town house open to the public, but also the only property managed by English Heritage in which the original owner’s family still live.
A comfortable seating area has now been created in the Inner Hall, where visitors can browse through leather-bound albums of images of Wellington, his descendants, and Apsley House. The new ‘Wellington Boot’ activity pack, for children aged 5-11, is filled with activity sheets and puzzles.
Wellington enthusiasts may also be interested in visiting the spectacular Wellington Arch opposite Apsley House, and elegant Walmer Castle, the duke’s residence when he was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
English Heritage Members:
1 Apr-31 Oct 10am-5pm Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, & Bank Hols.
1 Nov-20 Mar 10am-4pm Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri, Sat, & Sun.
Closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan