Apsley House – Home of the Duke of Wellington
One of the first things that London taxi drivers have to learn when doing the ‘knowledge’, the exhaustive test they have to pass before they can drive the famous London black cab, is where to find Apsley House, the ancestral home of the Duke of Wellington, which has the honour of having the address – No 1 London.
It can be found on the north side of Hyde Park Corner and gained the nickname No 1 London in the ‘old days’, because it was the first building encountered when entering London through the toll gates from the village of Knightsbridge.
Today Hyde Park Corner is one of the busiest roundabouts in London and most tourists tend to gravitate towards the centre of the roundabout where Wellington Arch can be found. But those brave enough to cross the road to visit Apsley House will be richly rewarded.
The house was the London residence of the 1st Duke of Wellington, he who attained stardom and celebrity status for defeating Napolean at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. The upper part of the building is still occupied by the 8th Duke and his family but the ground and first floors are open to the public as a museum and art gallery and is possibly the best preserved Aristocratic Town House from the period.
For anyone interested in the Battle of Waterloo and the titanic struggle between Napoleon and the Duke, they will be fascinated by the story that these majestic rooms tell.
Erected on the site of an old tavern called the Hercules Pillars, Apsley House was originally built in 1771 for the then Lord Chancellor Lord Aspley by the celebrated Architect of the time, Robert Adam.
The House then fell into the hands of Sir Authur Wellesley who after getting into financial difficulties, sold it to his more famous brother, who had by now been given the title of the Duke of Wellington and needed a London base to pursue his new career in politics.
The Duke was obviously and justifiably very proud of his achievement at Waterloo that he furnished and decorated the house as a testament to his victory over Napoleon and today a walk through its rooms is like witnessing his personal triumph.
From the grand entrance hall to the Museum room, where Wellington kept all the gifts that had been given him, to the elegant stairway, with its giant statue of Napoleon in the nude which Wellington acquired and obviously admired.
On the first floor the efficient audio/visual guide gives more insight into the Duke, sometimes described as the Iron Duke, not because he was so formidable as some might believe, but because during his political career he refused to back the Reform Bill and was so worried that his house would be attacked by protestors, that he erected iron railings outside and shutters to protect the windows!
The star attraction in the house has to be though the sumptuous Waterloo Gallery, to which Wellington invited guests to dine on the anniversary of the battle each year. Currently a dining table set for 80 dominates the room and one can just imagine the cigar smoke and the increasing noise of chatter and laughter as the invited officers and gentlemen ate and drank and toasted the victory!
Apsley House is managed by English Heritage, a national charity set up to maintain historic buildings and places in England. Admission costs £8.30 (concessions apply) though admission is free for English Heritage members.