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Apsley House, Piccadilly, London: plans, elevations, section and designs for the interior, and an elevation for the gatehouse, for the 2nd Earl Bathurst, 1771-1779 (56)

Henry Bathurst, 2nd Earl Bathurst, Lord Chancellor, born 20th May 1714, was the second son of Allen Bathurst, (1st Earl Bathurst 1684-1775) and his wife Catherine (bap. 1688 d.1765, daughter of Sir Peter Apsley, of Apsley, Sussex). Educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, Bathurst subsequently began a career as a lawyer in 1730. In 1735 he stood for the family seat at Cirencester, Gloucestershire, where he became MP, maintaining his seat until the general election of 1754, when he choose to withdraw in favour of his elder brother Benjamin.

In 1736 Bathurst was called to the bar, and subsequently admitted to Lincoln’s Inn on the 22nd June 1743. Following his father’s dismissal from office in 1744, Bathurst became a keen supporter of Frederick Prince of Wales, firmly attaching himself to the Prince’s cause, resulting in his appointment as Attorney General to the Prince in 1748. Upon Frederick’s sudden death in 1751, Bathurst continued in office as Attorney General to George Prince of Wales, up until 1754.

In the September of 1754, Bathurst married his first wife, Anne James, the widow of Charles Phillips. Anne died in 1758, and on the 14th June 1759 he remarried. Bathurst and his second wife Tryphena (1723-1807), the daughter of Thomas Scawen of Carshalton, would go on to have four daughters and two sons, including politician Henry Bathurst (1762-1834).

On the 23rd of January 1771, Bathurst was appointed Lord Chancellor, and raised to the peerage as Baron Apsley, and subsequently upon his father’s death in 1775, succeeded to the title Earl Bathurst. His time as Lord Chancellor was considered to be somewhat unremarkable, and it was felt he required considerable guidance from Sir Thomas Sewell and Lord Mansfield, who heavily guided Bathurst through equity cases and the House of Lords respectively. Following the acknowledgement of General Howe’s resignation of his command in America in April 1778, Bathurst stepped down from office, to be replaced by Edward Thurlow in June 1778. On 24th November 1779, Bathurst was appointed Lord President of the Council, a post which he held until the fall of Lord North in 1782.

Bathurst died on 6th August 1794, at his home in Oakley Grove, Gloucestershire, where he was buried in the family vault.

Bathurst’s construction of Apsley House began in 1771, when, following his father’s sale of their dilapidated 17th-century London home (the site subsequently purchased by Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn for the construction of Adam’s 20 St James’s Square), Bathurst leased a plot of land from the crown. Robert Adam was then commissioned to design and build Bathurst’s new townhouse, and construction of the masonry shell began in 1771. Designs for chimneypieces then followed in 1774, wall elevations and plaster work in 1775, and designs for Apsley’s furniture and wall fixtures from 1778-1779.

Adam’s Apsley, a three-storey, five-bay, plain brick building, was smaller in execution than the current house. With an exterior east wall constructed at an irregular angle, seemingly due to a previous existing building of offices to the east, shown in pink wash on the ground floor plans (SM Adam 32/100). Unfortunately there are no surviving elevations for Apsley’s exterior, however the house’s original facade is recorded on a pair of Meissen plates (c.1818), currently held in the V & A collections. Adam’s designs for Apsley’s interiors are particularly significant, providing an early example in the execution of his Etruscan style. His design for the wall elevations for the octagonal dressing room (SM Adam volume 32/104), sometimes referred to as the circular dressing room, is the earliest known executed wall treatment to adopt the Etruscan form. One earlier example for an Etruscan wall elevation is known in Adam’s design for General Fitzroy’s circular toilet (SM Adam volume 50/89) c.1774, however it is unlikely that this was ever executed.

In 1807, the 3rd Earl Bathurst sold Apsley house, for the sum of £16,000. The house was then purchased by Richard Marquess Wellesley, on his return from his post as Governor General of India. Subsequently, in 1817, he sold the house to his brother Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington for £40,000. Following victory at Waterloo, parliament voted the Duke a substantial sum for the purpose of purchasing a property. It was perhaps thought the Duke would acquire a country estate, but instead he chose to make London his main residence, with a comparatively modest country house at Stratfield Saye. In 1826 Wellington commissioned architects Benjamin and Philip Wyatt to make a number of alterations to Apsley. A substantial part of the remodelling then took place between 1828 and 1830 when, following Wellington’s appointment as Prime Minister, he made a temporary move to Downing Street. Alterations would include the addition of a new facade in the fashionable bath stone, two additional bays, a giant Corinthian portico to the south, and the installation of the famous Waterloo Gallery. Ultimately however, the Duke and Benjamin Wyatt disagreed over spiralling costs, resulting in Wellington's refusal to meet with the architect, eventually appointing his friend Harriet Arbuthnot to oversee Apsley’s completion in his place. In total the Duke would spend over £64,000 on alterations to Apsley, with nearly £4,000 on gilding alone.

Following the extensive alterations made by the Wyatt brothers, only fragments of Adam’s original interiors survive. A number of the chimneypieces were retained, including those for the ground floor eating room (currently the library), and library (now a private suite), the chimneypiece for the first drawing room (now the Piccadilly room), and the second drawing room (the portico room). Adam’s ceiling for the second drawing room (portico room), also remains in situ, however it is missing eleven of its inset painted panels. King suggests that strips of ceiling decoration visible either side of the fireplace in the yellow drawing room may also consist of reused parts of Adam ceiling, possibly taken from the third drawing room. Other fragments of Adam’s work survive in the form of friezes in the portico and Piccadilly room, door furniture and dado rails.

Following the death of the Duke of Wellington in 1852, the house was opened to the public by the 2nd Duke, creating the present ground floor Museum Room. Then, in 1947, the 7th Duke gave Apsley House as a gift to the nation, retaining private rooms for the family, with the staterooms opened to the public as part of the Wellington Museum, overseen by the Victoria and Albert Museum. The early 1950s would see some of the original Adam schemes restored, but these were subsequently removed during a period of restoration lead by the department of furniture and woodwork at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1978-1982). Further projects (1992-1995) would continue to focus on the restoration of interiors and design schemes relevant to the 1st Duke’s residence. Additional alterations were also made in 1961-62. Previously an end of terrace house, Apsley’s neighbours were demolished along with the Adam coach house during the widening of Park Lane, leaving the house detached, and with its current east facade of blind windows.

Apsley House is currently in the guardianship of English Heritage, who took over care of the site in 2004.

W. Thornbury, ‘Apsley House and Park Lane’ Old and New London, A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places, 1879, pp. 359-375; A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, volume II, Index pp. 43-44, 1922; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, pp. 57, 72-76, 84-88, 95, 102, 1963; J. Hardy, ‘The building and decoration of Apsley House’, Apollo, Sept. 1973, pp. 12-21, 1973; J.M. Robinson, ‘Apsley House, London’, Country Life, 22 June, 1995, pp. 92-97, 1995; E. Harris, The genius of Robert Adam, pp. 15, 352 n.113, 2001(a); E. Harris, ‘Adam at No. 1 London’, Country Life, Nov. 2001, pp. 98-101, 2001(b); D. King, The complete works of Robert and James Adam & unbuilt Adam, volume I, pp. 280-282, 2001; N. Guseva & I. Sychov, ‘Diplomatic gifts from Tsar Nicholas I of Russia to the Duke of Wellington’, Apollo, Jan 2001, pp. 34-40, 2001; S. Bradley & N. Pevsner, The buildings of England, London 6: Westminster, pp. 486-487, 2003; Advertisement, Nicholas Grindley of London, Country Life, 5 June 2003; R. Lea, ‘The Robert Adam Drawings for the Building and Furnishing of Apsley House 1771-9’, English Heritage: Historic Properties Presentation, Sept. 2005; English Heritage guidebooks, Apsley House: The Wellington collection, 2005; H.M. Colvin, Biographical dictionary of British architects, 2008; J. Stourton, Great houses of London, pp. 13-15, 134-41, 2012; F. Sands, Robert Adam's London, pp. 105-108, 2016; ‘Bathurst, Henry, Second Earl Bathurst (1714-1794), Lord Chancellor’, oxforddnb.com; ‘Bathurst, Hon. Henry (1714 -94), of the Inner Temple’, historyofparlimentonline.org; ‘Plan of Apsely House and Ground, Hyde Park Corner: Showing the addition granted to the Duke of Wellington by the Crown’, The Crace Collection of Maps of London, www.bl.uk

Anna McAlaney, 2017
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