Montagu-HouseThe first home of the British Museum, Montagu House was originally built on what is now the site of the museum in Great Russell Street for courtier and diplomat Ralph Montagu, the 1st Duke of Montagu (among other titles), in the late 1670s.

The Bloomsbury property, which was designed by Robert Hooke and had both French and Dutch influences, had a central block and two service blocks built around a courtyard and featured murals by the Italian artist Antonio Verrio and wall paintings by Frenchman Jacques Rousseau.

In 1686, only a few years after it was completed, the house was gutted in a fire. But the duke had it rebuilt to the designs of French architect Pierre Pouget. It featured a prominent Mansard roof, had interiors created by French artists and formal, much admired, French-inspired gardens (see picture).

In the early 1700s, the 2nd Duke, John Montagu, relocated to the then more fashionable district of Whitehall where he constructed a more modest residence which was later replaced with a mansion.

In 1754, the now neglected Montagu House in Bloomsbury was sold to the trustees of the British Museum and both the gardens and house were restored. The museum, which was officially founded by an Act of Parliament in 1753, opened to the public in the property on 15th January, 1759, with free entry to “all studious and curious persons” (the gardens had opened two years earlier).

The collection was initially based on that of physician, naturalist and collector, Sir Hans Sloane (see our earlier post here), who has bequeathed the 71,000 objects he had collected to King George II (in return for a payment of £20,000 for his heirs).

Montagu House remained the museum’s home until it was replaced by the current museum building, designed by Sir Robert Smirke, which was completed in 1850s.

PICTURE: Wikipedia/James Simon c 1715

Advertisements

Hampton Court Palace in London’s outer south-west is known to many as the palace of Henry VIII. Yet a considerable part of the complex of buildings we see today was also created during the reign of some time joint rulers William III and Mary II.

It was to Christopher Wren – assisted by the able Nicholas Hawksmoor – that the rulers turned when looking to update the Royal Apartments. Wren’s designs for a domed baroque palace to rival Versailles in France were apparently so ambitious that they were only half-built (and built in haste – two workmen died and another 11 were injured when the main wall collapsed in 1689). The death of the queen in 1694 also meant work on the palace stopped – it was resumed in 1697 (under control of Wren’s deputy William Talman who had offered a lower price than Wren) but again stalled after the death of the king in 1702.

Wren’s imprint is on the palace we see today is nonetheless considerable and includes the Baroque-style South and East Front (the size of the formal gardens which radiate out from the latter give a glimpse into the grand plans Wren had for the palace), Fountain Court which replaced the Tudor Cloister Court and around which were located new state apartments for both the king and queen, and the Orangery.

Among those who worked on the interiors of were the famous woodcarver Grinling Gibbons and painter Antonio Verrio.

WHERE: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey (nearest station is Hampton Court from Waterloo); WHEN: 10am to 6pm everyday (winter hours 10am to 4.30pm from 31st October to 26th March); COST: Adult £15.40, Concession £12.65, Child under 16 £7.70 (under fives free), family tickets, garden only tickets and online booking discounts available; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalace/