We’re nearing the end of our series on Wren’s London (next week we’ll take a final look at some of the Wren designs we’ve not yet mentioned), so this week we look at one of his lesser known (and less accessible) designs – Marlborough House.
Tucked away behind high brick walls next to St James’ Palace just off Pall Mall, Marlborough House was built for Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough – a confidant of Queen Anne – and completed in 1711.
The duchess, who secured a lease of the site from Queen Anne, selected Sir Christopher as the architect in preference to Sir John Vanbrugh, but she later fell out with Wren and, after dismissing him, oversaw the completion of the building herself. It is believed that the design of the house was actually the work of Wren’s son, also named Christopher, although the plans were undoubtedly drawn up under Wren senior’s watchful eye.
The house, built of red Dutch bricks brought to England as ballast in troop transports, was noted for its plain design. But the walls of the central salon and staircases were decorated with scenes of battles the Duke had fought in.
The property remained in the hands of the Dukes of Marlborough until it was acquired by the Crown in 1817. The building – which was substantially extended in the mid 1800s to the designs of Sir James Pennethorne – was subsequently used by members of the royal family including Princess Charlotte (only daughter of the future King George IV) and her husband Prince Leopold (later the King of the Belgians), Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), George, Prince of Wales (later George V), King Edward VII’s widow, Queen Alexandra, and, lastly, Queen Mary, widow of George V.
Following the death of the Queen Dowager in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II donated it for use by the Commonwealth Secretariat who still occupy the building today.
WHERE: Pall Mall (nearest Tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly); WHEN: Two hour tours are usually held every Tuesday morning (check first); WEBSITE: www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/191086/34467/marlborough_house/