Now the home of the Royal Academy of Arts, the origins of Burlington House on Piccadilly go back to the 1660s but it was Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, who had the property reworked into the Palladian building it is today. 

It was Sir John Denham, Surveyor-General of the King’s Works for King Charles II, who first began building a red brick mansion on the site in the 1660s before he sold the still unfinished building to Richard Boyle, the 1st Earl of Burlington, in about 1667. He completed the house the following year.

Burlington-HouseThe property next underwent major changes during the minority of the 3rd Earl (also Richard Boyle, 1612-1698) – his mother, the 2nd Countess, Lady Juliana, had architect James Gibbs carry out some alterations including the addition of a semi-circular colonnade at the front of the house and reconfiguration of the main staircase.

But around 1717-1718, the 3rd Earl (1694-1753), who himself was something of an architect, commissioned architect Colen Campbell to take over from Gibbs. The property was then reworked to a Palladian design – particularly the southern front of the building and William Kent was summoned to redesign interiors – the surviving interior of the Saloon is credited as the first ‘Kentian’ interior in England.

Lord Burlington soon shifted his attention to Chiswick House (see our earlier post here), and on his death in 1753, the house passed to the Dukes of Devonshire before it was eventually purchased by the 4th Duke’s younger son, Lord George Cavendish, around 1812. He had some of the interiors reworked by Kent admirer Samuel Ware, keeping them sympathetic to the Palladian vision.  Four years after the purchase, Burlington Arcade was built along the western side of the premises.

In 1854, the property was sold to the British Government who initially intended demolishing the structure and using the site for the University of London but after strong opposition to the plan, it was occupied by the Royal Society, the Linnean Society and the Chemical Society while the Royal Academy – which had been founded by King George III in 1768 – took over the main block on a 999 year lease in 1867.

The building subsequently underwent further alterations – among them Sidney Smirke added a third floor to the main building – the Diploma Galleries – and the Main Galleries and the Art School on a garden to the north of the house. Later, three story ranges were raised around the courtyard and the three aforementioned learned societies moved into these and were later joined by the Geological Society of London, the Royal Astronomical Society and the Society of Antiquities.

The Royal Society left in 1968 and the British Academy moved in but this august institution moved out in 1998, leaving the building now home to the Royal Academy and the five learned societies, the Geological Society of London, the Linnean Society of London, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

More recent works at the property – the last survivor of four townhouses built along Piccadilly in the 1660s – have included a 1991 remodelling of the Diploma Galleries by Norman Foster – now known as The Sackler Wing of Galleries – and the restoration of the former state rooms including The Saloon, reopened as the John Madejski Fine Rooms.

WHERE: Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly (nearest Tube stations are Piccadilly Circus and Green Park);  WHEN: 10am to 6pm Saturday to Thursday/10am-10pm Friday (opening times for the John Madejski Fine Rooms may vary); COST: Varies depending on the exhibition (there are free guided tours of the John Madejski Fine Rooms – check the website for details); WEBSITE: www.royalacademy.org.uk

PICTURE: Installation by Ãlvaro Siza, part of the Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined exhibition which runs until 6th April. Photo: Royal Academy of Arts. Photography: James Harris/Ãlvaro Siza 

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Soho-Square

Originally named King’s Square in honour of King Charles II, Soho Square was laid out on what had been known as Soho Fields as a residential square with a garden at its centre in the late 1670s – part of the general demand for homes that came about after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

A fashionable place to live when built, among the early mansions was Monmouth House, a grand mansion originally built for James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth (and illegitimate son of King Charles II who lost his head after leading a rebellion against King James II) and later used by the French ambassador before it was demolished in the 1770s. Two of the square’s original homes are located at numbers 10 and 15.

A number of trees and shrubs were recorded as being planted here including cherry, peach and almond trees as well as lilacs, jessamine and honeysuckle – it’s suggested these may have been chosen by botanist Sir Joseph Banks who lived at number 32 from 1777 until his death in 1820.

King-Charles-IIThe square, which was opened to the public in 1954, is today at the heart of the West-End district of Soho, once synonymous with late night entertainment including the sex industry but also home to a growing number of film and media-related organisations (for a look at the derivation of the name Soho, see our earlier post).

Indeed, a number of media companies are based in the square itself – British Movietone, which was produced the Movietone news, was located here at number 22 for years while current inhabitants include Twentieth Century Fox (located in a building at number 31-32 where the botanically minded Linnean Society once met).

Other buildings of note in the square include the French Protestant Church, built in 1891-93 and located at numbers eight and nine and St Patrick’s Church, located at on the corner of Soho Square and Sutton Row. While a chapel was first consecrated here in 1792, the current building dates from the 1890s (reopened in 2011 after a £3.5 million restoration) and has catacombs which spread a considerable distance under the square. In a nod to less savoury aspects of the square’s past, the White House Brothel was also located here – at number 21 – in the late 18th century (the building is now known as Manor House).

The oldest statue in the square is that of Caius Gabriel Cibber’s King Charles II which dates from 1681 (pictured right) – a reminder of the square’s past name.  Originally part of a larger monument containing a fountain, it was removed in 1875 to make way for the distinctive half-timbered Tudor-style hut (pictured above) used by gardeners which, having been rebuilt in the 1930s, currently sits at the square’s centre and only returned to the gardens in 1938. There’s also a bench in the square which commemorates the late singer Kirsty MacColl, writer of the song Soho Square.

For more on London’s squares, see Gary Powell’s Square London.