No matter how many times I visit London, I always find new nuggets of historic trivia that are hugely interesting. I thought I’d do a bit of investigation recently in preparation for the St. James’s Walk Victoria and I will be leading during The Wellington Tour in September, when I discovered some interesting facts.
Firstly, I did some research into Devonshire House, London home to the Dukes of Devonshire since 1697, when the 1st Duke purchased the home, then known as Berkeley House, from Lord Berkeley. You can get an idea of it’s prime location on Piccadilly from Roque’s map below.
The house burned down in 1733 whilst undergoing renovations, allowing the Duke to rebuild in a contemporary style better suited to entertaining on a grand scale. The prime example of such an entertainment came over a hundred years on at The Duchess of Devonshire’s Ball, a fancy dress entertainment held in order to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee on 2 July in 1897. The Duchess encouraged guests to take their inspiration for fancy dress from history, literature and mythology. Thankfully, the Duchess hired photographer James Lauder of the Lafayette Company to be on hand to photograph the 200 costumed guests in front of different backdrops over the course of the evening.
The Duchess of Devonshire as Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra
The Ladies Churchill as Watteau shepherdesses.
Princess Henry of Pless as the Queen of Sheba
Unfortunately, Devonshire House (below in 1905) was demolished in 1920, when it was sold by the 9th Duke of Devonshire in order to pay death duties. Today, an office building stands on the site.
The new bit of trivia I learned is that the gates from Devonshire House were saved and moved to the entrance of Green Park off Piccadilly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked past, and through, these gates, never realizing their history.