I visited Clarence House on Sunday, deciding to take advantage of the annual August opening. I was a little late getting to the house, as I managed to get lost on the way, and Google Maps was a bit confusing. I was impressed with the staff though as they made a big effort to ensure that I, and the two other latecomers, were hurried through security and taken to join our tour group. I really didn’t miss much of the tour.
The house was originally built between 1825 and 1827, designed by architect John Nash. The first residents were Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence (the third son of George III), and his wife Adelaide. When he became King George IV he remained in the house rather than remove to Buckingham Palace. Other royal residents followed, including, for a brief time, the current Queen, when she was Princess Elizabeth, and recently married to the Duke of Edinburgh. On her ascension to the throne, the house became the home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived here (accompanied for some time by Princess Margaret) until her death in 2002. Today, the house is the “official” London residence of the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Prince Harry.
The house is beautifully decorated and I was particularly impressed by the art collection, most of which was acquired by the Queen Mother. Artists represented include Augustus John, Walter Sickert and Graham Sutherland. One picture I especially liked showed George Bernard Shaw with his eyes closed – he didn’t like it but the Queen Mother decided to buy it anyway! I was also excited to see a piano that was actually played by Noël Coward.
We were told stories about the house and the rooms, such as the annual Christmas party for sick children in which soldiers place Christmas decorations on top of the tree with their swords. I think I would quite like to see that! We didn’t get to see the entire house, only the ground floor, including the “horse corridor” – so called because of the pictures of horses lining the walls.
Clarence House is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in history and/or art. It’s now closed for the year, but as far as I know should be open next August as usual.
Address: St James’s Palace, St. James’s, London, SW1A 1BA
Opening Hours: Guided tours in August
Prices: Adult £10, 5-17/disabled £6; under-5s free