Marlborough House, a Grade I listed mansion in St James's (City of Westminster, Inner London), is the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations and the seat of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It was built for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, the favourite and confidante of Queen Anne. For over a century it served as the London residence of the Dukes of Marlborough.
The Duchess wanted her new house to be "strong, plain and convenient and good". The architect Christopher Wren and his son of the same name designed a brick building with rusticated stone quoins (cornerstones) that was completed in 1711.
The house was taken up by the Crown in 1817. In the 1820s plans were drawn up to demolish Marlborough House and replace it with a terrace of similar dimensions to the two in neighbouring Carlton House Terrace, and this idea even featured on some contemporary maps, including Christopher and John Greenwood's large-scale London map of 1830, but the proposal was not implemented.
Located north of The Mall and east of St James's Palace, Marlborough House was primarily used by members of the Royal Family, especially dowager queens and by Prince Albert Edward of Wales and his wife Alexandra. Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, was given the use of Marlborough House from 1831 until her death in 1849.
From 1861-1863, the building was substantially enlarged to designs by Sir James Pennethorne, who added a range of rooms on the north side and a deep porch. This was done for the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, and his wife the Princess of Wales, Alexandra of Denmark, who made their home the social centre of London. Their second son, later King George V, was born at Marlborough House in 1865, and the family lived there until Victoria died in 1901, when Edward acceded the throne and they moved to nearby Buckingham Palace.
After Edward VII died in 1910, Alexandra reverted to Marlborough House as her London home, until her death in 1925. A late Art Nouveau-Gothic memorial fountain by Alfred Gilbert (1926–32) in the Marlborough Road wall of the house commemorates her.
In 1936 Marlborough House became the London residence of their son's widow, Queen Mary. Mary survived George by 17 years. In the grounds of the house remains her pet cemetery. A thatch-roofed rotating summer house built for her is still in place. A plaque to commemorate Queen Mary was unveiled by the Queen in 1967 in the exterior wall closest to the corner with the Mall.
After Queen Mary's death in 1953, Marlborough House continued to be used by various members of the royal family as a London residence before being leased to the Commonwealth Secretariat in the 1980s, something which continues today.
The nearly cubical saloon retains wall-paintings by Louis Laguerre of the Battle of Blenheim (at which the 1st Duke of Marlborough was overall commander for Britain and her allies; seat of the Dukes of Marlborough is Blenheim Palace, one of England's largest houses). A cupola inserted in the ceiling is surrounded by paintings by Orazio Gentileschi for the Queen's House, Greenwich, 1636. There are paired staircases flanking the saloon, with further battle pieces by Laguerre. Most of the interiors have been altered.
Public opening times
Marlborough House is usually open to the public for Open House Weekend each September. The house is also open for group tours by prior arrangement.
- Historic England. "Grade I (422684)". Images of England. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
- Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London vol. I, p 470f
- Greenwood Map of London 1830 Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
- F. H. W. Sheppard (General Editor) (1960). "Pall Mall, South Side, Past Buildings: Nos 66–68 (consec.) Pall Mall: The Junior Naval and Military Club". Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
- Frayling, Christopher, The Royal College of Art, One Hundred and Fifty Years of Art and Design, p.35 & ff, 1987, Barrie & Jenkins, London, ISBN 0-7126-1820-1
- Jane Ridley, Marlborough House set (act. 1870s–1901) in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press; online text accessed 30 Nov 2010 (subscription site)
- "Marlborough House Gardens Virtual Tour". Commonwealth Secretariat. Retrieved 26 February 2012.[permanent dead link]
- Stourton, James (2012). Great Houses of London (Hardback). London: Frances Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-7112-3366-9.
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