London: Spencer House

London’s Spencer House is an 18th Century Palladian Villa that you may have walked past, unaware of the grandeur within. It’s lucky enough to be situated on the edge of Green Park, and close to St James Palace. In its day it was a social and political hub.

It was built as the London townhouse of the 1st Earl Spencer, based at Althorp House in Northamptonshire.  An ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, he was also the father of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, featured in the film The Duchess.

Two architects were responsible for the design of the house: John Vardy (who built the building and completed the ground floor) and James “Athenian” Stewart (who showcased a more Greek influence on the upper floor).  Both put a classical stamp on the building, which has references to some iconic Roman sites, including the Temple of Venus and Roma, Nero’s Domus Aurea, the Temple of Portunus, and even Herculaneum which was discovered during this building’s construction.

Photos were only allowed in one room, the Palm Room, but this gives you an idea of the quality of the workmanship. There’s a few nods to ancient Rome here, including original mosaics in a side table, and a room frieze based on that of the Temple of Portunus in the Forum Boarium. And There’s a nod to  Greece as Hesiod and Homer grace the marble fireplace.

It’s among the last such noble house standing in London, although hasn’t been lived in by the Spencer family since the 1920s. Since that time it has acted as a  club and offices.  During the second world war, many of the original features were moved to Althorp, the family’s country estate.  However, a major restoration project financed by Lord Rotschild has seen the building brought back to life with a combination of returning original features, and extensive work to recreate the look and feel of the house.  The building still acts as offices through the week – imagine working beside such grandeur, while it is open to visitors on a Sunday.

Access is via St James’ Place, close to St James’ Palace.

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