Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Number One London

Addresses don’t come much grander than ‘Number One London’, the popular name for Apsley House.

On a recent visit to London and finding ourselves close to Hyde Park Corner where I was enjoying watching the Household Cavalry, we came upon it quite by chance.

It was the home of the Duke of Wellington following his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, and it seems to have changed very little since the days of the Iron Duke.
You can also see a statue of Napoleon, and one of the finest art collections in London, with paintings by Velazquez and Rubens as well as an amazing collection of silver and porcelain.

Best of all I loved the Waterloo Gallery where splendid balls used to be held. I could imagine the room packed with the very echelons of society, ladies in their pretty pastel gowns, the gallants in their smart uniform, footmen moving between them offering champagne.

Harriet Arbuthnot (1793 –1834) a close friend of the Duke, often acted as hostess for these splendid events. She was rumoured to be the mistress of the Duke of the Wellington, although this is disputed. It was said that he enjoyed his relationship with Mrs Arbuthnot because he found in her "the comfort and happiness his wife could not give him." They were certainly close and she frequently hosted his dinner parties as his marriage was a cold one, his wife residing mainly in the country. Earlier, Harriet was very friendly with Lord Castlereagh, calling him her "dearest and best friend" until his death in 1822.

Married to a Charles Arbuthnot, a politician and also a great friend of Wellington, was the friendship innocent or a ménage à trois? We shall never know. She was certainly a noted society lady in a perfect position to comment upon events, and became a noted diarist. Her observations and memories of life within the British establishment were full of gossip and detail, finally published in 1950 as The Journal of Mrs Arbuthnot. She sounds such a fascinating woman that I’d like to know more about her. But do call at Number One, London. Apsley House is most definitely worth a visit.


Stephanie Burkhart said...

What a beautiful ballroom. I'm melting. Very curious about the Duke and Harriet. What an interesting time!


Vijaya Schartz said...

Great blog post, Steph. Love the pictures. I see that human behavior hasn't changed much over the ages. Only appearances were kept to fit the social rules of the time.