DATE & TIME
Monday 24 April 2017
9:30 am at Spencer House
Spencer House, 27 St James’s Pl, St. James’s, London SW1A 1NR
From its conception the House was recognised as one of the most sumptuous private residences ever built in London and a building of unique importance in the history of English architecture.
James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, then newly returned from Greece, superseded Vardy as Lord Spencer’s architect in 1758. As a result, the House became the first example in London of the application of accurate Greek detail to interior decoration, making it one of the pioneer examples of neo-classical architecture.
Although Spencer House was conceived as a showcase of classical design, it was also designed for pleasure and a festive theme runs through the decoration of all the many State Rooms which were used for receptions and family gatherings. The first Earl Spencer and his wife were prominent figures in London society and during their lifetime Spencer House was often the setting for lavish entertainments. Their descendants, notably the fourth and sixth Earls, both of whom served as Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, continued this tradition.
“The Queen honoured the Earl and Countess Spencer with her presence at a ball given in honour of Her Majesty, at Spencer House last evening. This ball was heralded as “…a magnificent fete, marked by princely liberality and good taste”.
The fifth Earl Spencer and his wife, Charlotte, carried on the tradition of grand entertaining during their residency. Spencer House continued to play a vital role in political, social and artistic life in the capital, a dinner invitation being especially prized. Among the recipients of Lord Spencer’s hospitality was the young Duke of York, later George V, who dined at the House in February 1893.
The Spencer family continued to live at the House until 1895 when the building was let to a series of tenants, including the Duke of Marlborough and his wife, the former Miss Consuelo Vanderbilt.
Following the death of the fifth Earl Spencer in 1910, the family returned to the House and in 1926, the building was substantially restored. A year later, however, the family moved away and the House was let to the Ladies Army and Navy Club, which remained in occupation until 1943.
The contents of the House were removed to Althorp and in 1942, at the height of the Blitz, valuable original features such as chimneypieces, doors and chair rails were also removed. During the war the House was occupied by the nation’s nursing services, and in 1948 a lease was signed with the auctioneers Christie’s, whose bomb- damaged premises in nearby King Street were being rebuilt.
Spencer House has regained the full splendour of its late eighteenth-century appearance after a ten year programme of restoration undertaken by RIT Capital Partners plc under the Chairmanship of Lord Rothschild.
The final appearance of the rooms, complete with carved architectural detail, chimneypieces and copies of original furniture, is also a testament to the support of the Spencer family who provided access to Althorp to enable replication work of outstanding quality to be achieved.
The House, partly used as offices, provides a unique setting where events can be held in the historic setting of the eight State Rooms.
The accurate restoration is complimented by a magnificent collection of paintings and furniture, specially assembled for the House, including five major Benjamin West paintings graciously lent by Her Majesty The Queen.