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Carlton House


Prinny's Set
Denizens of Carlton House
Prinny's Mistresses
The Prince's Mistresses

From 1783 to 1826, Carlton House, in Saint James between Pall Mall and The Mall, served as the palatial London residence of the Prince of Wales. There, as Prince and later Prince Regent, George lived and entertained lavishly. The Prince decorated Carlton House sparing no expense. He filled it with lavish furniture and magnificent collections of paintings, ceramics, and gilded silver.

The first documentation of the property record that Henry Boyle rented the wilderness and Royal Garden at the Northeast extremity of St. James Park in 1700, obtained a 31-year lease from the crown, and spent £3,000 on buildings. Boyle, who was created Baron of Carleton for his services to the Whig party, left the property to his nephew the Earl of Burlington. Burlington employed Henry Flitcroft to reface the garden front with stone and carry out other improvements. Later the building served as a residence for the earl's mother the dowager Lady Burlington. It was she who sold it to Frederick the Prince of Wales. The Prince had William Kent lay out the gardens in 1733. After his death in 1751, Frederick's widow remained at Carlton House.

  Holland's elevation for the North front of Carlton House
& for the Ionic screen.

George Prince of Wales was granted Carlton House as his own London residence when he attained his majority on August 12, 1783 . Parliament voted £60,000 for refurbishment of the building. An advance payment of £6,000 was made to Sir William Chambers, surveyor general, for immediate repairs. At this time, The Prince of Wales fell under the influence of the older, sophisticated wastrel the Duc de Chartres (later Duc d'Orelans), a fellow member of Brooks club, who shared the Prince's love of Brighton. Prinny became infatuated with "things French". The Prince of Wales hired Henry Holland to remodel Carlton House in a French neoclassic style. The remodel unified a building that had become irregular through numerous additions with only the Flitcroft facade presenting a unified appearance. Holland also added a Chinoiserie drawing room to emulate the dairy, which he built at Woburn Abbey.

Carlton House by Holland

Furnishings for Carlton House were, shall we say, a home concern to the Prince of Wales for he was deeply interested in design. Styles ranged from Chinoiserie pier tables by Adam Weisweiler to Gothic pieces produced by the firm of France and Banting. A writing table with a low superstructure that encloses the sides of the writing area as well as the back ordered by the Prince of Wales as a reward for a member of his entourage became known as the Carlton House desk. Many pieces of the furniture manufactured for Carlton House remain in the collections at the Brighton Pavilion or at Buckingham Palace.

Hopper Conservatory Nash diningroom
Gothic Conservatory designed by Thomas Hopper Gothic dining room designed by John Nash

In 1795, mounting debts prompted an investigation of the finances of the Prince of Wales. Prinny's bills amounted to more than £250,000. At this time, he was granted another £60,000 to complete Carlton House. Holland left the Prince's service in 1802. On October 1805, £2,000 were paid to Walsh Porter to redecorate what Holland had finished; adding more Chinese designs and also gothic furniture. Thomas Hopper (1776-1856) added the Gothic conservatory. James Wyatt converted the rooms adjacent to the conservatory into the gothic style. He completed designs for a Gothic Drawing room and Library before he died in a carriage accident in 1813. John Nash then assumed responsibility and finished the project. The Gothic dining room was completely Nash's design. The History of the Royal Residences by William Henry Pyne published in 1818-1819 contains the most complete record of Carlton House still in existence.

To celebrate Wellington's victory on the continent and the Jubilee of Hanoverian rule, Nash built a series of temporary buildings including a polygonal ballroom with a tented roof. It was designed to replicate a huge bell tent. Numerous balls and parties were held in it throughout the seasons of 1814 and 1815.

Fete floor plan

During this period, the Prince considered rebuilding the house and Nash produced both Gothic and classical designs, but the Treasury wouldn't support the cost and the project was abandoned.

After the Queen's death in 1818, the Prince Regent initiated secret negotiations concerned with acquiring and enlarging Buckingham House. Parliament offered the Prince Regent £150,000 for remodeling Buckingham House, but he demanded £500,000. Negotiations were still in full swing on the King's death in 1821. In 1826, Nash claimed Carlton house was in poor structural condition and should be demolished. It was demolished in 1827 with the exception of the portico which can still be seen in Trafalgar Square at the National Gallery . Under Nash's guidance Buckingham House was transformed into Buckingham Palace, but George IV did not live to see the building completed. When William IV came to the throne, he dismissed Nash from the project for over spending.

Carlton House had become a lost palace that passed away with the Regency and late Georgian era. Those who enjoy Georgian history imagine it as the setting of not only Prinny's extravagant lifestyle but also of Jane Austen's visit and tour of the library there. Many writers of fiction set in the Georgian period mention the building. Carlton House may be lost, but it is not totally forgotten.

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map of Carlton house

Holland staircase

Horace Walpole (1717-1797) wrote to the Countess of Upper Ossory (1738-1804) of Carlton House on September 17th, 1785 saying, "There is an August simplicity that astonished me...The portico, vestibule, hall, and staircase will be superb, and to my taste, full of perspective; the jewel of all is a small music-room, that opens into a green recess and winding walk of the garden."

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