By Cheryl Bolen
If the former Lady Diana Spencer had never become the world's most
famous woman, her ancestor's London town home would still be one of the
most significant sites in what is surely the world's greatest city.
In 1985 the 200-plus-year-old mansion was acquired by the
fabulously wealthy J. Rothschild Administration and thus fell out of the
Spencer family, which still uses the house for occasional entertaining.
The house is open to the public for one-hour guided tours only on
Sundays ten months ofthe year. (Tours are not given in August and
Under the chairmanship of Lord Rothschild, the house has been
expertly restored to the same condition it was when it was built by the
extravagantly rich first Earl Spencer in the last half of the 18th
Part of the house (not on tour) is used as offices; the rest is
decorated with magnificent furnishings and paintings of the era and is
designed as a place to hold entertainments in a historical setting.
And what a setting it is! The massive casement windows at the rear
of the mansion all give out to Green Park and a view that has likely
remained unchanged for two centuries. The front entrance is on the
exclusive St. James Place just around the corner from White's Club
(where Prince Charles is a member).
The splendors inside the house befit the first earl, who inherited
the fortunes of his great grandmother Sara, Duchess of Marlborough, and
his grandfather, the Third Earl of Sunderland. One of the richest men in
the kingdom on his twenty-first birthday, the First Earl Spencer married
his childhood sweetheart and commissioned Spencer House, where he and
his loving partner lived happily until their deaths. He was so wealthy,
the diamond buckles on his honeymoon shoes were valued at 30,000 pounds!
Spencer House was recognized as one of the most ambitious private
palaces ever built in London. Rooms on the tour include the morning
room, the ante room, the library, the dining room, the music room, the
palm room, Lady Spencer's private drawing room, the great room and the
It is thought the morning room was where visitors waited and where
Lord Spencer conducted business. It is in the front of the house, the
first room to the left from the entry stair hall.
Across the hall is the ante room, a grandly gilded room where it
is thought the family may have taken meals when not entertaining.
The large dining room is noted for its columns of polished Sienna
marble. Upstairs is Lady Spencer's red drawing room, along with the cozy
music room and the great room where balls were held.
The town house's two most remarkable rooms are the palm room and
the painted room. Carved and heavily gilded palms form columns lining
the palm room, where gentlemen retired after dinner while the ladies
climbed the stairs to Lady Spencer's drawing room. A reputed beauty who
experienced the rarity of a happy marriage, Lady Spencer furnished her drawing room with
a game table and a baroque gilded desk.
The painted room, which took six years to complete, is said to be
among the most famous 18th century interiors in England. There are
garlands of flowers and roses and paintings covering the walls and
ceilings. Many of the festive scenes are painted directly on the wall's
plaster; others are painted on canvas then applied to the wall and
framed in gold.
The library is modest by English standards but wonderfully cozy
with its asparagus green walls and dark woods.
Three lavish living floors are topped by a much smaller,
dormer-windowed fourth floor, where the servants resided. The kitchen
was located in the basement.
For those interested in the Regency period, a visit to Spencer
House (27 St. James Place) is a must. The nearest tube stop is Green
Park. Hours are on Sundays from 10:45 to 4:45. and admission is 6
pounds. Tours begin every 15 minutes. Children under 10 are not allowed.
This article was first published in The Quizzing Glass in April 1999.