Finally . . . . Apsley House. The Holy of Holies. Honestly, every time I visit I expect the Heavens to part and the angels to sing. Sadly, that's yet to happen.
"Look, Apsley House!"
"Again," replied Hubby, barely containing his enthusiasm.
"Yeah, but this time it's open and we're going in."
"Wait, come this way. I want to show you something."
"Oh, fer Pete's sake. It's raining. Can't we just go in?"
"No! You have to see this sign first. Victoria and I love it. Come on."
Above is a picture of the sign I wanted Hubby to see, taken by myself whilst with Victoria on a previous visit. I cannot tell you how crestfallen I was when I saw, in it's place, a simple placard that read "Private." I didn't take a photo of it because Hubby was impatient and it was raining, but now I could just kick myself. Can you believe they replaced this sign? Do you think they had to replace it because Victoria and I posted it all over the internet? Hhhhmmmm.
"Okay. Let's go inside."
"See those rings on the steps? That's for when they roll out the red carpet. After the carpet is down, they put the rails through those rings to keep it in place."
"Yeah, right. The red carpet," scoffed Hubby. Then he looked me in the eye. "You're not kidding, are you?"
I opened the door and in we went (cue chorus of angels). Now, when you enter Apsley House, you find yourself in a large hall. To the left is the reception desk and till and behind it, on the wall, is a huge portrait of the Duke, at least ten feet tall.
Eyeing it now, Hubby said, "Oh, Jeez. Don't get any ideas."
"Hi, Honey, I'm home," I replied. I approached the desk and paid for two entry tickets.
"Would you like audio guides?" the nice man asked us.
"Yes, please. Two," I answered, giving Hubby the stink eye. The nice man gave us a brief overview on how to use them and Hubby assured me that he could handle it.
"See that guy behind the counter?" I asked Hubby in a whisper as we walked away.
"He knows who the Duke of Wellington is. So does everyone else here. I'm not the only person in the world who knows who Artie is."
Hubby rolled his eyes as I led him to the first room on the left. This was called the Museum Room in 1853, when the house first opened to the public and as far as I know, it's still the Museum Room, although back then it was in the room that is now the entrance hall. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should let you know that I didn't take any of the pictures in the rest of this blog post. I didn't think photos were allowed, so I swiped these off the internet. There are links to the original posting where I could find them.
The Museum Room contains porcelain, gold and silver gifts given to Wellington by grateful monarchs and countries. In addition, you'll find his swords and staffs of office and the Waterloo Shield, presented to Wellington by the Merchants and Bankers of the City of London.
Hubby and I chris-crossed the room as we punched in buttons on our audio guides that matched the numbers on various items.
When we had finished looking at all the swag, I directed Hubby to the staircase.
"What in the Hell is that?"
I sighed. "Hideous, no? It's Canova's statue of Napoleon. Napoleon commissioned it, but by the time it was done, his tastes had changed and he consigned it to the Louvre. In 1816, after Waterloo, the British government bought it and King George IV presented it as a gift to Wellington."
"He must have been thrilled."
"Well, he could hardly refuse a gift from the King, so he had to stick it here, as it was the only place in the house big enough to hold it. They had to reinforce the floor."
I started up the staircase. Whenever I go up or down these stairs, I always do so slowly, with my hand on the banister. I try to imagine Wellington and the Duchess using these same stairs, their hands where mine are now. And all the past visitors to this house - Mrs. Arbuthnot and Lady Shelley. George IV. Lady Burgeresh. The Marquess of Angelsey. Lady Jersey. The Waterloo officers and their . . . .
"Jeez, can you go any slower? What's with you?"
Sigh. "I'm taking it all in."
"Stairs? You're taking in stairs?"
This full length portrait hangs on the landing at the top of the stairs.
I stopped to admire it. "I don't have this one."
If looks could kill . . . . . . I deviated from the prescribed tour at this point and dragged Hubby through a back hallway, called the Slip Passage, and into the State Dining Room.
"This is where Wellington held the Waterloo Banquet every year on the anniversary of the battle. Wellington would invite all the officers who'd fought with him, and George IV, who only thought he'd fought with him. And that silver centerpiece was given to Wellington by the Portuguese to commemorate Wellington's victories in the Peninsular Wars. It's the one I touched and set off the alarms."
"Yeah. I was here by myself and I was looking at the centerpiece and it appeared to be covered in a layer of dust. I couldn't believe they'd allow it to get into that condition. I was a bit insulted, to tell you the truth."
"Of course you were."
"So all I did was swipe a fingertip across it to see if it really was dusty and the alarm went off."
"A real alarm?"
"Yes. A real alarm. Whaaa! Whaaa! Whaaa! The whole bit."
'What did you do?"
"What could I do? I was pretty well trapped. I went around the table and stood in front of the portrait of Prinny in a kilt as though I were admiring it. Then a guy in a suit came in and gave me a stare and I turned around and gave him a stare back and then he left and pretty soon the alarm stopped."
"He didn't say anything to you?"
"Not a word. I found out that the centerpiece had soon after been removed for a thorough refurbishment, but still, they shouldn't have left it covered in dust."
"My good man."
We moved on to the next room, the Striped Drawing Room.
"Wellington used this room as a place where his guests could relax either before or after dinner. There used to be card and game tables set up here from time to time. The portraits are all of people who served with him. Look, here's Henry Paget."
"Henry Paget, the Marquess of Angelsey, Lord Uxbridge. The guy who ran away with Artie's sister-in-law. The one who's artificial leg we saw at Horse Guards."
"Ah, him again."
We sat on the striped couch in the middle of the room and I began to key numbers into my audio guide.
"Artie," Hubby said, pointing to the portrait hanging on the wall before us. "I know that guy."
"You should. You walk by him ten times a day. The painting is by Sir Thomas Lawrence."
"What number is it?" Hubby punched the numbers in and listened to his audio guide. He actually looked interested.
After a time, we moved on to the Waterloo Gallery, which houses the Spanish Royal Collection of artwork.
"Most of these paintings were found rolled up in Joseph Bonaparte's baggage carriage after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813," I told Hubby. "Wellington had them framed and hung them here. Then, one day a visitor to this room was looking at the pictures and realized that they were all from the Spanish Royal Collection, which Bonaparte had looted and taken as the spoils of war."
"So it was stolen art?"
"What did Artie do?"
"He wrote to King Ferdinand of Spain, told him how he'd come by the paintings and told the King that of course he'd return them post haste. He asked the King to give him directions on how he was to best return them. Did the King want to send someone over to get them? Should he, Wellington, arrange for their return as he thought fit? The King wrote back and told Artie to keep the paintings with his thanks for all he'd done for Spain and the free world. Or words to that effect."
"See these two torcheres?"
"The two what?"
"The pillars with the candelabras on the top."
"Tsar Nicholas gave them to Wellington."
"Originally, this room was hung in yellow damask. Wellington's good friend, Mrs. Arbuthnot, helped him with Wyatt's redesign of the house and she and Artie argued over these walls a good deal, but in the end Wellington won."
"Well, yeah. It was his house. Why aren't they yellow now?"
"Wellington's son, the second Duke, had them changed."
"Because of Mrs. Arbuthnot?"
"No. She'd died in 1834. He didn't become the Duke until 1852. Times had changed, tastes had changed, that's all. Wellington designed a heating system that's hidden in the ceiling," I said, prompting us both to look up.
"And see those windows? Wellington designed them so that mirrors hidden in recesses in the wall could be pulled over them at night. When he gave evening entertainments, the mirrors reflected the candlelight throughout the room."
I walked over to one of the windows and peered out at Hyde Park. "I was here once with Brooke and we were looking out this window when we saw a whole regiment of soldiers out there doing drills in their dress uniforms. After we'd left the house, we went around into the Park and Brooke asked one of the soldiers what they were doing. Without missing a beat, he told her, 'We're male strippers and we're practicing our routine.'"
"I swear. You should have seen her face. Then he told her what they were really doing, which was practicing for some official do that was to take place in a few days time."
"Only you could have such crazy stories about Apsley House."
I waved a hand at him. "That's nothing. The last time I was here with Victoria we watched as hundreds of naked bike riders rode past."
"Fact. It was the annual Naked Bike Run, or some such thing."
"As the day they were born."
"Men or women?"
"Bicycles or motorcycles?"
"See? I told you that Apsley House was fun and you wouldn't believe me."
We went out this door and into the Yellow Drawing Room.
"That's an original Adam's fireplace," I said.
We moved on to the Portico Drawing Room
"See this painting here? It's Charles Arbuthnot."
"Husband to the interfering Mrs. Arbuthnot?"
"Harriet, yes. After she died, he lived with Wellington, both here and at Walmer Castle. They were both widowers, as well as great friends, so the arrangement worked for both of them. Arbuthnot died in this house. So did Kitty, Wellington's wife, come to think of it."
We went through to the Piccadilly Drawing Room, probably so called because the windows look out over Constitution Hill and Piccadilly.
"This is my favorite room in the house. I love the proportions of it. The Adams ceiling and how it mirrors the curve of the end wall. The moulding detail. The picture rails. And the view. I always stand at this window to admire the view," I said, looking out at Wellington's statue and the Arch beyond. I stood this way for several minutes and then decided that I'd tried Hubby's patience long enough.
"Come on. Let's go down to the basement."
"The basement? We're not going to set of any alarms, are we?"
No, it's part of the museum. The most personal part."
Once we'd gotten downstairs, I showed Hubby the displays that include Copenhagen's saddle blanket, Wellington's medals, his traveling cases and, naturally, a pair of his boots.
Finally, we approached a display case dealing with Wellington's death and State funeral.
"Look," I said, pointing at a shelf in the case.
"Wellington. It's a death mask. It was taken soon after he died."
"It doesn't look like Wellington."
"Sure it does. Wellington was in his eighties when he died. The Thomas Lawrence portrait was far in the past by that time."
"You ready to go?" I asked at long last.
"Yeah. What's next?"
"Our three hour rock and roll tour. Three whole hours without mention of the Duke of Wellington."
"I gotta admit, Hon, Apsley House wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was pretty interesting."
With Herculean effort, I refrained from saying told you so.
Part Three Coming Soon!
Labels: A Couple in England, Duke of Wellington, Kristine Hughes