Discover London’s historic terraced homes with James Stourton’s new book.
The phrase “stately London homes” conjures up images of terraced Neoclassical villas of white Portland stone lining Grosvenor Street, their wooden doors impenetrable. But those doors have opened for James Stourton, chairman of Sotheby’s UK. In his new book, Great Houses of London, Stourton explores the history of London’s residential architecture, showcasing specific houses such as Wimborne House, 10 Downing Street and 44 Berkeley Square.
In the mid- to late-1700s, the modern architectural profession appeared and transformed London, planning more terraced residences west, toward Kensington and beyond. The aristocratic Mayfair neighborhood—bordered by Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane—became the West End’s shining jewel, polished by architects William Kent and Edward Shepherd. From the 1790s to the 1840s, London’s architects focused on remodeling older homes to fit the popular Neoclassical and Palladian styles. Still, some of London’s most beautiful homes were built during the Georgian and early Victorian era, such as Ely House, 3 Grafton Street and the Regent’s Park villas.
But the decline of London’s homes had already begun. Funded by ever-growing industry, architects constructed “great plutocratic palaces” with increasingly rare materials and grand scale.
“This burst of architectural gigantism…contained the seeds of its own destruction,” Stourton writes. “Unlike the great country houses, these London houses had no economy of their own and required vast outside fortunes to support them.”
The century-long housing bubble popped in 1914, when the Great War drained those outside fortunes dry or transferred them to foreign shores.
While economic changes in the 1800s and war in the 1900s brought destruction to many of London’s great homes, today’s fluctuating economy tells a different story—one of residents’ changing attitudes, and of international IT companies and other new-media businesses purchasing, restoring and reusing London’s fine residences. James Stourton shows how even today, the “story” of London’s homes is still “one of adaptation and change.”
In the decades since restoration became fashionable in the 1980s, Londoners have defended their historic homes. Here’s how you can learn more about their efforts:
Spencer House (above): Lord Rothschild has nearly completed his dramatic 10-year restoration of this late-18th-century home at St. James’ Place, which is open to the public on Sundays.
Spitalfields: To delay scheduled demolitions in the 1960s, conservationists squatted in this neighborhood’s historic homes while Mark Girouard and others worked to found the Spitalfields Trust, which promoted the late-17th-century homes to outside enthusiasts. The Trust’s most famous rescued home is No. 18 Folgate Street, which is open to the public. Spitalfields is also home to a well-preserved Victorian market hall.
Wimborne House (above): Located on Arlington Street, Wimborne House has been remodeled six times: first in 1740 when Henry Pelham purchased the 17th- century house and hired architect William Kent to raze and rebuild it. Kent gave Wimborne House his best effort: a white and gold honeycomb ceiling and a two-story Great Room with an elegant Venetian ceiling. When George Trollope and Sons remodeled the home throughout the 1880s, they picked up the Italian theme, adding an ornate Italianate ballroom, an elaborate chimneypiece and other “decorative glories of the Italian renaissance.”
by Elaine K. Phillips
Photography by Fritz von der Schulenburg