Apsley House was built in the 1770s for Henry Bathurst, 1st Baron Apsley, by the architect Robert Adam. An apple stall and an inn called Hercules Pillars made way for Apsley House .
The setting was thought to be one of the finest in London, on the edge of the city with the Royal Park at the back and “fine views over to the Surrey and Kent hills”, as Thomas Shepard’s popular guide ‘London in the Nineteenth Century’ noted, but the area was quickly developed and houses made their way along Piccadilly.
The house that Robert Adam built is no longer visible from the outside but it survives to a considerable extent behind the stone facing and extensions of 1828-30. It is documented in the Adam drawings held in Sir John Soane’s Museum.
In 1807, the 3rd Earl Bathurst sold the house to Marquess Wellesley, the elder brother of the 1st Duke of Wellington. Ten years later Wellington bought the lease from his brother and engaged the architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt who writes to the 1st Duke:
“I have carefully examined it throughout. It certainly is an excellent house, and in very good repair. It is as substantial and as well built as any house need be, and it is splendid without containing any superfluous room.”
Despite Wyatt’s first report being very favourable, Wellington decided that the house was in need of expansion and refurbishment. The work at Apsley House covered two periods. Wyatt’s first addition was a large three storey extension to provide a dining room on the 1st floor and private rooms for Wellington on the ground floor, completed in 1820.
In 1829, the spectacular Waterloo Gallery was finished. The style is eclectic and typically Wyatt, but overwhelmingly French. Certainly Wellington’s close friend, Harriet Arbuthnot, a keen amateur designer, may have had a hand in some of the elements of the gallery.
Towards the end of the building project Wellington was not on good terms with Wyatt. Costs had spiralled and Harriet Arbuthnot acted as go-between as she recorded in her journal: “When the house is the admiration of London….I shall consider the merit all due to me.”
Wyatt encased the original red brick of the Robert Adam house in Bath Stone and added a portico and a new entrance. The first guidebook to Apsley House written in the 1850s recalls:
“Towards the park it (Apsley House) has a pleasing aspect and is surrounded by a small garden in which, on a Sunday afternoon the late Duke might often have been seen walking undisturbed by, and apparently heedless of all the bustle that was passing around, but in front it is almost excluded from view by a rich and lofty bronzed palisade, corresponding with the gates to the grand entrance to the Park.”