Apsley House was never intended as an all year round residence for the Duke. When he served as Prime Minister he had to be in London from early February until July. Apsley House was perfectly placed for Parliament and Wellington was often seen riding between the two.
Whilst in London, he would make brief visits out of town to friends, particularly to Harriet and Charles Arbuthnot’s country home in Northamptonshire. Harriet Arbuthnot records in her diary how the Duke “who is always the person that makes the fewest difficulties brings his own little travelling bed”. Wellington was shown in a William Heath cartoon of 1829 carrying his bed on his back from one residence to the next as if he was still on campaign.
At Apsley House his library was handsome and designed to be entirely practical. His bedroom was plain with a single bed. Richard Ford who visited Apsley House in 1853 noted that “curtained indulgences and eider-down pillows had no charms for him, whose hard mattress was so narrow that all stretchings were impossible”.
Certainly Richard Ford’s images of Wellington’s private suite of rooms on the ground floor of the house reveals as comfortable and practical, almost like a gentleman’s club and fit for purpose, whether Wellington was holding meetings or writing letters. In Ford’s pictures you can see the contrast between the grandeur of the state rooms of the house on the first floor and Wellington’s private taste.
Wellington entertained royalty and high society at Apsley House. The grand Waterloo Banquet took place every year from 1820 to the year the Duke died in 1852. Wellington would gather his old comrades together, often with the Prince Consort Albert in attendance. The guests would be treated to a dazzling banquet cooked by Wellington’s French chef and the table would be decorated with the Portuguese silver service.
One such occasion is recorded in William Salter’s 1836 painting which hangs in the Portico room at Apsley House. All the years of disruption that Benjamin Dean Wyatt caused by his building work meant that Wellington had periods when he could not be at home.
When Wellington became Prime Minister in 1828, the builders were hard at work on the Waterloo Gallery, a massive extension to the house, and he had to move into No. 10 Downing Street until the work was complete.
Wellington never seemed to have enjoyed Apsley House the way he did his country house Stratfield Saye, or later Walmer Castle, when he was Warden of the Cinque Port.