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Gladstone, Guinness and the Blitz – the history of 10-11 Carlton House Terrace

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Kings and Prime Ministers, war, angry mobs, celebrated novelists and Guinness. The history of 10-11 Carlton House Terrace is interwoven with some of the most famous names and events of the last 200 years. More recently, it’s been the setting for popular TV shows – Sherlock and Mr Selfridge to name but two – and played host to a national newspaper’s interview with a certain Portuguese football manager…

Originally the spot on which 10-11 Carlton House Terrace sits was simply known as Carlton House. This was the residence of the Prince Regent – later George IV – remembered to this day as one of the most hated and most useless British monarchs of all time (he was also one of the largest, with a 54inch waist). When the Prince became King in 1820, he decided that Carlton House would no longer cut it and so moved out into Buckingham House, which then became Buckingham Palace after significant renovations.

Carlton House was demolished (the front entrance is now the central exterior for the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square) and in its place John Nash, a leading architect of the time, designed and constructed two grand white stuccoed terraces between 1827 and 1833. Both number 10 and 11 are now Grade I listed buildings, which is the highest grade, placing them in the top 2% of all listed buildings in the country.

William Gladstone moves into number 11

In 1856 the politician William Gladstone moved into number 11. He would later serve a record four separate stints as Prime Minister.

Gladstone was famous at the time for his fierce rivalry with the Conservative Benjamin Disraeli and for his hobby of chopping down trees. But he was also known for his popular and unmissable ‘Thursday breakfasts’.

At 10 am on Thursdays between February and July, up to 15 people would join the Gladstones for breakfast at Carlton House Terrace. People took up invitations as much as a year in advance and in June 1866 the United States Minister to the United Kingdom, Charles Adams, attended. Other visitors included the future Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, who was an almost daily visitor in his 20s, and celebrated violinist Wilma Neruda, who is known to have performed there.

To increase space, Gladstone had a conservatory built on the balcony outside of the Music Room but this was damaged by a bomb during the Blitz and was never rebuilt.

The Terrace was also visited around this time by an angry mob. In 1866, after the defeat of the Government on the Reform Bill, a crowd made their way from a protest in Trafalgar Square to outside Carlton House Terrace shouting for “Gladstone and liberty”. Gladstone was absent at the time and the crowd refused to disperse until Mrs Gladstone appeared on the balcony to calm everyone down.

By that time, the Gladstones were nearing the end of their tenancy. When William was defeated at the general election of 1875, he lost his prime ministerial salary. This meant the family had to move out of number 11, although Gladstone was sad to do so – he wrote that leaving the house was ‘like a little death...I had grown to the house, having lived more time in it than any other since I was born.’

The Guinness family, owners of the Guinness brewery in Dublin, promptly took over the lease, which they held until 1946.

The Ridley Family at number 10

Throughout this time, the Gladstones’ neighbours were the Ridleys. A wealthy coal mining family based in Northumberland, the Ridleys moved into number 10 in 1831 – it is believed the Prince Regent gave them the lease because they had a racehorse that he wanted!

The Ridleys occupied number 10 for nearly 100 years and made their mark on the building in significant ways. Between 1905 and 1907, the 2nd Viscount Ridley commissioned a remodelling of the house in the French classical style from Detmar Blow and Fernand Billerey. This included a new porch, the installation of the black marble staircase – designed by Billerey – with a bronze balustrade by Bainbridge Reynolds, and the grand corniced ceilings in the public rooms. The Viscount also set the Ridley family crest into the floor of the entrance hall, which is still visible today.

Due to its classical design, number 10 has been used in several movies and TV shows, including Wings of the Dove starring Helena Bonham-Carter, the ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’ and ‘The Reichenbach Falls’ episodes of Sherlock, and Made in Chelsea.

War comes to Carlton House Terrace

When war broke out in 1914, Lady Ridley decided to open up her London home as a hospital for officers. On the first floor, the ballroom and the south drawing room were converted into wards and by 1917, further rooms on the ground floor and first floor had been converted into wards, and huts had been built on the terrace, taking the total of beds to 60. There was also an operating theatre on the ground floor.

One of the volunteer nurses who worked at Lady Ridley’s was Aileen Maunsell (also known as Dinkie), from nearby Bayswater. Dinkie was 19 when war broke out and, like many upper-class girls her age, she quickly volunteered to attend home nursing courses and become a nurse.

Dinkie was popular with the recovering officers, so popular in fact that one of them, Canadian pilot Duncan Bell-Irving, proposed to her three times. Bell-Irving was shot down twice in France and suffered a flying accident on August 13 1917, and each time he wound up back at Carlton House Terrace. After initially rejecting Bell-Irving’s advances, Dinkie finally agreed to marry him in late 1917 – her diary entries from much of this time concern her excitement at the prospect of marriage.

However, within a few months and for reasons that remain a mystery, the engagement was off. It is believed the couple received a visit from Duncan’s father, Henry Bell-Irving, who may have insisted they move to Canada. Whatever happened, Dinkie spoke in her diary of her “sadness” at having to return the ring.

It was around this time that the Rudyard Kipling visited the hospital. According to Dinkie’s diary, the writer – most famous for The Jungle Book – dropped in on June 8th 1918 to see one of the nurses and her patient. There were also regular visits from Queen Alexandra (King Edward VII’s wife), who Dinkie described as “kindness itself.”

The Foreign Press Association and the modern day

Sections of the Commonwealth Secretariat occupied number 10 and much of number 11, until the British Academy took over occupation in 1998. The Foreign Press Association held the lease to part of number 11 until 2009, at which point the Academy took over the entire two buildings.


More about the British Academy Open House 2017, on Sunday 17 September 2017.