AGM and pre-meeting visit to Chandos House

Chandos House, guided tour on Tuesday 4 December at 3.00 pm

From the announcement in the Autumn Newsletter:

Prior to our AGM at the offices of Heineken we will be visiting Chandos House, a grade I listed building designed by Robert Adam, the most prominent architect in Georgian Britain. The house was speculatively built between 1769 and 1771 on land which was part of the Duke of Portland’s estate. It remained unsold until 1774 when it was bought by James Brydges, the third Duke of Chandos. For over 130 years Chandos House was home to such notable residents as the Duke of Chandos, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, the Countess of Stafford, the Earl of Shaftesbury and finally the newspaper tycoon Sir James Gomer Berry, Viscount Kemsley.

For a period in the 19th century Chandos House was also used as the Austrian Embassy. The first resident Ambassador was Prince Esterhazy and for 25 years the house was the scene of entertainment on a most lavish scale. He left the Embassy in 1842 and was succeeded by various Ambassadors until the lease on the property expired in 1866. The house was then acquired by the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, a descendant through marriage of the third Duke of Chandos. He only lived there for a short time but it remained in the possession of the family until the end of the century.

In 1963 ownership passed to the Royal Society of Medicine, who used it as a hotel and events venue for members until it was sold in 1986 to finance the refurbishment of the Society’s headquarters at 1 Wimpole Street. Unfortunately the house was then unoccupied and neglected, so much so that it was placed on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk list. The Howard de Walden estate saved the house in 2002 by purchasing the lease, and identifying the RSM as future tenants. After extensive restoration work the house was returned to its former splendour and since 2005 it is open again for use.


From the report in the Winter Newsletter:

Chandos House

Report, by John Boldero, on the visit preceding the AGM on 4 December

As you enter Cavendish Square in London`s West End, you are only a few metres from Harley Street and you expect to see a lot of brass plates, as outward signs of the predominant activity of the area, the provision of medical services. At the far corner of another road running from the square, Chandos Street, is the home of one such provider, the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM), housed in an imposing structure that reminds one of Edinburgh, with its tall yellow-brown columns. This will come as no surprise when you learn, as a visiting group from ANS did recently, that the stone used, Craigleith, came from a quarry near Edinburgh leased by the pre-eminent Georgian architect, Scotsman Robert Adam, the designer of this building, Chandos House.

It has stood here since the time when much of the surrounding area was countryside and duck-shooting was a typical past-time. In the period of the 1730`s -1790`s, rivalling Ranelagh and (familiar to aficionados of `Vanity Fair`) Vauxhall Gardens, the Marylebone Pleasure Gardens were sited nearby. They were hugely popular, helped by the services of George Frideric Handel as both composer and conductor of music performed there. The building itself was constructed between 1769 and 1771 as a prototype, or in modern parlance, a show house, for wealthy Londoners aspiring, as ever, to move into the countryside but not too far into it.

This house was subsequently seen to have been the first of a series of large London Town Houses which included Derby House. There were, at the time, however, no buyers for it, despite it being “A most capital and elegant..mansion..with a grand staircase… and water closets to the different Apartments”. The house was, after some time, sold to the Duke of Chandos and there followed a varied stream of owners over the years, including the Government of Austria and Viscount Kemsley, the newspaper tycoon. Finally, after a period in the 1980`s when the building was deserted, boarded up and looking very sad, it was acquired by its present owners and our hosts, the RSM.

Beginning our tour, Janice, our excellent and amusing guide, pointed out that such tours of the whole house have rarely been given to-date. Before describing the various features of the building, Janice gave us some insights into the pleasing continuity of the activities of its owners. While a successor in time to the original Medical Society of London, established in 1713, the RSM differs from other Colleges involved in aspects of medicine in that they are largely regulatory in function, e.g the Royal College of Surgeons. The RSM, located in Chandos House and its nearby quarters in Wimpole Street, has a mainly postgraduate training and educational role in a wide variety of healthcare areas including physiotherapy, midwifery and nursing, through internal and public lectures and houses one of the largest medical libraries in the world.

One of the roles of Chandos House today is to provide venues for functions, both for the Society and for public use. Brought back by restoration in 2005 from its near-terminal state of dereliction, the Grade 1 listed building demonstrates the particular skills of Robert Adam in its internal rooms, in terms of their dimensions and proportions. Sadly, of the decorative fireplaces that adorned most of the rooms, only one is original, the others being stolen by opportunist ‘developers’ during the period of unoccupancy. Adam`s love of proportion is demonstrated in what is now the main dining room for events, which features four separate doors and doorways, one in each corner, two of which are dummies.

Another particularly striking architectural feature is the staircase, which, suitably adorned with images of past PM`s, has played the role of the famous staircase of 10 Downing Street.
Other decorative highlights include a fine series of ceiling paintings by Antonio Zucchi, some marvellous and sizeable wall mirrors by Mewes and Davis, the designers of the Ritz Hotel, and various paintings of Dutch provenance. In more recent times, the house has retained, or recovered, its feeling of quiet opulence and played roles such as providing Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson with the opportunity for some privacy and featuring in Ang Lee`s `Sense and Sensibility.`

Thus Chandos House, with its fine painted features, imposing dimensions, crystal chandeliers and meticulous craftsmanship is one of the finest examples of Georgian Town Houses in London. Many thanks to Marianne Denney and the Events Committee for arranging this most interesting visit.