Carlton House Terrace, in the heart of London, has had a major impact on the city’s environment and on world history. Soul City Wanderer invites you to read more of its fascinating story in the first of a five-part article running this week.
Just off the Mall in Westminster, next to the statue of ‘the grand old Duke of York’, is Carlton House Terrace, a grand stucco-ed row of properties. Originally built on the site of a royal palace, numbers 8 & 9 are today part of the headquarters of the Royal Society. However, just before WWII, this London building was plastered with Nazi insignia while the swastika brazenly flew from a flagpole above.
The first property was built on the Carlton House Terrace site was back in the early 1700s, when it was still part of the St James’s Palace garden. The deeds over the next 80-odd years were held variously by Queen Anne, Henry Boyle (Baron Carlton), Lord Burlington, Prince Frederick and George III.
In 1783, it was given to George III’s son, the Prince of Wales, as a 21st birthday gift. Major refurbishment work in the neo-classical style was then carried out by the architect Henry Holland. In the early 1800s, the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent during his father’s illness. He was not overly popular with the public, so in a vain attempt for acclaim, he attempted to bask in the glory of some of his victorious military commanders, such as Wellington and Nelson. He thus commissioned the architect John Nash to design a Victory Way or “Via Triumphalis” which was to run from one of his royal palaces to another, slicing through the West End of London
Nash got to work on this massive project. He landscaped an area north of the St Marylebone district of London for the building of a new royal summer palace. This became Regent’s Park. The processional route was to run from here, via Portland Place, Regent Street (between the line of maximum profit dividing the consumer-rich Mayfair and Soho districts), Lower Regent Street, and finally Waterloo Place which was laid out as a grand triumphal approach to Carlton House.
However, after the Regent was crowned King George IV in 1820, he began to have second thoughts on the whole project, not least because of the spiralling costs. His summer palace in Regent’s Park never got built, and eventually he decided Carlton House was not grand enough. Instead, he decided to refurbish Buckingham House at the other end of St James’s Park.
The main royal route had already been laid out as planned. Indeed, the Crown Estate still owns and rents out many of the properties along it today by Royal Warrant. Thus, George IV’s much-vaunted vanity project, the Via Triumphalis has no beginning and no end, just a middle bit! Still, it ended up restructuring a substantial chunk of the West End, and reinterpreting the way London works.
In 1826, instructions were given for the demolition of Carlton House with the site and gardens to be laid out for high-end residential development, partly to pay for the Buckingham House project. Some features form the original palace were salvaged, such as the columns of the magnificent Corinthian portico which were re-used for the new National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Other interiors found their way into Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
The Carlton House Terrace was built in two sections to an overall Nash design between 1827-32 with a large gap in-between where a grand fountain was planned as a centrepiece. However, in 1834, a granite column was erected here, and topped with a bronze statue of George IV’s brother, the Duke of York, once Commander-in-Chief of the British army. A flight of steps was added down to St James’s Park which Nash also had redesigned to fit the overall scheme. Finally, in 1838, the very first asphalt road in London was laid at Waterloo Place leading up to Nash’s new terrace.
Individual blocks of the Carlton House Terrace were rented out as Crown property. Various British politicians moved in to take advantage of their key position between Whitehall and new royal residence at Buckingham Palace. They included Lord Cardigan and three prime ministers, William Gladstone, Lord Palmerston and Earl Grey.
In 1849, The Prussian Consul-General occupied the house at No.9 Carlton House Terrace. Thus, it became known as the Prussian Legate, or Prussia House. Eventually, the German Embassy.
Even at the outbreak of World War One, it remained operational, despite obvious diplomatic disruption.
“You can imagine that things are moving at Carlton Terrace and that we all have to be at our posts.”Arthur Conan Doyle: Sherlock Holmes: His Last Bow (1917).
(Chief secretary of the legation to a German spy).
When Hitler took power in November 1933, the incumbent ambassador Leopold von Hoesch remained in his post and was thus the first under the Nazi regime. However, he generally opposed Hitler’s foreign policy and was respected by most British statesmen.
Three months later, a bad omen: Giro, von Hoesch’s faithful Alsatian dog, died after accidently being electrocuted at the Carlton House Terrace embassy. Von Hoesch was heartbroken, and had him buried in the embassy garden. The little tombstone survives, now at the base of a tree at the side of the building. It is inscribed ‘ein treuer begleiter’ (a trusted companion).
In March 1936, von Hoesch publicly denounced the German reoccupation of the Rhineland. A few weeks later he died of a heart attack at the Carlton House Terrace embassy. The British government organised the funeral procession. His swastika-draped coffin was borne by Grenadier Guards from the embassy with British staff giving the Nazi salute. The cortege was escorted all the way to Dover, where a gun salute was fired as his body was transferred onto a British warship for the journey to Germany.
His replacement was the one of Hitler’s closest aides, the notorious Ribbentrop.
Part 2 of Soul City Wanderer’s ‘The Carlton Conspiracy’ tomorrow.
Blakeway, Denys. The Last Dance. John Murray, 2010
Clow, Don. ‘From Macadam to Asphalt’ (part 1). Accessed online May 2018: glias.org.uk/journals/8-a.html
Lukacs, John. Five Days in London – May 1940. Yale, 1999.
Shepley, Nick. Hitler, Ribbentrop and Britain. Andrews UK, 2013.