Somerset House

Somerset House

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Somerset House is a large building situated on the south side of the Strand
Strand, London
Strand is a street in the City of Westminster, London, England. The street is just over three-quarters of a mile long. It currently starts at Trafalgar Square and runs east to join Fleet Street at Temple Bar, which marks the boundary of the City of London at this point, though its historical length...

 in central London
Central London
Central London is the innermost part of London, England. There is no official or commonly accepted definition of its area, but its characteristics are understood to include a high density built environment, high land values, an elevated daytime population and a concentration of regionally,...

, England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, overlooking the River Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

, just east of Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge crossing the River Thames in London, England between Blackfriars Bridge and Hungerford Bridge. The name of the bridge is in memory of the British victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815...

. The central block of the Neoclassical
Neoclassicism
Neoclassicism is the name given to Western movements in the decorative and visual arts, literature, theatre, music, and architecture that draw inspiration from the "classical" art and culture of Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome...

 building, the outstanding project of the architect
Architect
An architect is a person trained in the planning, design and oversight of the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means to offer or render services in connection with the design and construction of a building, or group of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the...

 Sir William Chambers
William Chambers (architect)
Sir William Chambers was a Scottish architect, born in Gothenburg, Sweden, where his father was a merchant. Between 1740 and 1749 he was employed by the Swedish East India Company making several voyages to China where he studied Chinese architecture and decoration.Returning to Europe, he studied...

, dates from 1776–96. It was extended by classical Victorian
Victorian architecture
The term Victorian architecture refers collectively to several architectural styles employed predominantly during the middle and late 19th century. The period that it indicates may slightly overlap the actual reign, 20 June 1837 – 22 January 1901, of Queen Victoria. This represents the British and...

 wings to north and south. A building of the same name was first built on the site more than two centuries earlier. The East Wing of Somerset House forms part of King's College London
King's College London
King's College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London. King's has a claim to being the third oldest university in England, having been founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, and...

.

Sixteenth century


In the sixteenth century, the north bank of the Thames
River Thames
The River Thames flows through southern England. It is the longest river entirely in England and the second longest in the United Kingdom. While it is best known because its lower reaches flow through central London, the river flows alongside several other towns and cities, including Oxford,...

 between London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

 and Westminster
City of Westminster
The City of Westminster is a London borough occupying much of the central area of London, England, including most of the West End. It is located to the west of and adjoining the ancient City of London, directly to the east of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and its southern boundary...

 was a favoured site for the mansions of the nobility. In 1539, Edward Seymour
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset
Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, 1st Earl of Hertford, 1st Viscount Beauchamp of Hache, KG, Earl Marshal was Lord Protector of England in the period between the death of Henry VIII in 1547 and his own indictment in 1549....

, Earl of Hertford, obtained a grant of land at "Chester Place, outside Temple Bar
Temple Bar, London
Temple Bar is the barrier marking the westernmost extent of the City of London on the road to Westminster, where Fleet Street becomes the Strand...

, London" from Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

. When the boy-king Edward VI of England
Edward VI of England
Edward VI was the King of England and Ireland from 28 January 1547 until his death. He was crowned on 20 February at the age of nine. The son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Edward was the third monarch of the Tudor dynasty and England's first monarch who was raised as a Protestant...

 came to the throne in 1547, Seymour became Duke of Somerset
Duke of Somerset
Duke of Somerset is a title in the peerage of England that has been created several times. Derived from Somerset, it is particularly associated with two families; the Beauforts who held the title from the creation of 1448 and the Seymours, from the creation of 1547 and in whose name the title is...

 and Lord Protector
Lord Protector
Lord Protector is a title used in British constitutional law for certain heads of state at different periods of history. It is also a particular title for the British Heads of State in respect to the established church...

. About 1549 he pulled down an old Inn of Chancery and other houses that stood on the site and began to build himself a truly imposing residence, making liberal use of the other nearby buildings including some of the chantries
Chantry
Chantry is the English term for a fund established to pay for a priest to celebrate sung Masses for a specified purpose, generally for the soul of the deceased donor. Chantries were endowed with lands given by donors, the income from which maintained the chantry priest...

 and cloister
Cloister
A cloister is a rectangular open space surrounded by covered walks or open galleries, with open arcades on the inner side, running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle or garth...

s at St. Paul's Cathedral which were demolished at the behest of Somerset and other leading Protestant nobles as part of the ongoing Dissolution of the Monasteries
Dissolution of the Monasteries
The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometimes referred to as the Suppression of the Monasteries, was the set of administrative and legal processes between 1536 and 1541 by which Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland; appropriated their...

. It was a two storey house built around a quadrangle with a gateway rising to three stories and was one of the earliest examples of Renaissance architecture
Renaissance architecture
Renaissance architecture is the architecture of the period between the early 15th and early 17th centuries in different regions of Europe, demonstrating a conscious revival and development of certain elements of ancient Greek and Roman thought and material culture. Stylistically, Renaissance...

 in England. It is not known who designed the building.

Before it was finished, however, Somerset created too many enemies for himself in the Council. In the struggle for power he was overthrown and in 1552 paid with his head on Tower Hill
Tower Hill
Tower Hill is an elevated spot northwest of the Tower of London, just outside the limits of the City of London, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Formerly it was part of the Tower Liberty under the direct administrative control of Tower...

. "Somerset Place" then came into the possession of the Crown and was used by Princess Elizabeth for some years before she was crowned Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

 in 1558.

For a long time thereafter it served as one of the Royal palaces. Elizabeth I lived there during the reign of her sister Mary I of England
Mary I of England
Mary I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from July 1553 until her death.She was the only surviving child born of the ill-fated marriage of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Her younger half-brother, Edward VI, succeeded Henry in 1547...

. The process of completion and improvement was slow and costly. As late as 1598 Stow refers to it as "yet unfinished".

Seventeenth century


In the 17th century the house was used as a residence by the Queens of James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

, Charles I
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

, and Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

. During the reign of James I (also James VI King of Scots), the building became the London residence of his wife Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark
Anne of Denmark was queen consort of Scotland, England, and Ireland as the wife of King James VI and I.The second daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark, Anne married James in 1589 at the age of fourteen and bore him three children who survived infancy, including the future Charles I...

 and was renamed "Denmark House". She commissioned a number of expensive additions and improvements, some to designs by Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones is the first significant British architect of the modern period, and the first to bring Italianate Renaissance architecture to England...

. In particular, during the period between 1630 and 1635 he built a Chapel where Henrietta Maria
Henrietta Maria of France
Henrietta Maria of France ; was the Queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland as the wife of King Charles I...

, Queen of Charles I, could exercise her Roman Catholic religion. This was in the care of the Capuchin Order
Order of Friars Minor Capuchin
The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin is an Order of friars in the Catholic Church, among the chief offshoots of the Franciscans. The worldwide head of the Order, called the Minister General, is currently Father Mauro Jöhri.-Origins :...

 and was on a site to the south-west of the Great Court. A small cemetery was attached and some of the tombstones are still to be seen built into one of the walls of a passage under the present quadrangle.

Royal occupation of Somerset House was interrupted by the English Civil War
English Civil War
The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists...

 and in 1649 Parliament
Parliament of the United Kingdom
The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative body in the United Kingdom, British Crown dependencies and British overseas territories, located in London...

 tried to sell it. They failed to find a buyer, though a sale of the contents realised the very considerable sum (for that time) of £
Pound sterling
The pound sterling , commonly called the pound, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence...

118,000. Use was still found for it however. Part of it served as an Army headquarters, General Fairfax
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron was a general and parliamentary commander-in-chief during the English Civil War...

 (the Parliamentary Commander-in-Chief) being given official quarters there; lodgings were also provided for certain other Parliamentary notables. It was in Somerset House that Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

's body lay in state after his death in 1658.

Two years later, with the Restoration
English Restoration
The Restoration of the English monarchy began in 1660 when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms...

, Henrietta Maria returned and in 1661 began a considerable programme of rebuilding, the main feature of which was a magnificent new river front, again to the design of the late Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones is the first significant British architect of the modern period, and the first to bring Italianate Renaissance architecture to England...

, who had died at Somerset House in 1652. However she returned to France in 1665 before it was finished. It was then used as an occasional residence by Catherine of Braganza
Catherine of Braganza
Catherine of Braganza was a Portuguese infanta and queen consort of England, Scotland and Ireland as the wife of King Charles II.She married the king in 1662...

, Queen of Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

. During her time it received a certain notoriety as being, in the popular mind, a hot-bed of Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 conspiracy. Titus Oates
Titus Oates
Titus Oates was an English perjurer who fabricated the "Popish Plot", a supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill King Charles II.-Early life:...

 made full use of this prejudice in the fabricated details of the Popish Plot
Popish Plot
The Popish Plot was a fictitious conspiracy concocted by Titus Oates that gripped England, Wales and Scotland in Anti-Catholic hysteria between 1678 and 1681. Oates alleged that there existed an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II, accusations that led to the execution of at...

 and it was alleged that Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, whose murder was one of the great mysteries of the age, had been killed in Somerset House before his body had been smuggled out and thrown into a ditch below Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill is a hill of located on the north side of Regent's Park in London, England, and also the name for the surrounding district. The hill has a clear view of central London to the south-east, as well as Belsize Park and Hampstead to the north...

.

Somerset House was refurbished by Sir Christopher Wren in 1685. After the Glorious Revolution
Glorious Revolution
The Glorious Revolution, also called the Revolution of 1688, is the overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau...

 in 1688, Somerset House entered on a long period of decline, being used (after Catherine left England in 1692) for grace and favour
Grace and favour
A grace and favour home is a residential property owned by a monarch by virtue of their position as head of state and leased rent-free to persons as part of an employment package or in gratitude for past services rendered....

 residences. In the conditions of the time this meant almost inevitably that little money could be found for its upkeep, and a slow process of decay crept in. During the 18th century, however, the building ceased its royal associations. Though the view from its terraced riverfront garden, open to the public, was painted twice on his London visit by Canaletto
Canaletto
Giovanni Antonio Canal better known as Canaletto , was a Venetian painter famous for his landscapes, or vedute, of Venice. He was also an important printmaker in etching.- Early career :...

 (looking upriver and down), it was used for storage, as a residence for visiting overseas dignitaries and as a barracks for troops. Suffering from neglect, Old Somerset House began to be demolished in 1775.


Sir William Chambers' Somerset House


Since the middle of the 18th century there had been growing criticism that London had no great public buildings. Government departments and the learned societies were huddled away in small old buildings all over the city. Developing national pride found comparison with the capitals of the Continent disquieting. Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke PC was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party....

 was the leading proponent of the scheme for a "national building", and in 1775 Parliament passed an Act for the purpose of, inter alia, "erecting and establishing Publick Offices in Somerset House, and for embanking Parts of the River Thames lying within the bounds of the Manor of Savoy
Savoy Hotel
The Savoy Hotel is a hotel located on the Strand, in the City of Westminster in central London. Built by impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte with profits from his Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the hotel opened on 6 August 1889. It was the first in the Savoy group of hotels and restaurants owned by...

". The list of "Publick Offices" mentioned in the Act comprised "The Salt Office, The Stamp Office, The Tax Office, The Navy Office, The Navy Victualling Office, The Publick Lottery Office, The Hawkers and Pedlar Office, The Hackney Coach Office, The Surveyor General of the Crown Lands Office, The Auditors of the Imprest Office, The Pipe Office, The Office of the Dutchy of Lancaster
Duchy of Lancaster
The Duchy of Lancaster is one of the two royal duchies in England, the other being the Duchy of Cornwall. It is held in trust for the Sovereign, and is used to provide income for the use of the British monarch...

, The Office of the Dutchy of Cornwall
Duchy of Cornwall
The Duchy of Cornwall is one of two royal duchies in England, the other being the Duchy of Lancaster. The eldest son of the reigning British monarch inherits the duchy and title of Duke of Cornwall at the time of his birth, or of his parent's succession to the throne. If the monarch has no son, the...

, The Office of Ordinance, The King's Bargemaster's House, The King's Bargehouses".

Sir William Chambers
William Chambers (architect)
Sir William Chambers was a Scottish architect, born in Gothenburg, Sweden, where his father was a merchant. Between 1740 and 1749 he was employed by the Swedish East India Company making several voyages to China where he studied Chinese architecture and decoration.Returning to Europe, he studied...

, Surveyor-General of Works was appointed at a salary of £2,000 p.a. to design and build the new Somerset House. He spent the last two decades of his life, beginning in 1775, in several phases of building at the present Somerset House. Thomas Telford
Thomas Telford
Thomas Telford FRS, FRSE was a Scottish civil engineer, architect and stonemason, and a noted road, bridge and canal builder.-Early career:...

, then a stonemason, but later an eminent civil engineer
Civil engineer
A civil engineer is a person who practices civil engineering; the application of planning, designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating infrastructures while protecting the public and environmental health, as well as improving existing infrastructures that have been neglected.Originally, a...

, was among those who worked on its construction. One of Chambers's most famous pupils, Thomas Hardwick
Thomas Hardwick
Thomas Hardwick was a British architect and a founding member of the Architect's Club in 1791.-Early life and career :Hardwick was born in Brentford, the son of a master mason turned architect also named Thomas Hardwick Thomas Hardwick (1752–1829) was a British architect and a founding...

 Jr, helped build parts of the building during his period of training and later wrote a short biography of Chambers. By 1780 the North Wing, fronting the Strand
Strand, London
Strand is a street in the City of Westminster, London, England. The street is just over three-quarters of a mile long. It currently starts at Trafalgar Square and runs east to join Fleet Street at Temple Bar, which marks the boundary of the City of London at this point, though its historical length...

, was complete. Its design was based on Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones is the first significant British architect of the modern period, and the first to bring Italianate Renaissance architecture to England...

's drawings for the riverfront of the former building.

We do not know for certain at what pace the rest of the construction progressed, but it is clear that the outbreak of war with France caused delays through lack of money. Chambers died in 1796; most of the building was completed after Chambers' death by James Wyatt
James Wyatt
James Wyatt RA , was an English architect, a rival of Robert Adam in the neoclassical style, who far outdid Adam in his work in the neo-Gothic style.-Early classical career:...

. However we know that building work was still going on in 1801; and there are indications that as late as 1819 some decorative work still needed to be completed. This original building (which did not yet include the "New Wing" and King's College London
King's College London
King's College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London. King's has a claim to being the third oldest university in England, having been founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, and...

, situated behind the West and East Wings of the quadrangle respectively) probably cost about £500,000.

At that time the river was not embanked and the Thames lapped the South Wing where three great arches allowed boats and barges to penetrate to landing places within the building.

Nineteenth century


Magnificent as the new building was, it was something short of what Chambers had intended, for he had planned for additional wings to the east and west of the quadrangle. Cost had been the inhibiting factor. Eventually King's College London
King's College London
King's College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London. King's has a claim to being the third oldest university in England, having been founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, and...

 was erected to the east (the Government giving the land on condition that the siting and design conform to Chambers' original plan) by subscription between 1829 and 1834. Then, increasing demand for space led to another and last step. The western edge of the site was occupied by a row of houses used as dwellings for Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 officials who worked in the South Wing. Between 1851 and 1856 these were demolished and a further wing erected. 150 years later this part of the building is still, in a very British way, known as the "New Wing". Somerset House now presents more of the aspect of a terrace than Chambers would have intended.

The building housed various learned societies, including the Royal Academy
Royal Academy
The Royal Academy of Arts is an art institution based in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London. The Royal Academy of Arts has a unique position in being an independent, privately funded institution led by eminent artists and architects whose purpose is to promote the creation, enjoyment and...

, which Chambers was instrumental in founding, and the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 and Society of Antiquaries
Society of Antiquaries of London
The Society of Antiquaries of London is a learned society "charged by its Royal Charter of 1751 with 'the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries'." It is based at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London , and is...

 (the RA had been among the last tenants of the previous building). The University of London
University of London
-20th century:Shortly after 6 Burlington Gardens was vacated, the University went through a period of rapid expansion. Bedford College, Royal Holloway and the London School of Economics all joined in 1900, Regent's Park College, which had affiliated in 1841 became an official divinity school of the...

 also had accommodation there and the learned Societies retained a presence in the building until the 1870s.

Twentieth century and today


Somerset House had its share of trials and tribulations during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Apart from comparatively minor blast effects at various times, sixteen rooms and the handsome rotunda staircase (the Nelson Stair) were completely destroyed in the South Wing, and a further 27 damaged in the West Wing by a direct hit in October 1940. Still more windows were shattered and balustrades toppled, but the worst was over by the end of May 1941.

It was not until the 1950s that this damage to the South Wing was repaired. The work required skilled masons, whose services were hard to come by in the early post-war years. Sir Albert Richardson
Albert Richardson
Sir Albert Edward Richardson K.C.V.O., F.R.I.B.A, F.S.A., was a leading English architect, teacher and writer about architecture during the first half of the 20th century...

 was appointed architect for the reconstruction. He skillfully recreated the Nelson Room and rebuilt the Nelson Stair. The work was completed in 1952 at a cost of (then) £84,000. The newly restored part of the South Wing was taken by the Solicitor's Office and the "Establishments" (now commonly "HR") Division, augmenting their existing accommodation in the West Wing.

Government use


The main government department in the early days was the Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

, leading to the legend that Nelson
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson
Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB was a flag officer famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was noted for his inspirational leadership and superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, which resulted in a number of...

 worked in the building for a time. It is almost certain there is no foundation for this story, although his elder brother Maurice was employed there. There is still a conference room known as the "Nelson Room", a graceful apartment which has a copy of the Probate
Probate
Probate is the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person by resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under the valid will. A probate court decides the validity of a testator's will...

 of Nelson's will framed on the wall.

Other departments in Somerset House during the first half of the 19th century were the Poor Law Commissioners and the Tithe Commissioners; in 1837 the Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Deaths set up his office in the North Wing, establishing a connection that lasted for almost 150 years. This office held all Birth
Birth certificate
A birth certificate is a vital record that documents the birth of a child. The term "birth certificate" can refer to either the original document certifying the circumstances of the birth or to a certified copy of or representation of the ensuing registration of that birth...

, Marriage
Marriage certificate
In some jurisdictions a marriage certificate is the official record that two people have undertaken a marriage ceremony. This does include jurisdictions where marriage licenses do not exist...

 and Death
Death certificate
The phrase death certificate can describe either a document issued by a medical practitioner certifying the deceased state of a person or popularly to a document issued by a person such as a registrar of vital statistics that declares the date, location and cause of a person's death as later...

 certificates in England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

; indexes to these are now at The National Archives. From its foundation in 1837 the Government School of Design, which was much later to become the Royal College of Art
Royal College of Art
The Royal College of Art is an art school located in London, United Kingdom. It is the world’s only wholly postgraduate university of art and design, offering the degrees of Master of Arts , Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy...

, was housed in the complex, until in 1853 the Registry needed to expand its space.

Somerset House Laboratory, the laboratory originally established in 1842 for the prevention of the adulteration of tobacco products, started as basically a one-man operation by George Phillips. The laboratory was run by Inland Revenue
Inland Revenue
The Inland Revenue was, until April 2005, a department of the British Government responsible for the collection of direct taxation, including income tax, national insurance contributions, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, corporation tax, petroleum revenue tax and stamp duty...

 and enhanced by the 1875 Sale of Food and Drugs Law. Phillips retired as principal chemist in 1874. Dr. James Bell was then the principal chemist of Somerset House Laboratory until his retirement in 1894. He was replaced as principal chemist by Sir Thomas Edward Thorpe
Thomas Edward Thorpe
Sir Thomas Edward Thorpe, often called Edward Thorpe, was a British chemist.Born in Harpurhey, Manchester, Thorpe originally worked as a clerk, but in 1863 began working as an assistant to Henry Roscoe, a professor of chemistry at Owen's College...

, who in 1897 closed the laboratory within Somerset House and transferred the activities of the Government Laboratory to a new building of his own design.

From the beginning of the new Somerset House there was a fiscal presence in the shape of the Stamp Office and the Tax Office. These two Offices proved more tenacious than the others, going on to help form what became the Inland Revenue
Inland Revenue
The Inland Revenue was, until April 2005, a department of the British Government responsible for the collection of direct taxation, including income tax, national insurance contributions, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, corporation tax, petroleum revenue tax and stamp duty...

. This department became the largest occupier of the building, although the North Wing became available for public purposes in the 1970s.

Somerset House continued in use by the Inland Revenue
Inland Revenue
The Inland Revenue was, until April 2005, a department of the British Government responsible for the collection of direct taxation, including income tax, national insurance contributions, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, corporation tax, petroleum revenue tax and stamp duty...

 after it was created by a merger of the Stamp and Taxes Offices and the Excise
Excise
Excise tax in the United States is a indirect tax on listed items. Excise taxes can be and are made by federal, state and local governments and are far from uniform throughout the United States...

 Department in 1849. The Inland Revenue
Inland Revenue
The Inland Revenue was, until April 2005, a department of the British Government responsible for the collection of direct taxation, including income tax, national insurance contributions, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, corporation tax, petroleum revenue tax and stamp duty...

 was eventually merged in 2005 with HM Customs and Excise and its successor HM Revenue & Customs continued to occupy the building, although its executive and senior management moved to 100 Parliament St. shortly after the merger. Various divisions and directorates of HMRC previously occupied the East, West and New Wings of Somerset House until early 2009 when almost all staff relocated with most moving across the street to Bush House. In 2004 it was proposed that the newly proposed Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is the supreme court in all matters under English law, Northern Ireland law and Scottish civil law. It is the court of last resort and highest appellate court in the United Kingdom; however the High Court of Justiciary remains the supreme court for criminal...

 be housed in the New Wing, but a decision was made to use Middlesex Guildhall
Middlesex Guildhall
The Middlesex Guildhall is the home of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It stands on the south-west corner of Parliament Square in London.-History:...

 instead.

A home for arts and learning


As well as the Royal Academy, and the Government Art School, Somerset House was fitted out to house the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 and the Society of Antiquaries
Society of Antiquaries of London
The Society of Antiquaries of London is a learned society "charged by its Royal Charter of 1751 with 'the encouragement, advancement and furtherance of the study and knowledge of the antiquities and history of this and other countries'." It is based at Burlington House, Piccadilly, London , and is...

. These, and the Geological Society
Geological Society of London
The Geological Society of London is a learned society based in the United Kingdom with the aim of "investigating the mineral structure of the Earth"...

, moved to Burlington House
Burlington House
Burlington House is a building on Piccadilly in London. It was originally a private Palladian mansion, and was expanded in the mid 19th century after being purchased by the British government...

 in Piccadilly
Piccadilly
Piccadilly is a major street in central London, running from Hyde Park Corner in the west to Piccadilly Circus in the east. It is completely within the city of Westminster. The street is part of the A4 road, London's second most important western artery. St...

 in the early 19th century.

In the late 20th century the building was reinvigorated as a centre for the visual arts. The first institution to move in was the Courtauld Institute of Art
Courtauld Institute of Art
The Courtauld Institute of Art is a self-governing college of the University of London specialising in the study of the history of art. The Courtauld is one of the premier centres for the teaching of art history in the world; it was the only History of Art department in the UK to be awarded a top...

, including the Courtauld Gallery, which has an important collection of old master
Old Master
"Old Master" is a term for a European painter of skill who worked before about 1800, or a painting by such an artist. An "old master print" is an original print made by an artist in the same period...

 and impressionist paintings. In the late 1990s the main courtyard ceased to be a civil service carpark, and the main terrace overlooking the Thames was refurbished and opened to the public, these alterations being overseen by the leading conservation architects Donald Insall & Associates. A visitor centre featuring audiovisual displays on the history of the building; the gilded Lord Mayor of the City of London's state barge; and a shop and café were opened in the wing overlooking the river. The Gilbert Collection
Gilbert Collection
The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection is a collection of objets d'art formed by the English-born businessman Sir Arthur Gilbert, who made most of his fortune in the property business in California. After initially becoming interested in silver, he assembled a large collection of decorative...

 of decorative arts, and the Hermitage Rooms
Hermitage Rooms
The Hermitage Rooms was the name by which a series of rooms at Somerset House, London, were known from 2000 to 2007. During this period they were used as a venue for temporary exhibitions from the collection of the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg...

, which stage exhibitions of items loaned from the Hermitage Museum
Hermitage Museum
The State Hermitage is a museum of art and culture in Saint Petersburg, Russia. One of the largest and oldest museums of the world, it was founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great and has been opened to the public since 1852. Its collections, of which only a small part is on permanent display,...

 in St Petersburg, moved into the same area. The last Hermitage exhibition took place in 2007 and the Gilbert Collection galleries closed in 2008; the collection will move into new galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum , set in the Brompton district of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, England, is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects...

 in June 2009. http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/g/gilbert-collection/ Somerset House now puts on a programme of art exhibitions drawing on various sources.

In the winter the central courtyard is home to an open air ice rink
Ice rink
An ice rink is a frozen body of water and/or hardened chemicals where people can skate or play winter sports. Besides recreational ice skating, some of its uses include ice hockey, figure skating and curling as well as exhibitions, contests and ice shows...

. At other times, an array of fountains display vertical jets of water rising to random heights. The courtyard is also used as a concert venue. A series of music events called the 'Summer series' are held in July each year. These have included performances from artists such as Bat For Lashes
Bat for Lashes
Natasha Khan , also known by her stage name Bat for Lashes, is an English musician. She sings and plays the piano, bass, guitar, harpsichord and the autoharp....

, Lupe Fiasco
Lupe Fiasco
Wasalu Muhammad Jaco , better known by his stage name Lupe Fiasco , is an American rapper, record producer, and entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, Lupe is the CEO of 1st and 15th Entertainment. He rose to fame in 2006 following the success of his critically acclaimed debut album, Lupe Fiasco's Food...

, Snow Patrol
Snow Patrol
Snow Patrol are an alternative rock band from Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland. Formed at the University of Dundee in 1994 as an indie rock band, the band is now based in Glasgow...

, We Are Scientists
We Are Scientists
We Are Scientists is a New York-based indie rock band that formed in Berkeley, California in 2000. Originally formed of Keith Murray on drums, Chris Cain playing bass guitar and Scott Lamb providing vocals and guitar, before Michael Tapper became drummer and Keith became vocalist and guitarist...

, Lily Allen
Lily Allen
Lily Rose Beatrice Cooper , better known as Lily Allen, is an English recording artist and fashion designer. She is the daughter of actor and musician Keith Allen and film producer Alison Owen. In her teenage years, her musical tastes evolved from glam rock to alternative...

 and Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse
Amy Jade Winehouse was an English singer-songwriter known for her powerful deep contralto vocals and her eclectic mix of musical genres including R&B, soul and jazz. Winehouse's 2003 debut album, Frank, was critically successful in the UK and was nominated for the Mercury Prize...

. There is also an annual summer season of outdoor film showings. The Eastern wing is largely occupied by the Department of Music of King's College London
King's College London
King's College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London. King's has a claim to being the third oldest university in England, having been founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, and...

.

Somerset House was also the main location for the BBC
BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

's New Year Live television show, presented by Natasha Kaplinsky
Natasha Kaplinsky
Natasha Margaret Kaplinsky is a British newsreader and television presenter, currently employed by ITV having previously worked for Channel 5, Sky News and the BBC...

, which celebrated the arrival of the year 2006. It also stood in for Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, in London, is the principal residence and office of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal hospitality...

 in the episode "Celebrity" of Spooks
Spooks
Spooks is a British television drama series that originally aired on BBC One from 13 May 2002 – 23 October 2011, consisting of 10 series. The title is a popular colloquialism for spies, as the series follows the work of a group of MI5 officers based at the service's Thames House headquarters, in a...

.

Elements of the 2008 film The Duchess
The Duchess (film)
The Duchess is a 2008 British drama film based on Amanda Foreman's biography of the 18th-century English aristocrat Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. It was released in September 2008 in the UK...

starring Keira Knightley
Keira Knightley
Keira Christina Knightley born 26 March 1985) is an English actress and model. She began acting as a child and came to international notice in 2002 after co-starring in the film Bend It Like Beckham...

 and Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Fiennes
Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes is an English actor and film director. He has appeared in such films as The English Patient, In Bruges, The Constant Gardener, Strange Days, The Duchess and Schindler's List....

 were filmed at Somerset House in October 2007.
Additional filming during 2008 has included scenes from the Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes (2009 film)
Sherlock Holmes is a 2009 action-mystery film based on the character of the same name created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film was directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin. The screenplay by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon...

film starring Jude Law
Jude Law
David Jude Heyworth Law , known professionally as Jude Law, is an English actor, film producer and director.He began acting with the National Youth Music Theatre in 1987, and had his first television role in 1989...

 and Robert Downey, Jr. directed by Guy Ritchie.

Influence of Chambers' design


Charles Bulfinch
Charles Bulfinch
Charles Bulfinch was an early American architect, and has been regarded by many as the first native-born American to practice architecture as a profession....

's Massachusetts State House
Massachusetts State House
The Massachusetts State House, also known as the Massachusetts Statehouse or the "New" State House, is the state capitol and house of government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It is located in Boston in the neighborhood Beacon Hill...

, begun in 1795, is a work "frankly derivative" of the Somerset House, albeit in a lightened, refined, more delicate style.

External links