Clarence House

by Scott Mehl

Clarence House was built between 1825-1827 for the future King William IV when he was Duke of Clarence. Feeling that his accommodations at St James’ Palace were too cramped, he contracted John Nash to build him an appropriate home. A small corner spot adjacent to St James’ Palace allowed for the building of a three-story home for the Duke and his wife. At the time, the layout was slightly different, with the main entrance on the west side, facing directly onto Stable Yard Road, which at the time was a public road. The house was decorated and furnished very simply, not anywhere near the opulence and grand style of most other royal residences. At the time it was fully completed, in 1829, the cost was estimated to be £22,232 – (that would be about £1,706,468 or $2,653,380 today!).

original layout of Clarence House, 1827.

William became King in 1830, but unlike his predecessors, chose not to move to St James’ Palace. Instead, he remained at Clarence House, his only concession being the addition of a corridor which connected to the State Apartments at St James’. He remained here until his death in 1837, at which time the house was passed to his favorite sister, Princess Augusta, who lived there until her death in 1840. The following year, Queen Victoria granted the use of the house to her mother, The Duchess of Kent, who retained the residence until her death 20 years later.

Clarence House, c1874

After remaining empty for a few years, Clarence House was given to Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh in 1866. After his marriage in 1874 to Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, Prince Alfred enlarged and redecorated Clarence House, primarily at his own expense. A fourth story was added, a Russian Orthodox chapel was added on the first floor for his wife, and the main entrance was relocated to the south side where it remains today. After becoming Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1893, Prince Alfred retained Clarence House as his London residence, as well as the £10,000 allowance granted upon his marriage in order to maintain his London home. (He did, however, relinquish the £15,000 annual allowance granted him upon being created Duke of Edinburgh.)

After Alfred’s death in 1900, Clarence House became the London home of his younger brother, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, and his wife, the former Princess Louise Margaret of Prussia. The Duchess of Connaught died at Clarence House in 1917, and the house remained the Duke’s London residence until his death in 1942.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Sitting Room (now the Morning Room) in 1949. photo: Getty Images

For the remainder of WWII, Clarence House was used by the Red Cross and St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. After extensive refurbishment, partially due to bomb damage from the war, Clarence House once again became a royal residence in 1949, when the (then) Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh and her husband, The Duke of Edinburgh, moved in with their young son, Prince Charles. A year later, Princess Anne was born at Clarence House. They remained there until 1952, when the new Queen and her family moved to Buckingham Palace.

The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret in the Morning Room, 1954.

The following year, after some renovations, The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret moved into Clarence House. It was here that all foreign Heads of State would call on the Queen Mother for tea on the first day of their State Visits. The Queen Mother also hosted many social functions at Clarence House. After Princess Margaret married and moved to Kensington Palace in 1960, The Queen Mother renovated some of the ground floor, combining two smaller rooms to create the Garden Room which allowed for entertaining of larger groups of guests. It was Clarence House where Lady Diana Spencer took up residence on the eve of her engagement to The Prince of Wales, and where she lived until their wedding in 1981.

Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. photo: Getty Images

Perhaps one of the more memorable images of Clarence House is that of The Queen Mother, surrounded by the rest of the Royal Family, greeting well-wishers on her birthday every year. This tradition began on her 70th birthday and continued every year until her death.

The Queen Mother passed away in 2002, and after some much-needed renovations, Clarence House became the official residence of the Prince of Wales and his family in August 2003. Perhaps as a tribute to his beloved grandmother, much of the decor remains as it was when she lived there, including many pieces from her extensive art collection. The ground floor contains the more public rooms where numerous functions and meetings are held; the first floor is a bit more private, and also contains much of the office space for the Prince of Wales’ staff; the second floor contains the private apartment of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall; and the third floor contains the apartment which was shared by Prince William and Prince Harry.

Clarence House today

British Monarchy Media: Clarence House
Prince of Wales Media: Clarence House
Royal Collection: Clarence House
Wikipedia: Clarence House