Walking through the front door of Bridgewater House overlooking The Green Park, you are almost blown over by what you see. Instead of a hallway to a private residence you are immediately propelled into the Great Saloon designed by Charles Barry as part of a reconstruction and looking like the forum of Barry's Reform Club only it is even bigger. Standing on the million pound carpet and looking skywards towards the glass roof your eye is caught by a ring of domes, half of which turn out to be mirror images.
At one end of the ground floor is a set of murals by Jakob Götzenberger depicting scenes from the masque Comus which was actually commisioned from John Milton (who lived for part of his life on the other side of St James' Park in Petty France) by a former owner of the house and depicts the Earl of Bridgewater talking to
Milton. Bridgewater was an ancestor of Lord Ellesmere who orchestrated the present reconstruction in the 1840s and to make sure posterity did not forget, he left dozens of his initials at strategic points throughout the house.
The famous gallery with works by Titian, da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and others is no longer there having been converted into offices but we were able to get a glimpse of its former glory by seeing the pillars at either end, one section of which has been converted into a small chapel.
This is no ordinary dwelling. The original one was built around 1626 for Thomas Howard, Earl of Berkshire, and the outline of its remains can still be seen in the garden under favourable climatic conditions. It was later given to Barbara Villiers, one of Charles 11's most notorious mistresses, whom he is supposed to have visited via a tunnel from St James' Palace. The Earl of Salisbury occupied several rooms there when he was Prime Minister and it has also been used for global economic summits.
As this is a private residence (owned by the Latsis family) we were asked not to take any photos except in the garden (above) where we were entertained by John Kelly, the facilities manager, after he had given us a fascinating tour which none of us will easily forget. He also told us three surprising things about the house. First, although it is called Bridgewater House, no Bridgewater has actually lived there. Second, despite an extensive tour, we had only seen a third of the house. Third, the front of it is used as the entrance to the family's London home in the TV serial Downton Abbey (but no filming is allowed inside). A big thank you to John and to Pippa Parsons for organising a very successful visit.