Lost history: Devonshire House, London

Why, I ask myself, are we so eager to move forward at the cost of our heritage? On my most recent visit to London I took a stroll around Green Park and Piccadilly, where I stumbled across a pair of ornate blue gates with intricate gilding work. It was a true masterpiece.  I knew immediately knew that these gates were more important than just an entrance to the park, and my research proved me right.

Mysterious blue gates of the missing Devonshire House

These massive gates were once the main entrance to the beautiful Devonshire House, once the London seat of the Dukes of Devonshire which was located on Piccadilly.  This house was completed in 1740 for William Cavendish, the Third Duke.  It was built in the fashionable palladian style, favoured by the rich at that time.It was even designed by renowned architect William Kent.  Devonshire House was one of the largest and most luxurious houses in London in its day, and rivalled the Royal Palaces for its appointments.  The house itself took ten years to complete, and stood as the pinnacle of London society for nearly 180 years.

Devonshire House

But where is this house now?  Like all aristocratic families, after World War One, the Cavendish family abandoned their London homes in a time of austerity, in order to cut costs.  The family retreated to their main seat, Chatsworth House.  The house was the sold by the 8th Duke when he was not only hit, with massive death duties for the first time, but also was saddled with the debts of his predecessor.  The house was sold to a pair of industrialists and  unsurprisingly, it was demolished in the 1920′s.  To me, the ruthless demolition of such a stunning property was a crime.  This piece of architectural history was swept away and replaced with a large development comprising of an office building and a luxury hotel, neither of which are of any particular architectural importance.  This destruction was not just limited to Devonshire House, and over this period we lost many of the beautiful, important houses and other buildings to be replaced by large, money making schemes, some beautiful, but some down-right ugly.

A party at Devonshire House

I would love to say that this vandalism of our architectural heritage was simply a product of the 1920s but unfortunately it is not.  Even today we are at risk of losing some of our most beautiful buildings due to sheer economies.  I know it may seem strange in a time of financial hardship that I would concern myself with the preservation of these buildings, once the domain  of the rich and powerful.  But it is much more, this is about trying to maintain some beauty in our cities, and keeping our history alive.  How sad would it be if we could only see these things in books?  So go forth and enjoy our historic buildings, while we are lucky enough to still have them.

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If you would like to read more about England’s lost cultural heritage check out Lost Victorian Britain by Gavin Stamp or Lost London 1970-1945 by Philip Davies.


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  1. Pingback: Lost History: Dartrey House | Rediscovering CultureRediscovering Culture

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