Tuesday, June 30, 2015

1750 Views FROM the Garden Terrace at Somerset House

Canaletto (Italian artist, 1697-1768) The Thames from the Terrace of Somerset House Looking toward Westminister c.1750-51

Canaletto (Italian artist, 1697-1768)  The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City c.1750-51

Attributed to Thomas Priest (1740-1770) A View of the Thames looking upstream from the Terrace of Somerset House c.1750s

The original Somerset House was built by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset (1506-1552), the Lord Protector of the boy king Edward VI. In order to have the ideal place to build his new home, it is reported that he had the Inns, as they were called, of the Bishops of Coventry, Lichfield, Chester, Worcester & Llandaff, as well as the old parish church of St Mary’s, raised to the ground "without any recompense," so as to create a flat space to build his new palace. The architect chosed for its design was John of Padua who was responsible for Longleat & who, under Henry VIII, held the post of "Devizer of His Majesty’s Buildings." 

Upon the Duke's untimely death, Somerset’s palace reverted to the Crown & was used as a royal palace by Elizabeth I, James I’s wife Anne of Denmark & the neglected wife of Charles II, Catherine of Braganza. Later it came to be a residence of dowager queens or temporary residences of foreign princes or ambassadors. All these different occupants made alterations both in & outside the main building. 

By 1706, there were extensive terraced gardens facing the Thames with stairs at each end. The gardens were laid out in the square with avenues of trees & gravel paths. Alexander Pope wrote of them: “Grove nods to grove, each alley has its brother, & half the garden just reflects the other.” Along the river there was a raised terrace & a heavy low wall.

A few yards upstream from Somerset House was York Water Gate & Water Tower. The former, built in 1626, was all that remained after the demolition of York House by its owner, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham a few years after the Restoration. The Gate originally led down to the river but since the building of the Embankment in the 1860s, 150 yards from the river. The Water Tower was close by the Gate & constructed between 1690 & 1695 from wood & its purpose was supplying the Strand & its neighborhood with water from the Thames. It was an octagonal structure, about 70' high & was illuminated within by small loopholes in its sides. It was still standing in the 1780s. The York Buildings Waterworks Company building with its chimneys was adjacent, Samuel Pepys’s house was just behind it & the Salt Office was in close by. Further upstream, on the north side of the river was the Banqueting House, Westminster House, Westminster Hall, the two towers of the Church of St John the Evangelist & then Westminster Bridge which had been completed on 25th October 1746.