West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
My visit to Stratfield Saye
the Country House of the 1st Duke of Wellington
Thursday 1st May 2014
We started our visit with a welcome coffee and shortbread biscuit break
in the cafe. We had been given timed tickets for our visit to the
house as we descended from the coach. Our ticket was for twelve
o’clock , this gave us time to explore the other attractions of the
started in the stable block. This housed a collection of
artefacts related to Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of
series of display boards gave us a potted history of his life including
a family tree. The
highlight of the exhibition was his
magnificent funeral carriage. It is twenty one feet long, ten and
half feet wide and weighs about eighteen tons. This carriage was
drawn by twelve black dray horses on the day of the funeral. It
was a grand occasion attended by many dignitaries including some of the
Crowned Heads of Europe. However the size and weight of the
carriage posed many problems on the day partly because it got stuck in
The Mall and on Ludgate Hill on its journey to St Pauls Cathedral. The
problems were added to when the swivelling mechanism that was designed
to slide the coffin on to a ramp built over the steps of the Cathedral
failed to work properly.
After leaving the stable block we visited the attractive if somewhat
damp gardens. The gardens have been undergoing restoration since
1975. They include a rose, kitchen and several walled gardens one
which contained a very contented looking flock of chickens. Under
a spreading Turkey oak tree we were able to see the grave of
Copenhagen, the much loved but unpredictable charger ridden by
Wellington during the Peninsula Campaign and the entire day of the
Battle of Waterloo.
In front of the east side of the house is the main lawn. Here the
Lodden has been widened to form a small lake, the aim being to attract
wild fowl to the area. On the left hand side of the
house many varieties of trees are growing including a stand
of Wellingtonia, the trees named in honour of the Duke a year after his
It was now twelve o’clock and it was time to make our way to the
house. After his success at Waterloo the grateful nation gave
Wellington £600,000 to buy a house worthy of a hero. In 1817,
extensive search the Duke chose to buy Stratfield Saye. The Duke
preferred to live in a more modest house rather than Waterloo Palace, a
large mansion that he was being encouraged to build which would have
been similar in size to Blenheim Palace. When the Palace had been
completed the plan was to demolish the original house. Instead
Wellington used a lot of the allocated money to purchase Apsley House
in London (now managed by English Heritage) in order to display many of
his valuable paintings.
Before entering the house, our guide explained how the original house
had been extended over the years by adding extra wings, a portico, a
cupola and an orangery complete with swimming pool. There is
evidence that the Duke had installed secondary glazing, a novel
innovation that he had picked up during his travels in Russia.
Central heating was another comfort installed by the Duke. Queen
Victoria had initially dismissed this idea but she later installed
central heating in her own homes.
The entrance hall was a complex mixture of styles – a mosaic pavement
rescued from Silchester, a Romano British town near the house; a large
array of family portraits; embroidered banners, marble busts on marble
pedestals; elaborate large green malachite tazza. The original
oil lamps are now adapted to be powered by electricity however there
are also some wooden pillars painted to look like marble. Our
guide explained the ceiling had been raised so the gallery had been
constructed to link the upper rooms of the house. We proceeded to
walk along a corridor containing a rare painting of Wellington and
brought us to the library, a stunning room reflecting the Duke’s
love of books and reading. The walls were surrounded by beautiful
bookcases containing about three thousand books. In addition they
the Duke’s folding travelling bookcase also filled to the brim.
The ceiling in this room is magnificent; it is based on a copy of an
illustration of the ruins of Palmyra in Syria. The ceiling is
made of papier mache. It has been repainted and gilded set off
by complementary silk wall paper hung in 1963. The arms of the
chairs in this room have small round holes drilled in them, this
feature was designed by the Duke so that a book rest can be inserted in
to the holes, the book rest can also be adjusted to form a table
top. The proceeds of this invention are still paid to the Chelsea
Hospital, an institution that supports elderly military service
people. On the wall were portraits of Napoleon and George
Washington, these gentlemen had a mutual complaint – the discomfort of
wearing their wooden false teeth!
The music room houses many excellent paintings notably one of
Copenhagen, the aforementioned horse, and a hunting scene in front of
Windsor Castle with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This is
of the high regard shown to the Duke by the Royal family. The
Duke later became Godfather to Prince Arthur. Later in the tour
shown The Servery where we saw more pictures that showed the close
links between the Duke and the Royal Family.
The house had a ‘lived in’ feeling illustrated by the study used by the
current occupant of the house, Lord Douro. Apart from the
desk and the antique furniture there was plenty of the
paraphernalia to be found in a modern study. Even more surprising
was the huge television to be found in one of the front drawing rooms.
Next we mounted the beautifully carved oak staircase part of the
original house, dating from 1630. More paintings again this time
including one painted by Tintoretto.
What do you expect to find in the guest bedrooms of a stately
home? A four poster bed? Heavy fringed curtains?
bedside tables? Large wardrobes? All of this was as expected but
not the surprise in a corner ‘cupboard’ – a fully working plumbed in
Back down the stairs and into the Gallery, a room added to the front of
the house in 1745. It has a stunning view over the lawn and lake
with a hill rising in the distance. This hill is the site where
the proposed Waterloo Palace was supposed to be built. Originally
this room would have been unfurnished so that the ladies could
promenade up and down after the evening meal. Now it is quite
full with a purpose made carpet, Shakespearean prints and gilding on
the walls with many ornate pillars supporting bronze busts. It
stunning when illuminated in the evening.
objects that caught my attention were the two chests either side of
the door, they were made in France. They are example of metal
marquetry; a sheet of metal would be expertly and delicately cut out in
an intricate pattern, this would be attached to the front of the first
chest. The pieces of metal that had been cut out would then be
inlaid on the front of the second chest thereby producing a negative
repeat of the pattern. This craftsmanship was of the highest
We enjoyed a welcome sit down in the china room while we admired the
top quality china on display. They have sixty place settings of
some of these services. In one cabinet was some porcelain
produced in China for one of the Duke’s brothers when he was the
Governor of India. It was simply beautiful.
Next into the spacious airy dining room, yet more family portraits, the
largest picture was of the 1st Duke when he was serving in India as a
young Major General. The mahogany table can be extended to seat
thirty people. Apparently the family owns a teddy bear that is
always seated in place thirteen.
By this time we were feeling quite weary but we still had enough energy
to admire the wallpaper, the gilded furniture, the ceiling, the
elaborate French mirrors and furniture in the main drawing room.
The Guide told us the intriguing tale of how the Duke came to own so
many valuable paintings. Apparently Emperor Joseph had looted the
paintings from the Spanish Royal collections during his travels in
Spain. When Joseph decided to retreat the goods were packed on a
mule train over a mile in length. When the British cavalry caught
up with this train they captured these goods. The soldiers did
not realise the value of the items and they even used some of the
canvases to protect their pack mules from the wet weather. When
the true identity of the haul had been discovered Wellington ordered
them to be returned to their rightful owner but the King of Spain very
generously said that Wellington would be allowed to keep them.
After an hour and a half touring the house we were pleased to make our
way back to the cafe to partake of a first class ploughman’s
lunch. While enjoying our lunch we sat and watched the heaviest
downpour of rain of the day.
The outing was concluded by a visit to the Wellington Farm Shop.
think a coach load of customers making their careful selections from a
wealth of top quality produce must have gladdened the heart of the shop
manager on a grey, wet Thursday afternoon.
We thoroughly enjoyed the visit, there was plenty to see and admire in
the company of pleasant well informed guides. I for one am
pleased that the 1st Duke of Wellington refused to have Stratfield Saye
razed to the ground. Thank you to Gwen for organising this trip.
Related Links (open in new window):
House - Wellington's London home