History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: A neo-classical gem, on the site of a Tudor palace.
The house was given to Anne of Denmark in 1603, and it was used for theatrical performances, including masques by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones. The latter had an apartment at Somerset House. Anne of Denmark lay in state at Somerset House (by then renamed Denmark House) after her death in 1619. James I also lay in state at Denmark House after his death in 1625.
Charles I gave the property to Queen Henrietta Maria, and it stayed in royal hands until 1645, when Parliament took control, and the name reverted to Somerset House. Inigo Jones died at Somerset House during the era of Parliamentary control, and in 1658 Oiliver Cromwell lay in state here.
Somerset House was restored in 1660 for Henrietta Maria, but was later used extensively by Catherine of Braganza, Charles II's queen. Sometime during this period Somerset House became the first building in England to use parquet flooring. From 1693 it was used primarily for grace and favour apartments.
In 1775 Somerset House was demolished and a new building erected, designed by William Chambers, the Surveyor General. Chambers created a grand building in neo-classical style, arranged around a central courtyard, with a separate north wing. In 1788 a statue of George III was built to act as a focal point for the courtyard.
The Thames came right up to the foot of the south terrace (this was before the Embankment was built). In 1835 Chambers' design was extended with the addition of an east wing designed by Robert Smirke.
Somerset House has been the home of several of Britain's most prestigious organizations over the years, including the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquities, Royal Navy, and Inland Revenue. But the body most often associated with Somerset House is the General Register of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, which occupied the north wing for over a century until 1973.
Now, Somerset House is a multi-purpose venue, with offices, art galleries, an ice rink, and a museum. The Courtauld Institute of Art moved here in 1990, and the associated Courtauld Gallery eight years later. The Gilbert Collection of silver, gold, and mosaics has been housed in Somerset House since 2000.
Visiting Somerset House is quite an experience; the neo-classical architecture is quite spectacular, and the views from the riverside terrace is superb.
About Somerset House
Address: Somerset House Trust, South Building, London, Strand, Greater London, England, WC2R 1LA
Attraction Type: Museum
Location: Nearest underground station is Temple.
Website: Somerset House
Phone: +44 (0)20 7845 4600
Somerset House Photos
Nearest station: Temple - 0.1 miles (straight line) - Zone: 1
We've 'tagged' this attraction information to help you find related historic attractions and learn more about major time periods mentioned.
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Charles I (Person) - Charles II (Person) - Cromwell (Person) - George III (Person) - Inigo Jones (Person) - James I (Person) - neo-classical (Architecture) - Parliamentary (Historical Reference) - Queen Elizabeth (Person) -
NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
Courtauld Gallery - 0 miles (Museum)
Roman Bath, Strand Lane - 0.2 miles (Roman Site)
St Clement Danes - 0.2 miles (Historic Church)
London Transport Museum - 0.2 miles (Museum)
Theatre Royal Drury Lane - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Cleopatra's Needle - 0.2 miles (Landmark)
Covent Garden Market - 0.2 miles (Historic Building)
Hayward Gallery - 0.3 miles (Museum)
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