Somerset House photos
Here you will find photos of Somerset House. All photos of Somerset House dated 2015-2016 are the actual ones and were taken with iPhone 5s. The area, where Somerset House is located, on the Strand by the bank of the River Thames, has been an important location for residences of Dukes and Bishops from as early as 12th century who wanted to have an influence on the royal court.
When Henry VIII died, his son Edward VI was still too young to become king. As such, his ambitious uncle, Edward Seymour created himself Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset. "Desirous of possessing a residence suitable to his high rank", he started to build the mansion “Somerset House” in 1547 on the land already in his possession. Edward Seymor was not a man without an enemy, however. During the construction of his palace, he demolished some churches to clear the space for it and, hence, was temporarily imprisoned for that in 1949 at the Tower of London. In 1552, he was charged with high treason and executed on the Tower Hill.
On Seymor’s death, Somerset House was reverted to the Crown. Completed in 1553, it was the residence Elizabeth I until her coronation in 1558. Whilst the Queen preferred to reside either at St James’ Palace or Whitehall, she used the premises of Somerset House for council meetings and lodging foreign diplomats.
Since then it has been renamed to Denmark House and served as Queen’s residences, first of which was Anne of Denmark, wife of James I of England and VI of Scotland. Following royal residents were Henrietta Maria of France, wife of Charles I and Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II. Henrietta Maria was a Roman Catholic and caused a stir building a Roman Catholic chapel. Major architectural contributions to the old designs for the queens were made by Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren.
English Civil War during Charles I’s reign meant Somerset House served as quarters to General Fairfax who commanded the parliamentary army. When Oliver Cromwell died, his body was embalmed and placed at Somerset House where people could come to pay their respects and sigh reliefs.
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Following the plague and Great Fire of London in 1666, Somerset House served many purposes including residence for foreign dignitaries, storage, offices and a place of entertainment, especially the Masquerade Ball. But by 1775, the building was in ruins and it was demolished and replaced with a new construction that you can admire today.
Parliament asked, eventually, Sir William Chambers, who was one of the leading architects at the time, to design and oversee the erection of 'a great public building’ and ‘an object of national splendour'. The new structure had to house the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries, government offices and the Navy Board. The construction was mostly completed in 1801 and contains two underground floors, which were intended to maximise space, and more importantly accommodate the needs of its future residents whilst giving the impression of a palatial design. However, it was not until 1856 that all of Chambers designs were incorporated. In the following two centuries, governmental offices came and went until quite recently the whole building was devoted to be an art space.
In the 1870s the learned societies and the Admiralty vacated the premises to make room for growing in size governmental departments until they vacated the building in 1970. For 20 years it was empty until Courtauld Institute and its galleries made a path for it to become a centre for the arts. Many exhibitions take place during the year now and you can see what’s on at the moment on their website.
In the summer, from 2009 till present day, the London Fashion Week takes place at Somerset House each year. This is where you will find The British Fashion Council offices. The courtyard is also a venue for open air cinema and open air Summer Series music events.
In the winter, Somerset House decorates a huge beautifully decorated Christmas tree and an ice-rink in its courtyard. It is a fantastic “thing to do” with friends, families and romantic getaways. A word of warning though: book your tickets in advance as they get sold out quickly. You will also recognize that parts of the New Year TV celebrations are filmed at Somerset House with some lucky and brave few skating away and getting merry throughout midnight celebrations.