London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

Sunday in St James’s

My list of “must do” places in London and elsewhere is getting longer and longer yet I never seem to have the time to “do” any of them.

However last Sunday on the way back from hosting a Spice event at Kensington Palace I thought I’d do a dry run of a walk in St James’s which was coming up the following week.  Spencer House has been on my “must do” list for over a year.  The house is minutes from Green Park tube.  Although the grand front of the house can be viewed from Queen’s Walk it is not obviously open to the public the entrance being through a secret passageway that leads to St James’s Place (or the long way round via St James’s Street).  It’s also only open on Sundays (closed January and August) and Sundays for me are normally spent visiting my parents and doing the usual household chores.

Only when I was standing by the entrance did it dawn on me that it was Sunday, it was open and I could visit.  It was 4.30pm so I was in time for the final tour of the day beginning at 4.45pm.  The short film that preceded the tour was obviously marketed for American tourists who were probably great Diana, Princess of Wales fans (who incidentally never lived there).  Not being xenophobic I would however have preferred a British commentator to talk about an historic British house.

From seeing a documentary about Amanda Foreman who wrote the Georgiana – Duchess of Devonshire book  I had been pronouncing the christian name as in “George jay na“.  This American presenter however pronounced it in the more usual way.

I was the only person on the 4.45pm tour.  I asked the guide what the correct pronunciation of “Georgiana” was.  It was “George jay na”‘; the American commentator was wrong.  I had mentioned in passing that I was guide and talked about Spencer House on my tours and had been meaning to visit the interior for months.  Although the tour was interesting the guide seemed unable to vary her stock speech and much of what she said I already knew.  I really wanted to know more about the parties and the lives of the people that lived there.  The guide was, to be honest, slightly scary and as it was near closing time I felt unable to ask any more questions.

The decoration of the house is sumptuous beyond belief especially the Palm and Painted Rooms.  The building had been left rather forlorn in the early 20th Century when the Spencer family took everything (fireplaces, skirting boards, doors etc) to their Northamptonshire home.  In the 1980s Lord Rothschild took on a 125 year lease of the house and spent millions bringing it back to its former glory.  He employed skilled craftsmen to create reproductions of the marble fireplaces.  Furniture such as mirrors, tables and chairs are now 20th century copies of the 18th century originals.  It’s hard to tell the difference; the only obvious difference being that the 20th century copies can be used and are not museum pieces.  Today Spencer House is primarily used for parties, weddings and dinners. 

So that’s one item crossed off my “to do” list but another added to my “wish list” – an invite to a party/dinner at Spencer House but that might be a bit harder to attain.