The 20th Century
The family suffered losses in the Second World War: the 5th Duke died in 1941 and two years later his son and heir, Henry, died from battle wounds. Gerald, the 7th Duke, decided to offer Apsley House to the nation, together with a significant portion of the 1st Duke’s art collection.
The Wellington Museum Act was signed in 1947. Part of the house was converted for its new public use as a museum, while part remained a family residence. The Ministry of Works removed the gas lighting inside the house, installed electric lighting and refurbished the interior. Apsley House opened to the public in 1952, the centenary of the death of the 1st Duke of Wellington, under the direction of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Between 1961 and 1962, as part of the Hyde Park Improvement Scheme, Park Lane was diverted to Hyde Park Corner, prompting the demolition of the houses immediately east of Apsley House. This cut the house off from the rest of Piccadilly. Apsley’s forecourt coach house was also demolished, the new east façade was clad in Bath stone, and a public underpass was built.
By 1982 the Victoria and Albert Museum had largely completed its redisplay of the interiors of the house to reflect their occupation under the 1st Duke of Wellington, and further restoration was finalised in 1995. In 2004 responsibility for maintaining Apsley House was transferred to English Heritage, which continues to display and research the collections in the spirit of the preceding generations of occupants.
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About the Author
Dr Susan Jenkins was formerly a senior curator at English Heritage. She has written a number of articles about the history of Apsley House and its collections for leading art and history journals.