13 Kensington Palace Gardens

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13 Kensington Palace Gardens, also known as Harrington House is the former London townhouse of the Earls of Harrington, and currently the official residence of the Russian Ambassador.

There were earlier Harrington Houses in London, located at Craig's Court, Charing Cross and at Stable Yard, St James's.

Earls of Harrington


File:Harrington House, 13 Kensington Palace Garden.jpg
Front View of Harrington House, 1852

The land on which Harrington House is constructed previously belonged to the gardens of Kensington Palace.<ref name=Russia>Template:Cite web</ref>

In 1841, an Act of Parliament allowed 28 acres of the palace's kitchen garden to be divided from the palace's gardens; two rows of "rich private residences" were then constructed on this street, which would come to be known as Kensington Palace Gardens.<ref name=Russia/>

No. 13, Harrington House, was constructed in 1852 by Leicester Stanhope, 5th Earl of Harrington, who is described as "an important landowner in South Kensington".<ref name=Russia/><ref name=London>Template:Cite book</ref> Lord Harrington had applied for permission to build in March 1851; he was granted the lease of the plot until 1942 (91 years), for a rent of £147 a year; on condition that before January 1853 he construct a house costing no less than £6,000.<ref name=London/> Construction began in October 1851 and by July 1853 the Earl was living at the house.<ref name=London/><ref name=Russia/>

Critical appraisal

Harrington House is one of the largest houses on the road, and was constructed in the Earl's favourite Gothic style, and cost around £15,000 to construct.<ref name=Russia/><ref name=London/> The exterior of the house was designed by Decimus Burton, following plans sketched by the Earl.<ref name=London/><ref name=Russia/> Works were carried under the supervision of C.J. Richardson, who was the surveyor to the Earl's South Kensington estate.<ref name=London/> Details and the final plans are thought to have been left to Richardson; he did, however, acknowledge the "great measure" the Earl was involved in the design.<ref name=London/>

Richardson was not entirely complimentary of the Earl's contributions, pointing out the flat outline of the building and low roofs were not usually part of the Gothic style.<ref name=London/> He also criticised the windows, complaining they were "more eccentric than beautiful" and blasting the use of "common sash frames".<ref name=London/> Richardson also moaned that despite the Earl spending over double he was required to, he spent as little as possible on decoration, leading to an interior that was "very plain".<ref name=London/>

Richardson's criticisms were by no means isolated; contemporary publications lambasted the house for being "by no means elegant" and "somewhat German in character".<ref name=London/> One particularly harsh criticism stated: "Were I to express my opinion of it without reserve, I should be compelled to make use of language and epithets which, however justly merited, would be deemed as illiberal as they would be disagreeable... Instead of "repose" we have actual torture — the very thumbscrew of design."<ref name=London/> Richardson did however defend the building's "convenience, comfort and complete suitability for all domestic purposes".<ref name=London/>

Lord Harrington seems to have been happy with his house, thanking Richardson for building him "a house without a fault".<ref name=London/>

Appearance and layout

The house is built using "buff-coloured bricks with Bath stone dressings" and has a symmetrical front facade.<ref name=London/> The house has two principal stories, a ground level "part storey" (which originally contained the female servants' quarters), and a 14-foot high fireproof basement which extended under the courtyard to the rear of the house.<ref name=London/> The front entrance of the house is a three-storey tower, originally topped with a bell-turret demolished in the 1920s.<ref name=London/> Above the front entrance is an oriel window and quatrefoil parapet.<ref name=London/> To the south the house has a conservatory.<ref name=London/>

From the front door there was a small entrance hall, with a library and dining room either side.<ref name=London/> The entrance hall lead to the saloon, at the centre of the house, which was two storeys high and topped by a skylight incorporating "embosed and coloured glass" featuring "sheilds, coats of arms, mottoes and monograms".<ref name=London/> The saloon originally contained a stone staircase which was replaced with a double oak one in 1924.<ref name=London/> Also in 1924, the saloon was redecorated in oak panelling, and cantilevered landings added around three sides of the second storey of the room.<ref name=London/> The saloon was flanked by a serving room (adjacent to the dining room), a dressing room, the second (servants') staircase, and a waiting room.<ref name=London/>

The saloon led onto a large picture gallery at the back of the house, which was flanked either side by two drawing rooms, one of which gave access through to the conservatory.<ref name=London/>

With the exception of the saloon, the rooms were "very plain", the only design features being Gothic cornices.<ref name=London/> None of the original decorations survive in the principal rooms, however.<ref name=London/>

The basement was 14 feet tall and extended underneath the courtyard to the south of the house: this contained the kitchen, scullery, pastry-room, stillroom, dairy, wash-house, laundry, butler's pantry, steward's room, servants' hall, men's cellars, dust-pit and closets.<ref name=London/>

The property remained with the Stanhope Family (Earls of Harrington) until the First World War.<ref name=Russia/>

The inscription "Harrington House" remained over the door until the Soviet Embassy took possession, at which time it was painted over and replaced with the number 13.

Russian Embassy

For 50 years prior to the United Kingdom suspending its relations with the USSR in May 1927, the Russian Embassy had been located at Chesham House,<ref name=Russia/> close to Belgrave Square at the corner of Chesham Place and Lyall Street. With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1929, a new home was needed.<ref name=Russia/>

In 1924 Sir Lewis Richardson, a South African millionaire businessman acquired Harrington House.<ref name=London/> Following designs by Sidney Parvin, Sir Lewis spent over £25,000 altering the house.<ref name=London/> These alterations including the demolition of the house's bell-turret, changing the windows of the conservatory and replacing the original sloping roof with a flat one.<ref name=London/> Sir Lewis also made "considerable changes" inside the house.<ref name=London/> Despite the work he undertook, in 1930 Richardson offered the house for use as the Soviet Embassy to the United Kingdom, donating the house to the British Crown.<ref name=Russia/>

The Russian Embassy is currently located further down the road, at numbers 4-5 Kensington Palace Gardens (consular department) and numbers 6-7 (the Chancery). Harrington House (number 13), is currently used as the official residence of the Russian Ambassador. The Soviet Diplomatic Mission previously also occupied numbers 10, 16 and 18,<ref name=London/> but these have since been returned to private use.

In 1991 the UK Government extended the Russian Government's lease on the house for 99 years.<ref name=Russia/> The Russian Government pays a token rent of £1 per year for the house; in return, Britain pays only one rouble per year rent for the UK embassy in Moscow.<ref name=Russia/>


Virtual tour of Harrington House, on the Russian Embassy website