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Carlton House: The Inside Story
of a Royal London Address

Posted by Art Cox on 3/13/2015
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Europe, London, British, Great Britain, WW1, history

As a Tauck tour architect, when I redesigned our “England, Scotland & Wales” trip for 2015, I wanted to provide our guests with special events that they would never otherwise have access to – events featuring remarkable people in quintessentially British places. Carlton House, in London, with its illustrious and royal heritage, is such a place, and our guests dine there with a remarkable person indeed – a former Member of Parliament. The result is a travel experience in England that goes far beyond the ordinary – and right to the heart of what makes this fascinating country tick. Read on for the inside story on Carlton House…


Carlton House
Tauck's position as one of the premier travel tour companies allows us to lead travellers to some of history's most fabled landmarks. Though the famed residences of this physical location can be traced back to the early 1700s, I find the more modern day history has a great story to tell. The original Carleton House itself was the home of the Prince Regent in the early 1800s. After his rise to the throne to become King George IV, the decision was eventually made through much deliberation, money and work to refurbish Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace. It was later deemed necessary to tear down the worn Carleton House in 1825. Most of the furniture and artwork that had been collected through the years was taken to Buckingham Palace. Several of the doors that were salvaged were taken to Windsor Castle. The remaining portion of the house that can still be seen to this day is at the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square.

The portico that is visible from the square was indeed the same that welcomed visitors to Carleton House during Prince Regent’s days. Its name would be replaced by Carlton (through the years, the “e” was dropped) House. Several families of nobility had lived under the previous roof. Now that the new house on the site was completed in the early 1830s, the Ridley family of Northumberland would take up residence.

In 1842, Sir Matthew White Ridley, 5th Baronet and 1st Viscount Ridley, was born in 10 Carlton House Terrace. His son of the same name would follow in his footsteps and become a politician as was expected in those days. He married Rosamond Cornelia Gwladys Guest on February 8 of 1899. With the marriage came her name change. Now referred to as Lady Ridley, she was of prominent connections historically as a first cousin of Sir Winston Churchill.

staircaseAfter the turn of the century, life was moving along quite nicely both in London and in the Ridley house. In the early 1900s, there was a bit of construction at #10 Carlton House Terrace. There was an infusion of a French style that was incorporated. The grand French staircase that was installed during this construction still stands today.

In the early part of the following decade, the First World War began to take its toll on all involved. As the battles raged, injured soldiers and officers needed to have their wounds tended to as quickly as possible. Many houses across the cities, towns and villages throughout the countryside were converted into war offices, military encampments and hospitals. If you are a "Downton Abbey" fan, you will recall in the second season that the same thing occurred at the Crawley residence. This was also true for Carlton House. Lady Ridley’s Hospital was considered the most fashionable by the newspaper of the time.

In 1914, Lady Ridley converted the first floor, ballroom and the south drawing room into wards for the officers who had been wounded in battle. At the start of the war, there were 25 beds that were almost continuously occupied. By 1917, more rooms had been converted to bring the total up to 60 beds as well as an operating room on the ground floor. These beds were primarily for officers. The hospital was an outpost for Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital in Millbank.

nurses at carltonAs with any facility, it takes personnel to function. With most of the men out on the battlefield, a door was opened for women to step into leadership roles around the globe. Occupations that had previously been taboo for women to work in were now necessary for the country to survive.

The hospital was staffed mostly by volunteers who were part of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VADs) out of the London office. Among those volunteers was a young lady named Aileen Maunsell. At the age of 19 when the war started, Aileen found herself wanting to contribute to the war efforts like many others during this time. Despite losing her father, she studied to become a nurse and on June 3, 1915 spent her first day at the makeshift hospital at Lady Ridley’s house. According to her diary, each day was much the same for the first several months. In January of the following year, she attended her first operation.

Many of the days were filled with gore and the ravages of war. The wounds ranged from dismemberments to poisoning to shellshock. Aileen quickly learned war is devastating and that each day would certainly be different from the day before.

As you can imagine, the nurses were very popular with the officers. Aileen was no exception.
From gentle conversation to pillow fights, she made an impression on many of their lives in their time of recovery. She found ways to both entertain and comfort the officers. Prior to the war, she studied music in Dresden. This became a benefit to her as she often played concerts at the house for the men.

Over time, Aileen became quite fond of one of the men herself. She became engaged to Duncan Bell-Irving who was a pilot treated at the hospital. Shortly after his recovery and return to battle, he was shot down once again and returned. He recovered only to be involved in a flying accident and to return a third time in 1917. After his departure in January of 1918, she records in her diary his giving her the ring. She later speaks of returning the ring, but she does not say why she does so. Aileen would later meet and marry an officer who came through the hospital. She and 2nd Lt. Gell would marry on November 16, 1920.

queen alexandraLady Ridley’s Hospital would become a popular site with the locals as well. Not only were there officers coming and going throughout the war, but the Royals and other celebrities of the time were always popping in and out to visit. Queen Alexandra herself stopped by often according to various writings. Oddly enough, because of her thick accent and the difficulty in understanding her, many of the men would pretend they were asleep when she would visit.

After the war ended on November 11, 1918, the needed care did not. The hospital would remain open for an additional three months. Because of her generosity and sacrifices, Lady Ridley would be made a Dame. She would not accept the success of the hospital solely as her own. She would personally write each of the VADs. In Aileen’s belongings a poem was found that portrayed this sentiment well:

The smile on her face, and the look in her eye,
Was sufficient to cheer you, though ready to die.
The way that she did things, the way that she walked,
The way that she smiled, and the way that she talked,
Were more good to her patients than physic or dope;
If you were depressed she would fill you with hope

The story of 10-11 Carlton House Terrace extends far beyond these details. Other prominent residents included Lord Monson, four-time Prime Minister William Gladstone and the Guinness family. It is now home to the British Academy and will be the setting for a private dinner on Tauck’s own England, Scotland & Wales tour in 2015.
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