History Behind the Devonshire Gates in Green Park

These ornate entrance gates to Green Park might have caught your eye along Piccadilly.

As with most little details in London, the closer you look, the more history seems to jump out at you and these gates were once part of a huge mansion.

Devonshire House

Devonshire House was the London townhouse of the Dukes of Devonshire, the Cavendish family who are better known for their country home; Chatsworth House.

It was built on the former site of another great London home; Berkeley House, which was bought in 1696 by William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Devonshire.

Image from LayersofLondon.org showing William Morgan’s Map of the City of London, Westminster and Southwark (1682) featuring Berkeley House at the North East corner of Green Park

It was only after a fire in 1733 that the former 17th century house was rebuilt. The 3rd Duke of Devonshire appointed William Kent as designer and Devonshire House was complete by 1740.

Below is an image of Devonshire House as it appeared in 1896.

Image from Wiki Commons

Built in a Palladian style, Devonshire House became one of the most famous houses in London. But to understand its importance, one has to know a little bit about the characters that lived there.

The Family

Devonshire House reached its height of notoriety under William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire.

His wife; Georgiana was intelligent, impulsive and full of charisma. The house became a magnet for the politicians, royals and wits of the day and parties would continue all night with dancing, gossiping and – above-all – gambling.

Georgiana and the Duke had a strong and loving marriage but one that contemporaries and modern voyeurs struggle to understand. In 1782 Georgiana’s best friend; Lady Elizabeth “Bess” Foster became the Duke’s mistress and they all lived happily together under one opulent roof.

The Devonshire House Gates

The gates seen today don’t date from the original design of Devonshire House, in fact, Green Park is their fourth London location.

Made in the early 18th century, they were commissioned for Heathfield House in Turnham Green (on the site of Chiswick Fire Station today). The house was demolished in 1837 and the Duke of Devonshire bought the gates for Chiswick House, later moving them to his London pad in 1897.

The 19th century saw Devonshire House continue to be a fashionable address and perhaps the gates were installed in time for the ‘event of the London season’ in that year; the Devonshire House Ball in 1897, a fancy dress party in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

The fine wrought iron gates are covered in ornamental foliage and topped with the Duke of Devonshire’s coat of arms and flanked by rusticated stone piers, each capped with a bronze sphinx.

Devonshire Gates Green Park
Devonshire Gates Green Park

The coat of arms shows the Duke of Devonshire’s shield with three stags’ heads flanked by two further stags. The gold and blue ribbon displays the Cavendish motto; “Safe by taking care” as well as the Order of the Garter Motto, an honour held by the majority of the Dukes. Above a coronet there’s also a knotted green serpent.

Devonshire Gates Green Park

Below, a close up image of one of the bronze sphinx.

Devonshire Gates Green Park

The gates used to stand on the other side of Piccadilly, and to picture them in situ you can see a 1906 photo of them in front of Devonshire House here.

Image from LayersofLondon.org showing one of the last maps featuring Devonshire House (Inland Revenue Map of 1910)

After the First World War the Cavendish family were in financial trouble. The 9th Duke had inherited debt and that – coupled with huge death duties – meant the house and land were sold in 1920. Devonshire House was demolished in 1921.

Today these gates are the only visual clue to its existence and were given Grade II* listed status in 1970. They provide a magnificent focal point for Green Park’s Broad Walk and view down to the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace.

Devonshire Gates Green Park

When it’s quiet it doesn’t take too much imagination to envisage 18th century bystanders, walking along and gossiping about the latest goings-on with the Cavendish family.

Devonshire Gates Green Park

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6 Comments

  • Ian Johnson

    Reply

    Hi Katie. I really enjoy reading the blog posts and love seeing the sections from the old maps of London. Do you have a recommendation on where is the best place to buy street maps of old London, for wall display. I’ve been trying to find a good map of the West End as it was before Regent St was developed. Thanks. Ian.

    May 17, 2020 at 1:07 pm
  • Ian Johnson

    Reply

    Thanks Katie. I’ll check out those markets once things are back to normal. Rummaging through stalls is more fun than searching on websites too.

    May 20, 2020 at 7:40 am
  • Stewart Francis

    Reply

    A very interesting article, Katie. Thanks. It struck me that ‘cavendo tutus’ isn’t too far away from the current ‘stay alert’ or ‘keep safe’. Sadly and ironically for the Cavendishes, it seemed, ultimately they didn’t take care or keep safe. ‘Cave canem!’ – ‘Beware of the dog!’ was a Roman warning. At my boarding school, ‘cave’, pronounced ‘cave – ee’ was a cry we would call out as a warning if we sensed a master was on the prowl and might interrupt our pillow-fights!

    May 20, 2020 at 8:17 am
  • Dear Katie,
    once I had a private tour with you in London and enjoyed it so much! Now, as I can’t visit London I’m happy to read your interesting stories about the delights of my beloved town. Thank you very much for your engagement and hope you can cope with the situation! Best wishes Elke

    May 20, 2020 at 9:23 am
  • Adrian Butters

    Reply

    Ah
    Old maps, when I see old maps I always marvel at how small some place were years ago, and how big they are now, and also some places long gone, or, years ago, not yet built, and small roads leading to nowadays quite large towns and cities, sometimes converted to A roads, etc.

    As regards to acquiring old maps, some of the educational book shops stock old maps, at not the most expensive prices, and also, check out your local library, if it is a largish city library they may possibly have an old map section, with photo copying facilities. Also, the staff may be able to point you in the direction of map websites, handy, as many libraries have public internet access, and allow a certain amount of downloading

    Yours truly

    Adrian Butters.

    May 20, 2020 at 6:46 pm

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