A blog about life in London

Somerset House The Free Guided Tour

Somerset House The Free Guided Tour

Somerset House is a stunning looking 18th century public building in London that sits between the Strand and the Victoria Embankment. One of my personal favourite buildings that this city has. For quite sometime I had been thinking about going on the free guided tour of Somerset House– I’m not really a guided tour kinda guy, but I bit the bullet and got myself onto one of their Saturday afternoon tours.

Along with around 20 or so tourists I enjoyed what was an interesting insight into the history of Somerset House. For over 500 years there has been a grand building on the site. The first was a Tudor Palace built by Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset (it was completely demolished) and the final incarnation of Somerset House which you see today was designed by Sir William Chambers – work began in 1775. At that time London had no great public buildings like some of our European neighbours did…we soon did!

Built for the sake of national pride. Originally housing various offices of state including the Navy Board, the tax office and as requested by George III there was space given to the learned societies, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries.

I could harp on about the History of Somerset House but it has all been written before… if you want to learn all about the chequered past of the building click the link, SOMERSET HOUSE.

Pictures Captured During the Tour…

I found it fascinating that the front entrances of Somerset House once reached down to the edge of River Thames. The entrances to used nowadays were once upon a time watergate’s! I especially found it interesting that the Aberdeen Granite base of the building was buried when the Victoria Embankment which sits in fornt of the building was built – my home city and I have peered down Rubislaw Quarry where the stone was taken from on a number of occasions.

The free guided tour of Somerset House included a very brief wander around the inside of the building, which included a few interesting facts about the Nelson Staircase which I’m not going to reveal – that just wouldn’t be fair on those who might do the tour. There isn’t any rooms to see inside, it isn’t a grand place in the sense of what you would expect from a Palace. Remember it was mainly used as Government offices for nearly 150 years and they ain’t exactly Royalty! I personally think there are still some secret…very secret British Government departments lurking in the building some place…yes indeed!

The tour also included a wander around the outside, which was kinda spoilt because they have a big ugly ice rink in the court yard spoiling the view and historic feel of the building. A visit to the aptly named Deadhouse where you will see ancient tombstones, that alone worth the admission price…my bad sense of humour! And the tour finishes off with a visit to their wee museum, which includes a magnificent barge, pictures, artefacts and a very interesting short video presentation.

Did you know…  that from their new premises in Somerset House a Fellow  from the Royal Society called William Herschel, a self taught astronomer and professional musician discovered Uranus in 1781. He had originally wanted to call his discovery Georgium Sidus as an acknowledgement to the king – he was persuaded that perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea! The things you learn from the  wee guidebook, which only cost 2 quid…

 The Somerset House tour is most definitely worth doing and you can’t beat the price FREE! If you are doing the tour I would recommend checking out any exhibitions which they may have on, many of which are free. For full details of the tour dates and time visit Free Guided Tours.

2 Comments

  1. I have been to London so many times and never even thought of going to Somerset House. Thanks for the blog, I will go there next time because of your recommendation.

  2. Steve, it is a good tour and definitely worth checking out…