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51°30′29″N 0°07′24″W / 51.50806°N 0.12333°W / 51.50806; -0.12333

York Water Gate and the Adelphi from the River by Moonlight, by Henry Pether, circa 1850

York House (formerly Norwich Palace or Norwich Place) was one of a series of grand mansions that formerly stood on the Strand, the principal route from the City of London to the Palace of Westminster.

Norwich Palace

The residence was originally known as Norwich Palace when it was built as the London bishop's palace of the Bishops of Norwich not later than 1237. On 4 February 1536[1] it was given by King Henry VIII to his favourite, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, in exchange for Suffolk House in Southwark, the Bishop of Norwich having been provided with a new residence at Cannon Row in Westminster.[2]

York House

The residence was subsequently known as York House after it was granted to the Archbishop of York in 1556, and it retained that name for the rest of its existence. Its neighbour to the west was Suffolk House (later Northumberland House), the London townhouse of the Earls of Suffolk (a branch of the Howard family headed by the Dukes of Norfolk), which was sold in the 1640s to the Earl of Northumberland. Its neighbour to the east was Durham House, the London residence of the Bishop of Durham.

The Bishop of York was by tradition Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England and for about seventy years from 1558 the house was leased to various secular holders of that high office, including Nicholas Bacon, Thomas Egerton and Francis Bacon.[3]

In the 1620s York House was acquired by the royal favourite George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.[4][5] After an interlude during the English Civil War it was returned to George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, who sold it to developers for £30,000 in 1672. He made it a condition of the sale that his name and full title should be commemorated by George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street, Of Alley, and Buckingham Street. Some of these street names are extant, but Of Alley has been renamed York Place, Duke Street is now John Adam Street, and George Street is now York Buildings. Villiers Street runs along the eastern side of Charing Cross railway station.[6]

Riverside setting

The Italianate York Watergate, built about 1626, displaying the arms of Villiers and decorative escallops featured within them

The mansions facing in the Strand were built there partly because they had direct access from their rear gardens to the River Thames, then a much-used transport artery. The surviving York Watergate (also known as Buckingham Watergate), built by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham in about 1626 as a ceremonial landing stage on the river, is now marooned 150 yards (137 m) from the river, within the Embankment Gardens, due to substantial riverside land reclamation following the construction of the Thames Embankment. With the Banqueting House it is one of the few surviving reminders in London of the Italianate court style of King Charles I. Its rusticated design in a Serlian manner has been attributed to three plausible candidates,[7] Sir Balthazar Gerbier,[8] to Inigo Jones,[9] and to the sculptor and master-mason Nicholas Stone.[10] The design is modelled closely on that of the Medici Fountain in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris.[11] It was restored in the 1950s. George Belton Moore's nineteenth-century picture of it shows it as it would have been when its steps were washed by the waters of the Thames.


Samson and a Philistine, by Giambologna

The York House Conference which assembled there in February 1626 ended unsatisfactorily with the final rupture between Puritan members of Parliament and Buckingham. York House was the setting for a masque presented before their majesties in May 1627, in which Buckingham appeared followed by "Envy, with divers open-mouthed dogs' heads representing the people's barking, while next came Fame and Truth", just before his departure for his unsuccessful second foray against France.[12]

The first Duke granted lodgings at York House to the painter Orazio Gentileschi, and to Sir Balthazar Gerbier, diplomat and sometime painter. Although the Duchess tried to expel the latter after the Duke's assassination in 1628, it was in Gerbier's lodgings that Peter Paul Rubens sojourned during his visit to London the following year.[13]

Inventory of 1635

Two inventories of the contents of York House were drawn up by 1635,[14] and are a valuable source for the insight into one of the handful of great art collections of the period.[15][16] There were 330 paintings enumerated, many of which were sold at Antwerp in 1649 for the young Duke; among them were seventeen canvases by Rubens. There were tapestries, marble sculptures, plate and rich furnishings. These represent the taste formed in the circle of Charles I, and the furnishings of a fashionable early Stuart nobleman's residence. Wealthy courtier art collectors have become known as the Whitehall Group. The inventories reflect the house as used by Buckingham's widow, Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham, and her Red and Green closets furnished with paintings are particularly well-documented.[17]

In the 'Great Chamber' twenty-two paintings were displayed with fifty-nine pieces of Roman sculpture, many of which were heads. In the 'Gallery' were a further thirty-one heads and statues. Apparently the only modern sculpture at York House was Giambologna's Samson and a Philistine, a royal gift from King Philip IV of Spain to Charles I, who passed it to his favourite, Buckingham.[18]

The inventory includes the mount in the garden where there was a marble statue of Cain and Abel and a vaulted room beneath decorated with plaster heads of Roman emperors and a marble table.[19]


In the early 19th century the designation York House was revived by the palatial York House, built in the Stable Yard, St. James's Palace, for the Duke of York, brother of George IV and heir apparent. Foundations were begun to designs by Robert Smirke, who was quickly replaced by Benjamin Dean Wyatt and his brother Philip; when the Duke died in 1827, deeply in debt with the house unfinished, it was subsequently completed as Stafford House; its gilded interiors by Sir Charles Barry for Stafford's heir, the Duke of Sutherland, inspired Queen Victoria's famous remark about "coming from my house to your palace".[20]

The name is carried today by a commercial building in Portugal Street, Kingsway, London.

The York Watergate is at the centre of the song "London Plane" by progressive rock band Big Big Train on their 2016 album Folklore. The song is written from the perspective of a nearby London plane tree that was a sapling at the time of the construction of the Watergate in 1626 and tells of the stories that such a tree may have witnessed in the years since.[21]

See also

  • Adelphi, London (a later development on the same site)
  • York House (for a list of other mansions in London which have been known as York House)


  1. ^ Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII, vol. X, no. 243
  2. ^ 'York House', in Survey of London: Volume 18, St Martin-in-The-Fields II: the Strand, ed. G H Gater and E P Wheeler (London, 1937), pp. 51-60.[1]
  3. ^ York House, in Survey of London: Volume 18, St Martin-in-The-Fields II: the Strand, ed. G H Gater and E P Wheeler (London, 1937), pp. 51-60 (accessed 16 May 2015)
  4. ^ Manolo Guerci, London's Golden Mile: The Great Houses of the Strand (Paul Mellon, 2021), p. 181.
  5. ^ A view of York House by Wenceslas Hollar, in the Pepysian Library, is reproduced in London County Council, Survey of London 18, pl. 2b.
  6. ^ Nikolaus Pevsner and Bridget Cherry (1973) London I: The Cities of London and Westminster: 382
  7. ^ Manolo Guerci, London's Golden Mile: The Great Houses of the Strand (Paul Mellon, 2021), pp. 18-189.
  8. ^ John Summerson, Architecture in Britain, 1530–1830 (1963); Sir John withdrew the attribution in the 1991 edition.
  9. ^ John Harris, Country Life 2 November 1989.
  10. ^ in a list drawn up by his relative, Charles Stoakes (Colvin, "Gerbier").
  11. ^ Summerson, John (1970). Architecture in Britain, 1530–1830. The Pelican History of Art. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-14-056103-6.
  12. ^ Isaac D'Israeli, Curiosities of Literature; J. MacIntyre, "Buckingham the Masquer" Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et reformation, 2009.
  13. ^ Edward Croft-Murray, "The Landscape Background in Rubens's St. George and the Dragon" The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 89No. 529 (April 1947:89-91, 93) p. 90.
  14. ^ Manolo Guerci, London's Golden Mile: The Great Houses of the Strand (Paul Mellon, 2021), pp. 189-90: Megan Shaw, 'The Duchess of Buckingham's Furniture at York House', Furniture History, 58 (2022), pp. 1-38.
  15. ^ Randall Davies, 'An Inventory of the Duke of Buckingham's Pictures, at York House in 1635' The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, 10:48 (March 1907), pp. 379-382 at 376.
  16. ^ Simon Jervis, 'Furniture for the first Duke of Buckingham', Furniture History, 33 (1997), pp. 48-74.
  17. ^ Megan Shaw, 'The Duchess of Buckingham's Furniture at York House', Furniture History, 58 (2022), pp. 10-11, 24-35.
  18. ^ John Pope-Hennessy, Samson and a Philistine by Giovanni Bologna (1954): John Harris, 'The Link between a Roman Second-Century Sculptor, Van Dyck, Inigo Jones and Queen Henrietta Maria" The Burlington Magazine, 115:845 (August 1973), pp. 526-530 at p. 529.
  19. ^ Simon Jervis, 'Furniture for the first Duke of Buckingham', Furniture History, 33 (1997), pp. 68-69.
  20. ^ Howard Colvin, "The Architects of Stafford House" Architectural History 1 (1958:17-30).
  21. ^ "London Plane". Big Big Train. 27 May 2016. Retrieved 14 July 2021.


  • London's Mansions by David Pearce, (1986) ISBN 0-7134-8702-X
  • Survey of London, xviii, plates 31-33.
  • Howard Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840 3rd ed. 1995 sv "Sir Balthazar Gerbier", "Inigo Jones" "Nicholas Stone"

External links

8 Annotations

First Reading

Pauline  •  Link

A mansion on the s. side of the Strand east of the modern Charing Cross Station, with grounds running down to the river. Granted to the archbishops of York by Mary Tudor in exchange for Suffolk House, Southwark, and later leased to a succession of Lord Keepers of the Great Seal. Obtained from James I by George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham and sold by his son in 1672 to a syndicate which pulled it down and built streets on the site of the house and grounds. They were named Villiers St, Duke St, Of St and Buckingham St. Only the the watergate remains of the original house. Pepys and Hewer lived in York Buildings from 1679. View by Hollar in PL2972/237b.

L&M Companion

Is Of St still there?

James  •  Link

The street was called "Of Alley" but was renamed subsequently. It is remembered in the signs at each end, which say "York Place, formerly Of Alley".

Ruben  •  Link

A collection of old York House and Buildings. Drawings from the City of London site. Previous and contemporary including Pepys library in London (before it moved to Magdalene College)

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

York House belonged to the See of York till James I.'s time, when Toby Matthews exchanged it with the Crown. Chancellors Egerton and Bacon resided there, after which it was granted to Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Subsequently to the Restoration, his son occupied the house some years, and disposing of the premises, they were converted into the streets still bearing his names, and the general appellation of York Buildings.—See Handbook of London, ubi plura.
---Diary and correspondence of Samuel Pepys, the diary deciphered by J. Smith. 1854.

Bill  •  Link

In 1661 it was occupied by Baron de Batteville, the Spanish ambassador; in 1663 the Russian ambassador was lodging here.
---London, Past and Present. H.B. Wheatley, 1891

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Adapted from

Buckingham's marriage

1657 saw a great change in George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham's career:
Parliament had granted Gen. Thomas, Lord Fairfax, a distant relative of Buckingham’s, part of the Duke's possessions — worth about ^5,000 a year — in quittance of his arrears of pay.
They also gave him, "as a salve for a bad wound" he had received in their service, York House in London, and the Manor of Helmsley, a Yorkshire property which had been brought into the Villiers' estate by Katherine Manners. 1
Brian Fairfax's "Life of G. Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham."


York House, once the town residence of the Archbishops of York, with its gardens sloping down to the Thames, ... . Less ornate outwardly than some of the neighboring mansions, the interior was noted for its sumptuous decoration. Every chamber was adorned with lions and peacocks, the arms of the great families of Villiers and Manners. 2 ]
2 Brian Fairfax.

A truly royal suite of apartments, hung in green embroidered velvet, had been specially designed for the reception of King Charles when he condescended to stay with his favorite.

And even the critical Pepys cannot contain his admiration for the palace, "where the remains of the noble soul of the late Duke appears in his house in every place, in the door cases and the windows!" 1
1 Pepys, vol. iii. p. 160. 6 June, 1663.

But, despite York House’s perfections, it was not long before Buckingham felt ‘cribb'd, cabined and confined’ in his splendid abode, and, relying on his power of disguise, broke bounds and went off to visit his sister Mary, Duchess of Richmond, at Cobham.


Buckingham had spent his early childhood at York House, until he was taken in by King Charles when his mother lost custody because she turned Catholic.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


It might still be a grand house, but Buckingham;s memories were of much more grandeur:

In the midst of her overwhelming grief, Lady Katherine Manner Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham realized she was in urgent need of help. During the last year her husband had pledged lands and jewels with prodigal magnificence to assist King Charles, for whose policy he held himself accountable. When his executors drew up an estate statement, they found no acknowledgment for 50,000/. loaned to the Crown.

The works of art, which Rubens and Balthasar Gerbier had collected for York House, now proved a mine of gold. A few of these matchless gems were sold to King Charles, Algernon Percy, 10th Earl of Northumberland, and Abbe Walter Montagu, and Lady Buckingham's immediate necessities of were relieved. 1
1 Brian Fairfax. Preface to Rehearsal, Arber Ed.


1648] ALCHEMY 27
Happily for Buckingham, he was still able to rely on the fidelity of his servants, whom throughout his strange career, he inspired with devotion.

... he would have landed in the Dutch Republic a penniless outlaw but for the foresight of a trusty steward. The excellent John Trayleman smuggled out of England the pictures and gems which had made York House the finest museum in the land. 1
1 Warrant States-General, Bodl. Cal. MSS. 2732.

Under the pass of the States-General, 16 cases of art treasures found their way to Antwerp to be coined into daily bread for Buckingham.

One picture, the "Ecce Homo" by Titian, was now sold for ^5,000 to the Archduke Leopold of Prague, so Buckingham had considerable resources. But for a nobleman of the Duke's rank, the expenses of exile were heavy.


So his "imprisonment" at York House must have been bitter-sweet; yes, better than close confinement at the Tower of London, but nothing like his childhood memories. No wonder he sold York House in 1672.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.



  • Jun