No l London opens doors to display Wellington collection

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GERALDINE NORMAN

The present Duke of Wellington still lives in the attic of the smartest address in town, "No 1 London" - as Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner used to be known when there was a tollgate at the top of Knightsbridge.

But from tomorrow the public can visit the magnificent reception rooms which have been closed for restoration for the last three and a half years and admire the collection of art amassed by the 1st Duke, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. What is more, corporate clients and businesses will, in future, be able to hire the rooms for dinners and receptions after hours.

The 7th Duke of Wellington gave Apsley House and most of its contents to the nation in 1947 on condition that the family retained private apartments there. The Department of National Heritage is responsible for looking after the fabric while the Victoria and Albert Museum curates the collection. By 1990, modern traffic, including the underground, had shaken it to bits and a major restoration job was required.

The Government has taken the opportunity to return the house, as far as possible, to how it looked when it belonged to the 1st Duke in the early 19th century. The house had been built for the second Earl of Bathurst, Baron Apsley, by Robert Adam between 1771 and 1778 but after Wellington bought it in 1817, Benjamin Wyatt built on the Corinthian portico and added the great Waterloo Gallery, imitating the Gallerie des Glaces at Versailles.

The restorers have scraped the walls to determine the original colour. More than 300 metres of special fabric for the wall hangings, curtains and banquettes in the Striped and Yellow Drawing Rooms have been hand woven on wooden looms made in the 1820s to match a fragment of original silk found behind a bell pull - Victorian watercolours confirmed how the rooms had looked. A fragment of the original carpet was found in the attic at the Duke of Wellington's country house, Stratfield Saye, and has been faithfully copied. The halls have been remarbled and the gilding cleaned and restored.

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