No. 5 Hamilton Place stands on the site of one of King Henry VIII’s hunting lodges and remains an outstanding example of the grand Georgian town-houses built at the turn of the century. Its history is one filled with lavish lifestyles and occupants of noteworthy pedigree, welcoming the cream of society and establishing itself as Mayfair's premier VIP casino.
The 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire, Robert Hobart, a politician and Colonial Administrator, was the first to live at No. 5 Hamilton Place from 1812 to 1816. He was followed by three generations of an even grander aristocratic family: the Conynghams. The 1st Marquess Conyngham entirely owed his whole rank and station in life to his wife’s close personal friendship with the Prince Regent, later George IV, who undoubtedly visited No. 5 Hamilton Place. Indeed, it is the anecdotal and court reports, which cite the relationship between Elizabeth Lady Conyngham and George IV, that propelled this grand, yet hitherto retiring, and aristocratic family into the spotlight.
A remarkable woman, Lady Conyngham met the Prince Regent at a court ball. Although Elizabeth was by then 52 years old and somewhat stout, the Regent soon became besotted with her and a relationship blossomed, lasting until the King’s death in 1830. It is said that three years into their relationship, Elizabeth (who would have been no less than 55 years old!) gave birth to the Regent’s baby girl, and perhaps even more remarkably her husband Henry happily ignored the liaison since the King bestowed vast quantities of wealth upon the Conynghams and Elizabeth in particular. The Prince’s relationship with Elizabeth Conyngham has been rightly described as “warmly domestic rather than hotly passionate”. The liaison was more absurd than scandalous, but when the Regent succeeded to the throne in 1820, the Conynghams’ importance greatly increased. The King heaped presents on Elizabeth and even permitted her to wear a number of the Crown Jewels in public.
With the death of George IV in 1830, the power of the Conynghams waned. Lady Conyngham outlived her husband (who died in 1832) by more than 30 years, living on until the grand old age of 92. The house remained in the family until 1878, when the 3rd Marquess Conyngham sold No. 5, ending the family’s 60-year association with Hamilton Place.
Leopold de Rothschild, (the name comes from the “red shield” signboard hanging outside his ancestors’ dwelling in Frankfurt, Germany) son of Baron Lionel de Rothschild, was a city banker whose efforts in the banking house in London’s New Court served to support him in a very grand style. In addition to No. 5 Hamilton Place, he owned Gunnersbury Park in West London, a villa near Ascot and Palace House in Newmarket. No. 5 was to be his London “palace” and Hamilton Place quickly became known as “Rothschild Row”, the hub of Mayfair’s social life. With fabulous extravagance Rothschild drastically remodelled the mansion. He chose architect W. R. Rogers of William Cubitt & Co, ancestors of the existing British construction company of the same name, to undertake the work, circa 1880.
When W. R. Rogers came to remodel No. 5 Hamilton Place, he encased much of the exterior in Portland stone. He adopted a design described by one irreverent source as “Rich Frenchified Classic”. Sadly we have no way of knowing how the interior was originally decorated, although we know that Leopold de Rothschild spared no expense when it came to refurbishing the property. Photographs from 1889 reveal a property richly decorated and almost cluttered with worldly artefacts. The architectural embellishments such as the caryatids supporting the marble fireplaces, the general decor, the hangings and the furniture are of the very highest quality.
Christopher Sykes, a well-known writer and critic of the day on the homes of the aristocracy, wrote in Private Palaces:
“The palaces of the Plutocrats’ Rothschild’s extravagance was not to everyone’s taste. Indeed many people went so far as to consider such a blatant display of opulence vulgar, hideous and showy. [...] In his own bedroom Mr. de Rothschild has, to use an Americanism, ‘gone one better’ than our neighbours across the Atlantic. He has provided himself with a perfectly fitted up bathroom actually at a stone’s throw from his bed! What dreams of luxury could surpass this! The other bedrooms, in American fashion, have their bathrooms adjoining.”