Address: Strand, London WC2R 1LA


Time: 8.00am to 6.00pm

Time Information:

Phone: 0207 845 4600


800m from Charing Cross

200m from Temple

Somerset House is a large Grade I listed building situated between the Strand and the River Thames and lying next to Waterloo Bridge. It’s now a major arts and cultural centre with government offices, public exhibitions and is part of nearby King’s College, but is probably best known as being the public records office during the 20th century. Its heyday though was hundreds of years ago.

In 1547 an event took place that had a huge bearing – it was the death of Henry VIII, with his 9 year old son Edward VI taking the throne. Due to his age, Edward Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour, Henry’s wife and Edward’s mother, became Lord Protector, effectively ruling until young Edward came of age. Seymour was also Duke of Somerset and decided to build himself a grand palace by the Thames.

He had almost completed the great ‘Somerset House’ by 1551 when he was arrested for treason and in 1552 he was executed on Tower Hill. The Crown took the building and it became home, until 1558, of the future Elizabeth I. Her successor James I married Anne of Denmark who made it her home, renaming it Denmark House and she made it the venue of many society events.

In 1642 it became a base for the Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War who, in 1649, tried unsuccessfully to sell it. Their leader Cromwell’s body lay in state here in 1658. Upon the restoration of the monarchy it continued to be a residence of the queen, with the wife of Charles II being the last queen to live there.

By the 18th century it was used as army barracks and gradually decayed. It was demolished and rebuilt in 1775. At the time there was a cry for a centre for ‘publick offices’ and it was rebuilt for that purpose. It was built by Sir William Chambers at a cost of £500,000 and over the years became amongst other things, the centre for HM Customs and the Admiralty Office.

Click on the pics below for an enlarged view and use the arrow towards the right edge of each pic to go on to the next.