Lord-Rothschild on the Nelson-Stair alongside Chris Smith and Lord Sainsbury

Remembering Lord Rothschild

27 Feb 2024

We remember and give thanks for the life of Lord Rothschild, who died on 26 February 2024 aged 87.  

Lord Rothschild was a remarkable cultural champion and philanthropist who knew how to bring people together to make things happen. Somerset House is indebted to Lord Rothschild for having spearheaded the restoration of our landmark building, enabling us to become the unique charity and home to cultural innovators that we are today.  

After years of campaigning by Simon Jenkins and others, Lord Rothschild was instrumental in the creation of Somerset House Trust. This paved the way for the gradual departure of different government departments and for Somerset House to be opened up, becoming one of London’s best loved cultural spaces, which today welcomes nearly three million visitors a year.  

When Somerset House Trust was established, Lord Rothschild was chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund and he said, 

“In 1781 [Edmund] Burke declaimed that ‘Somerset House did honour to the present age and would render the Metropolis of Great Britain famous throughout Europe.’ Now, 200 years later, his words can come true once again.” 

Thanks to Lord Rothschild’s charm and convening skills, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation generously supported the transformation of Somerset House’s courtyard from tarmacked Inland Revenue carpark to the elegant, cobbled piazza, complete with fountains, which is enjoyed by visitors today. 

Lord Rothschild also played an important role in other important chapters in our history from hosting the Gilbert Collection of silver and creating the Embankment Galleries to the loan exhibitions established with the Hermitage Museum.  

We continued to keep Lord Rothschild updated on the evolution of Somerset House and more recently the Rothschild Foundation has been a generous supporter of Somerset House Studios, providing subsidised studio spaces for interdisciplinary artists.

In 2019 we renamed our New Wing reception The Rothschild Hall in recognition of Lord Rothschild’s visionary support for Somerset House and his legacy at Somerset House is very much in our minds as we prepare to mark 25 years of cultural programming at Somerset House in 2025.  

On our doorstep, he was also one of the of the instigators of Illuminated River, a long-term art installation of orchestrated lightworks spanning nine bridges along the River Thames in central London, with Waterloo Bridge and Somerset House lit up in 2021.    

We send our condolences to his family at this sad time and give thanks for the life he lived and for the enormous impact that he has had on Somerset House.

Picture of Lord Rothschild alongside then Culture Secretary, Chris Smith and then Chairman of Somerset House Trust, Lord Sainsbury on the Nelson Stair at Somerset House on 26 November 1997. Photo by Peter Jordan/PA