History

1547 Edward Seymour, Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset, starts building a palace for himself on the banks of the Thames

1552 Seymour is executed at the Tower of London; ownership of his palace, nearly complete, passes to the Crown

Elizabeth I

1553 Aged 20, Princess Elizabeth moves to Somerset House; she lives there until 1558, when she’s crowned Queen Elizabeth I

1603 Anne of Denmark, wife of James I of England (James VI of Scotland), moves to Somerset House, which is renamed Denmark House in her honour

1604 The Treaty of London, ending the 19-year Anglo-Spanish War, is negotiated and signed at Denmark House

The Somerset House Conference, 1604, by unknown artist © The National Portrait Gallery, London

1609 Anne of Denmark invites Inigo Jones and other architects to redesign and rebuild parts of the palace; work continues until her death in 1619

1625 Charles I is crowned king; his wife, Henrietta Maria of France, commissions Jones and others to undertake more construction and renovation work, including a lavish new Roman Catholic chapel completed in in 1636

1642 The English Civil War begins; soon afterwards, General Thomas Fairfax takes over the palace as the headquarters for the Parliamentary Army

1649 The Civil War ends and Charles I is executed; Parliament tries and fails to sell Denmark House, but successfully sells its contents for the then-huge sum of £118,000

1652 Inigo Jones dies at Denmark House

1660 After Charles II, her son, is crowned king at the start of the Restoration, Henrietta Maria returns to Denmark House; more new construction follows

1665 The Plague sweeps London; Henrietta Maria moves back to France, where she dies in 1669

1666 The Great Fire of London destroys much of the City of London, but stops just short of Denmark House

Old Somerset House and the Thames
Old Somerset House and the Thames

1685 Charles II dies and his wife, Catherine of Braganza, moves into Denmark House; Sir Christopher Wren oversees yet more construction and renovation work

1693 Catherine of Braganza leaves Denmark House, the last royal to live in the palace

early 1700s Denmark House is used as grace-and-favour apartments, offices, storage and stables

c.1750 Canaletto paints two views from the terrace

Sir William Chambers; Joseph Wilton; Sir Joshua Reynolds by John Francis Rigaud

1775 After decades of neglect, the original Somerset House is demolished; architect William Chambers immediately starts work on its replacement

1779 The Royal Academy of Arts becomes the first resident of new Somerset House in what’s now known as the North Wing

Rowlandson, Thomas. Royal Academy Exhibition Room, Somerset House. Copyright Royal Academy of Arts

1780 The Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries take up residence in the North Wing; Somerset House hosts the first Royal Academy Exhibition

1786 The Embankment Building, known today as the South Wing, is completed; the East and West Wings are completed two years later

1789 The Navy Board completes its move to Somerset House and eventually occupies one-third of the site; the Stamp Office, responsible for taxing newspapers and other documents, joins the board in the South Wing

Unloading London Illustrated News at the Somerset House Stamp Office, 1842, Illustrated London News

1795 William Chambers, then aged 72, retires; James Watt replaces him as the building’s architect

1801 The new Somerset House is deemed complete, its construction having cost a mammoth £462,323

1829 Sir Robert Smirke starts work on King’s College, which opens in 1831 and is finally completed in 1835

1836 The General Register Office, responsible for births, deaths and marriages, is established here

1837 One year after the final Royal Academy Exhibition at Somerset House, the academy moves to Burlington House on Piccadilly

1849 Having merged in 1834, the Stamp Office and the Board of Taxes join with the Board of Excise to form the Inland Revenue, which remains in residence for more than 150 years

1856 Seven years after James Pennethorne started work on its design, the New Wing is completed

New WIng

1857 The Royal Society moves out of Somerset House to join the Royal Academy of Arts at Burlington House; the Society of Antiquaries follows 17 years later

1864 Work begins on the Victoria Embankment, designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette; the embankment is completed in 1870

The Opening of the Victoria Embankment, 1870 Museum of London

1873 The Admiralty leaves Somerset House; its offices are taken over by the Inland Revenue

1940s Near the start of World War II, the Inland Revenue temporarily moves out of Somerset House; the Ministry of Supply takes its place

1950 Sir Alfred Richardson starts a two-year project to rebuild the Navy Staircase, known today as the Nelson Stair, which had suffered terrible bomb damage in 1940

Van Gogh Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House
Van Gogh Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House

1970 After 134 years at Somerset House, the General Register Office moves out

1989 The Courtauld Institute of Art moves into the North Wing

1997 The Somerset House Trust is established to preserve and develop Somerset House for public use

2000 The River Terrace opens to the public for the first time in more than a century; the Hermitage Rooms and the Gilbert Collection both open; then, in December, Somerset House installs a temporary ice rink for the first time

2001 American band Lambchop plays the first gig in the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court; a full programme of shows follows in 2002 and continues today as the Summer Series

2009 London Fashion Week takes place at Somerset House for the first time

London Fashion Week, Somerset House
London Fashion Week, Somerset House

2011 The HMRC (formerly the Inland Revenue) closes its offices at Somerset House

2016 Somerset House Studios launches