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Somerset House photograph.
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
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Somerset House photograph.
Photograph © London Tourist Board.

Somerset House photograph.
Photograph © London Tourist Board.

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Somerset House

Built: 1776-1801
Cost: £462,323
Designed by: William Chambers
Type: Museum
Location: The Strand, London, United Kingdom
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A massive palace, but not for royalty -- for a government in need of space to house its institutions. Today it is primarily given over to the arts, housing a remarkable art collection in several galleries. At the heart of the building is a dignified courtyard with a mischievous streak. Officially known as the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court, it hides an array of jets that shoot water into the air in an orchestrated sequence. For children, it is the highlight of the tour, and on a warm summer day a refreshing surprise for the errant pedestrian. No fountains in the winter. Instead, an outdoor ice skating rink draws young and old to glide into the night under the watchful gaze of a statue of King George III by John Bacon. But don't think this was intended as a pleasure palace. Indeed, it's primary mission originally was to consolidate bureaucratic offices in order to save money. It also had to house the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquaries, and most important -- the Naval Board. The Navy's influence was particularly important in locating Somerset House on the banks of the Thames.

  • Somerset House gets its name from Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset. He had a palace on these grounds from 1547-1775.
  • William Chambers died before his vision was complete. Somerset House as finished by James Wyatt.

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