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Somerset House

16:37 Mon 24th May 2010 |

Somerset House is a spectacular neo-classical building in the heart of London, sitting between the Strand and the River Thames. Somerset House hosts open-air concerts and films, contemporary art and design exhibitions, family workshops and free guided tours of spaces usually hidden to visitors.

With such a varied history Somerset House has now been reinvigorated as a centre for the visual arts. This includes the Courtauld Gallery, which has an important collection of old master and impressionist paintings. In the winter the central courtyard is home to an open air ice rink. At other times an array of 55 fountains display vertical jets of water rising to random heights.

The Duke of Somerset, the original owner and builder, was executed for treason in 1551 and did not get the chance enjoy the house. Finally completed in 1553, the house was occupied by Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I, until her accession to the throne in 1558.

During large parts of the 18th century Somerset House was used for a variety of purposes and this period saw the palace fall gradually into ruin. The continued neglect led to the inevitable decision to pull the building down and demolition began in 1775. When the new building rose from the rubble, the Royal Academy became one of the first occupants of the apartments which fronted the Strand.

There are free guided tours every Thursday at 13.15 and 14.45 and every Saturday at 12.15, 13.15, 14.15 and 15.15. In approximately 45 minutes, it is possible discover evidence of Tudor intrigue and Georgian Enlightenment.

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Contact details for the Somerset House Trust tel: +44 (0)20 7845 4600 (24 hour recorded information line), fax: +44 (0)20 7836 7613, email: [email protected].

Somerset House opening times:

Embankment level - 10.00-18.00

Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court - 07.30-23.00

River Terrace & Seamen's Hall - 08.00-18.00

Embankment Galleries (during exhibitions) - open daily 10.00-18.00 (last admission 17.30)

The Courtauld Gallery - daily admission 10.00-18.00 (last admission 17.30)

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