Burlington House was built in 1664 as a private mansion for Sir John Denham, a wealthy lawyer, poet and architect, who held the office of Surveyor General to the Crown. He was offered some land by the King in recognition of the loyalty he had shown during the English Civil War, and the original house was built for the reception of his new bride.
In 1668 he sold it to Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Burlington and second Earl of Cork, Lord Treasurer of Ireland, who gave the building its present name. He altered and modestly enlarged the property and lived here until his death in 1697. He was, coincidentally, the elder brother of the “father of modern chemistry”, Robert Boyle.
It then passed on to the second and then third Earl: during the 3rd Earls’ lifetime, his house was the regular meeting place of all the leading wits, poets and learned men of the day, including Alexander Pope, Dean Swift and John Gay.
When he died in 1753 Burlington House passed to his widow and then to their grandson William Cavendish. William Cavendish, the 5th Duke, married Lady Georgiana Spencer in 1774: the great-great-great-great aunt to Diana, Princess of Wales.
While Burlington House was occupied by the Cavendish family the scientist who discovered hydrogen, Henry Cavendish, lived there for several years in his youth.
In 1811, the 5th Duke gave permission to Lord Elgin to store the Elgin Marbles in the grounds to the west side of Burlington House, Lord Elgin having failed to sell the Marbles to the government. In 1816 a parliamentary committee came to a decision to purchase the Marbles and they were re-located to the British Museum.
In 1815, the 6th Duke of Devonshire leased the house to his uncle, Lord George Cavendish and with architect Samuel Ware made a number of considerable but unobtrusive changes over the next three years. By the order of Lord Cavendish in 1819, Burlington Arcade was built along the West side of Burlington House.
In 1854, the government decided to purchase Burlington House for £140,000 and eventually allocated it to the use of the learned societies.
This is still true today and, together with the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House hosts seven other societies of comparable age and standing: the Royal Academy of Arts, the Linnaean Society, Geological Society, Royal Astronomical Society, the Society of Antiquaries, The British Astronomical Association and the Geological Association.
Read the full history and story of Burlington House.