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ON THIS DAY IN LONDON
Harcourt House's Odd Duke
The house built and gambled away in a game of cards.
Location: Harcourt House, Cavendish Square, London
Description: Harcourt House on the East side of Cavendish Square was a famous London mansion for many years in the possession of the Dukes of Portland.
Simon Harcourt experienced a meteoric career spanning several decades, in which he rose from his first position as a barrister in 1683 to become Lord Chancellor to Queen Anne after 1710.
He was elevated to the viscountcy in 1721, at the same time as he began building here. He eventually died here in 1727.
The house was built on land acquired from Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford in the early 1720s. Its construction was begun in 1721 for Earl Harcourt featuring a noble courtyard facing the square, and an imposing ports cochere, with a large garden and wide-spreading trees, plus huge stables, all of which were highly unusual at the time in central London.
Incredibly this noble mansion was gambled away during cards between the third Duke, grandfather of the eccentric peer, and Earl Harcourt.
During the occupancy of the eccentric fifth Duke, William John Cavendish Bentinck Scott, he enclosed the garden with a gigantic screen of ground-glass, extending for 200 feet on each side and 80 feet high. His object in having this screen constructed was to prevent the residents of neighbouring Henrietta and Wigmore Street from viewing the garden.
He was exceptionally shy and often would ensure people were avoided at all costs, for example, when moving from his carriage into the house here, his servants would be sent elsewhere so as not to gaze upon him.
The gamble for Harcourt House was commuted into a leasehold tenancy by the intervention of the lawyers, who declared that the ownership of the mansion could not be separated from the rest of the estate.
In more recent years the leasehold interest was purchased by the Earl of Breadalbane, and on its expiration, it eventually came to Sir William Harcourt, the statesman, and in August, 1904, was offered for sale. The site of the beautiful garden, with its screen and stables, was purchased by the Post-office authorities.