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The first occupant of the house was the man for whom it was originally built and after whom it is named, William Henry, Duke of Clarence, who lived there from 1827 with his wife, Queen Adelaide.
The Duke became William IV (r.1830-37) on succeeding to the throne and decided to remain in Clarence House, rather than take up residence at Buckingham Palace. His principal addition to the house created by Nash was a first-floor passage to connect with the State Apartments of St James’s Palace, where he would conduct his official audiences and receive guests.
After William IV’s death in 1837, Clarence House passed to the King’s unmarried sister, Princess Augusta, until her death three years later. During this time the Princess’s old house, which was attached to Clarence House on the south side, was demolished, opening up Clarence House to the enclosed garden of St James’s Palace to the south. When Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent, took over the house, she made a door at the end of the ground-floor corridor, enabling her to enter and leave the house from the Mall, without having to use the still public Stable Yard Road.
The Duchess also had a small conservatory built against the south side of the house as a new entrance hall, with a porch projecting from one end. Her rooms were redecorated with pale painted papers, replacing the old and dark damask hangings. Gilding was introduced on the mouldings of the Drawing Rooms and Dining Room with the same intention of making them appear lighter. During the residency of the Duchess of Kent, her daughter, Queen Victoria, and grandchildren would often visit from their nearby home in Buckingham Palace.
After the death of the Duchess of Kent, Clarence House was left vacant for five years until 1866, when Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son, moved in, and made sweeping changes. He completed the reorientation of the house towards the south by employing the firm of Waller & Sons to fill in the gap between the projecting bay of Clarence House and the end of the State Apartments of St James’s Palace, so that the house now appeared as a continuation of the Palace’s south front. CB Waller also installed a remarkable Russian Orthodox Chapel on the first floor for the Duchess of Edinburgh. This was dismantled following the Duchess’s departure after her husband’s death in 1900.
Arthur, Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, moved into Clarence House with his wife after redecorations had been carried out in 1901. They made several changes to the principal rooms, including the removal of the partition between the two first-floor drawing rooms, to make one large room.
When the Duke of Connaught died in 1942, Clarence House was made available for the use of the War Organisation of the British Red Cross and Order of St John of Jerusalem. Two hundred staff of the Foreign Relations Department maintained contact from Clarence House with British Prisoners of War abroad and administered the Red Cross Postal Message Scheme.
Clarence House became the London home of Princess Elizabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh, following their marriage in 1947. The Victorian interiors were given a fresh new appearance. Post-war restrictions on building and materials meant that there was still an overall simplicity to the furnishings. Much of the furniture came in the form of wedding presents. In the Dining Room, for instance, the Georgian dining table and twenty ladder-back chairs were the gift of the Royal Warrant Holders Association, while the mahogany sideboard and four side tables were a present from Queen Mary. Princess Anne was born at Clarence House in August 1950.
With Princess Elizabeth’s accession as Queen, the royal couple moved to Buckingham Palace. Clarence House was prepared for the accommodation of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, who moved in with Princess Margaret shortly before the Coronation in 1953.
Queen Elizabeth created the Morning Room in the space that had been The Duke of Edinburgh’s study, installing a Georgian marble chimneypiece and a new plaster ceiling with her own crown. In 1960, she opened out two of the rooms on the ground floor to form the Garden Room, a large, sunlit room well suited to entertaining large groups of guests.
The rooms of Clarence House were furnished and hung with works of art acquired by Queen Elizabeth over her 60-year career as a collector and patron of artists. The collection was particularly strong in 20th-century British art, embracing important works by John Piper, Graham Sutherland, WS Sickert and Augustus John. She also purchased superb examples of Fabergé, English porcelain and silver, particularly pieces relating to the Bowes-Lyon family.
The Queen Mother greatly enjoyed hosting luncheons and evening receptions at Clarence House. All foreign Heads of State called there for tea in the afternoon of the first day of a State Visit.