Posted: 22nd September 2015
We’ve gathered together a few of our favourite facts and history about 41PP to share with you!
41PP’s first family
Designed by James Adam in 1773, 41 Portland Place was originally built as a private home for The Honourable Thomas Gage. Gage was a British General, best known for his many years of service in North America, including his role as military commander in the early days of the American War of Independence. Ironic, considering he was married to Margaret Kemble Gage who was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. There is speculation that she was a spy for the patriots due to her familial ties to America. However her brother, Stephen Kemble, was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army during the Revolution.
41 Portland Place remained a private residence until 1939 and was then used during the Second World War by the Balfour Services Club (see image links at the end) and also by the forces of the United Nations.
Whilst the surrounding buildings on Portland Place were badly damaged during the London Blitz, 41PP had barely a brick out of place. This is why 41 Portland Place is still a wonderful example of Georgian townhouse design and a delight to architecture and history buffs alike.
A new identity
In the years following World War II, the area surrounding Portland Place changed dramatically and re-emerged as a centre of medical practice. The Medical Society of London and the Royal Society of Medicine were two societies to take up premises nearby and Harley Street became world famous as a location for private healthcare. The Ciba Foundation, later known as the Novartis Foundation, moved into 41 Portland Place in 1947 and 41PP has since hosted prestigious scientific events, meetings and symposia attended by some of the greatest medical scientists of the last century. It is estimated more than 70 Nobel Laureates have attended and spoken at symposiums over the years.
In the early 1960’s, one of the guests (an acclaimed Professor) forgot turn off his running bath resulting in flooding of the building. There was also an incident in which one of the guests was found in the maid’s bathroom. There was speculation as to what he was doing there, however unfortunately not recorded!
The curved doors of the entrance to the Landeau Room and the Jean Shanks Library contain panels made from a single piece of Honduran Mahogany so that the patterns in the wood are symmetrical on either side of the doors.
One of the curved doors in the Laurie Landeau Room doesn’t actually lead anywhere. It was installed to provide the symmetrical style so important in Georgian architecture.
The reason why there are more stairs on the servant staircase is because they were expected to walk quietly. Hence the smaller steps to create less noise. 41PP’s Hospitality Supervisor, Miguel, is now often seen taking these tiny steps 3 at a time!
The floors from the servant’s staircase are not numerically identified because most of the servants were illiterate and therefore couldn’t read numbers. The glass panels on each level increase in size as you walk up each floor so they were able to identify which level they were on.
41 Portland Place today
The Novartis Foundation closed in 2008, following the Trustees’ decision to merge with the Academy of Medical Sciences. After taking over the lease on 41 Portland Place, the Academy embarked on a £5 million redevelopment programme to create a modern headquarters and a conference and events venue under the design of award-winning architects Burrell, Foley & Fischer. The building opened in October 2010 and started a new chapter in its history as the home of the Academy of Medical Sciences.
In photos – Balfour Service Club at 41 Portland Place
Six Jewish Prisoners of War relax and read the Hebrew magazine ‘Gal-Gal’ at the Balfour Service Club in Portman Place, London.
A group of Allied servicemen and women crowd into the hallway at the Balfour Service Club, some standing on the staircase, following the Rosh Hashanah celebrations. On the blackboards on the left are chalked the names of all who attended the feast. According to the original caption, many people were able to meet up with old friends at the celebrations. A Union flag and a flag featuring the Star of David hang on the wall above their heads.