Henry Thomas Hope was born in 1808 into a fascinating family. Henry’s ancestors were Scots who made a bold decision to move to the Netherlands in the 17th century to become Rotterdam merchants. The family transformed into one of great wealth when Henry’s father, Thomas and his brother Adrian, established the ‘Hope and Company’ bank in Amsterdam in 1762.
A student of architecture, Henry’s father Thomas travelled across the Middle East and southern Europe, collecting paintings and other works of art. After the French invaded the Netherlands towards the end of the 18th century, Thomas settled in London and filled his home with his collections. Many visitors commented on how his home was so incredible, it was more like a museum than a house.
After Henry Thomas Hope himself was born in 1808, his father became increasingly interested in a parliamentary career and urged Henry in this direction. However, after studying at Eton College and then Trinity College in Cambridge, Henry’s first ‘job’ was actually as Groom of the Bedchamber to King George IV and William IV. Despite the title, this was a prestigious role as one of the monarch’s closest aids.
Following this short diversion of working with royalty, Henry went on to enjoy a career in politics as a Conservative MP, serving constituencies in East Looe and Gloucester. Like his father, Henry also had a keen interest in the arts and became well-known as a patron of the arts. He founded the Art Union of London, was vice-president of the Society of Arts and was the president of the Surrey Archaeological Society. He also helped organise The Great Exhibition of 1851 – the first in the series of international expositions that celebrated culture and industry. Henry was also founder of the Royal Botanic Society.
In 1850, Henry Thomas Hope had a mansion built on Piccadilly and the corner of Down Street. The building was noted for the beautiful stone and metal external décor, created in the modern French style of the time. Like his father, Henry filled the mansion with art, including some from his father’s collection, a prized collection of Old Masters and a collection of ancient Greek sculpture. Hope House even attracted the attention of Charles Dickens, who apparently said the mansion had an extravagant interior. Hope House became known as the home of one of the most esteemed private art collections in Europe.
After Henry Thomas Hope passed away in 1862, his daughter inherited his entire estate, including Hope House. Henrietta Hope went on to marry the 6th Duke of Newcastle, Henry Pelham-Clinton, simultaneously helping this roguish character out of his gambling debts with her fortune. Henrietta sold Hope House shortly after her husband died, to the fashionable Junior Athenaeum Club.
From Henry Thomas Hope’s commitment to the arts to the beginnings of ‘The Athenaeum’ name, we’re proud patrons of the incredible history of our building and the amazing characters of history who have set foot inside.