Patron of the arts and landowner William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley (1817-1885) was responsible for the remodelling of what is now the oldest surviving aristocratic mansion on London’s Park Lane: Dudley House. Standing at No 100 Park Lane, Dudley House was built in 1827 but the 1st Earl’s improvements in 1855 included an entrance portico, a primo piano conservatory, a 50ft ballroom and an 81ft picture gallery to house his collection of Italian and Flemish old masters.
Ward was the son of the 10th Baron Ward and was educated at Eton and Christ Church then Trinity College, Oxford. From 1835 when his father died, he was known as Lord Ward. Between 1836 and 1842 Lord Ward played first class cricket for the Oxford University Cricket Club. He did not, as was expected, stand as a member of Parliament; choosing instead to manage the lands inherited from his father including the estates surrounding Dudley Castle and his London townhouse Dudley House.
Ward is the 1st Earl of Dudley in the second creation of the title. The earldom previously belonged to his father’s second cousin and had been dormant since 1833 but was revived in 1860 when Ward was forty-three and in between wives. He married first Selina Constance du Burgh in 1851 but she died within a year. He married his second wife Georgina Moncrieffe – daughter of the 7th Baron Moncrieffe of that Ilk – in 1865. The teenage Georgina was considered one of the great beauties of the Victorian age. The Earl was forty-eight and far from a fine figure of a man. He was nicknamed ‘Frixie wig’ because of his grizzled, waving hair.
The Earl’s second marriage would bring the 1st Earl close to a royal scandal in 1869 when Georgina’s sister Harriet, Lady Mordaunt was sued for divorce by her husband Sir Charles and the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) earned the dubious honour of being the first member of the British Royal Family to be called as a witness in a public trial. Harriet was allegedly one of the Prince’s many amours and, in order to suppress the scandal, her family declared her insane and Lady Mordaunt spent her last thirty-six years in a lunatic asylum.
The Earl dedicated much of his life to philanthropy. He was a trustee of the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery and paid for the restoration of Worcester Cathedral where a monument to him still stands. But arguably his masterpiece was Dudley House; his seventeen-bedroom mansion at 100 Park Lane that was remodelled to house his art collection and host lavish balls and receptions for the Prince of Wales’s Marlborough House Set of which he was on the fringe after the Mordaunt Scandal. It was rumoured that the Prince of Wales entertained his actress mistress Lillie Langtry under the 1st Earl’s roof; perhaps an indiscreet act of atonement on Dudley’s part to appease the Prince.
Apart from a brief hiatus in the hands of South African mining magnate Sir Joseph Robinson between 1895 and 1912, the Dudley Ward family occupied Dudley House until 1936. The house was bombed during World War Two and restored as corporate offices. In 2006 Dudley House was bought by the Qatari Royal Family (who are waited on at Dudley House by Henry Poole & Co today) and after lavish restoration, Dudley House is now estimated to be worth north of £250 million. The 1st Earl of Dudley died in 1885. His eldest son William, who became a Conservative politician and served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and subsequently the fourth Governor General of Australia, succeeded him. The second Countess of Dudley survived her husband by over forty-years.