Carlton House Desk
Answer to Name This Famous Antique Game - May 2013

by Mike McLeod

Ted Carlton of Las Vegas, Nev., wrote: “This desk is named after my other place in England where George IV used to hang out, waiting around for his daffy old man to kick the bucket.”

Carlton House Desk, ca. 1780. (Photo, courtesy of and © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013)Downton Abbey fans recognized this Carlton House Desk as it has been featured several times in the show. If I may quote myself from the April issue’s article on the antiques of Highclere Castle: “One desk that is seen in Downton Abbey is a George III Carlton House Desk in the Main Library. Dated to circa 1780, Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) and Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) both sit at it and write on it in several scenes.”

Lady Fiona of Highclere, the 8th Countess of Carnarvon, said of it: “We use such furniture with care, and not often—we have our staff present throughout filming of every scene, agreeing what Hugh or Dan can do!”

The Carlton House Desk was named for Carlton House, the London residence of Prince George Augustus Frederick (1762-1830), the Prince of Wales. He was crowned King George IV after the death of his father George III who, you remember, presided over the British loss of the Revolutionary War and who suffered from mental illness.

After his father’s death in 1820, George IV reigned for just ten years before his own death. He was extravagant in lifestyle and gluttonous. His astronomical debts led to his being turned out of Carlton House for a while by his father before his death. Parliament finally appropriated approximately $20 million (in today’s dollars) to pay those debts.

King George IV died of a burst blood vessel in his stomach, but an autopsy showed he also had arteriosclerosis for many years.1

George III

George IV

The Carlton House Desk has been attributed to George Hepplewhite. A cabinet and furniture maker, Hepplewhite’s legacy lives on because two years after he died in 1786, his wife published a book of his designs called, The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide.

The style of the Carlton House Desk is distinctive because of its U-shape which is formed by drawers with curved, concave-ish tops situated on either side of the writing surface. The desk has no pigeon holes, only drawers. This design was included in Hepplewhite’s book.

A Carlton House Desk dated to 1790 was auctioned by Christie’s in 2008 for approximately $60,000.


Photo: Carlton House Desk, ca. 1780. (Photo, courtesy of and © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP 2013)

1 English Monarchs 




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