One Hundred Years in Sweden’s Service

Foto: Rikard Österlund

Swedish version - Hundra år i Sveriges tjänst

At the end of June 1921, the Swedish Embassy moves into one of London’s most exclusive addresses, 27 Portland Place. The building has been renovated under the direction of architect Torben Grut and for weeks the Swedish Nationalmuseum in Stockholm has been filling its rooms with “the best we own of Swedish ideas and taste”. That said, the facades of the long terraces of townhouses along Portland Place are unmistakably British. Designed by the brothers Robert and James Adam in the late eighteenth century, at first glance the street was intended to be perceived as a single long palazzo, giving it an elegant integrity.

When the newly appointed ambassador Erik Palmstierna and his wife Ebba move into the corner house it still smells of fresh paint. The family does its best to make the property homely: “We have ‘pottered about’ and decorated the rooms,” wrote teenage daughter Margareta. Despite its grand state apartments, the residence is also a home.

A century ago, a small piece of Sweden was constituted on British soil. Since then, 27 Portland Place has been part of the Swedish Embassy in London. The chancery later moved to new premises but it remains the residence of the ambassador and the venue for entertaining on behalf of Sweden in the United Kingdom. The building therefore has enormous value as a symbol of contact between the two nations.

The residence also has significant value in its state rooms, the eighteenth-century interiors of which are very well-preserved by British standards. The building was constructed between 1776 and 1780 to a design by Scottish architects Robert and James Adam as part of a major urban transformation. The relatively simple but well-preserved facade provides an especially stark contrast to the elegant interiors of the state rooms.

Sources for this and following pages: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, British Newspaper Archive, Swedish National Archives, Wikipedia, Dictionary of Swedish National Biography (SBL).

History of Portland Place

As the population of London doubled during the eighteenth century, the city expanded westwards across fields and pastures. Scottish brothers Robert and James Adam were among the foremost British architects of the eighteenth century purchased a large plot of land in London and went into business as property developers. 

The present-day embassy

Our mission is to represent Sweden and the Swedish government in the United Kingdom and to promote Swedish interests. There are strong links between Sweden and the UK. Politically, we cooperate in many policy areas.

Envoys and ambassadors

Historically, the highest rank of diplomat was ambassador. An envoy, traditionally sent to smaller states, is the diplomatic rank below ambassador. As a general rule, ambassadors were aristocrats and as this work was gradually formalised, so the requirement remained for a residence in which one could hold grand receptions and parties.