Buckingham Palace – London’s Best Historic Places
Buckingham Palace has been the official main residence of the British monarch since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. The building is based on a large town house of 1703 which was enlarged in the 19th century to form three wings around a central courtyard.
The house, originally Buckingham House, was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 and eventually sold by Buckingham’s descendant, Sir Charles Sheffield, in 1762 to King George III for £21,000. The house was originally intended as a private retreat for the Royal Family, and in particular for Queen Charlotte, and was known as “The Queen’s House.”
After Queen Charlotte died in 1818 and George III in 1820, spendthrift King George IV enlarged the house to use in conjunction with St. James’s Palace. Between the two projecting wings was a colossal triumphal arch of Racaccione marble, modelled on the Arch of Constantine in Rome, and cost £34,450. George IV had intended this State Entrance to be crowned by a bronze equestrian statue of himself but he died before its completion and when Parliament reluctantly paid the bill for it, they decided to erect it in Hyde Park
The original early 19th century interior designs used brightly coloured scagliola and blue and pink lapis and the new work was faced in Bath stone, with exquisite detailing in the French neoclassical style. Many smaller reception rooms are furnished in the Chinese regency style with furniture and fittings brought from the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and from Carlton House following the death of King George IV.
By the time of George IV’s death, the escalating cost of the still unfinished palace caused concern in both Parliament and the Press and the The final cost to the nation of rebuilding Buckingham Palace was in excess of £719,000.
Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 and after the Queen’s marriage in 1840, her husband, Prince Albert, reorganized the household offices and staff and the design faults of the palace were rectified with the builders finally leaving the palace in 1840.
By 1847, the couple had found the palace too small for Court life and their growing family, and consequently the new wing, designed by Edward Blore, was built, enclosing the central quadrangle. This large east wing, facing The Mall is today the ‘public face’ of Buckingham Palace and contains the balcony from which the Royal Family acknowledge the crowds on momentous occasions and annually following Trooping the Colour.
The ballroom wing and a further suite of state rooms were also built in this period, designed by Nash’s student Sir James Pennethorne. Queen Victoria had Marble Arch moved to its present position near Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.
In 1861, widowed and grief stricken, the Queen left Buckingham Palace to live at Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle, and Osborne House. For many years Buckingham Palace was seldom used. Eventually public opinion forced her to return to London, though even then she preferred to live elsewhere whenever possible. Court functions were still held at Windsor Castle rather than at the palace, presided over by the sombre Queen habitually dressed in mourning black.
The last major structural additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th Century, when the large East wing facing The East Front was refaced in Portland stone in 1913 as a backdrop to the Victoria Memorial, creating the present-day ‘public face’ of Buckingham Palace, including the famous balcony. King Edward VII oversaw a partial redecoration in a Belle epoque cream and gold colour scheme and St. James’s Palace remained the official and ceremonial royal residence.
Foreign ambassadors are formally accredited to “the Court of St. James’s” even though they present their credentials and staff at Buckingham Palace to the Queen. The State Rooms are used regularly by The Queen and the Royal family for official and State entertaining. Buckingham Palace is one of the world’s most familiar buildings and more than 50,000 people visit the Palace each year as guests to banquets, lunches, dinners, receptions and the Royal Garden Parties.
The Buckingham Palace Gardens are the largest private gardens in London and were done by Capability Brown and later redesigned by William Townsend Ailton of Kew Gardens and John Nash. The artificially-created lake was completed in 1828 and is supplied with water from the Serpentine, a lake in Hyde Park.