Victorian Charm at Buckingham Palace
QUEEN VICTORIA WAS THE FIRST SOVEREIGN TO RULE FROM BUCKINGHAM PALACE.
Discover the elegant estate that was fit for Queen Victoria.
Buckingham Palace is one of the most recognizable buildings in England, perhaps in the world.
It’s synonymous with London and is still a working palace, not a museum. The Queen carries out her ceremonial duties here during the week, and usually spends her weekends at Windsor Castle. Many official functions and duties take place in the state rooms at Buckingham Palace, including banquets and investitures, and a warm welcome for ambassadors to foreign states.
The Palace opened to the public in 1993 to raise funds for the restoration of Windsor Castle after large parts of it were destroyed by a fire. You can visit the state rooms at Buckingham Palace two months in the summer, and over six million people have visited since it opened.
HISTORY Architect John Nash designed Buckingham Palace in the early 19th century. Nash’s starting point was a much more modest building called Buckingham House, which he extended and transformed into a royal palace. He drew up designs to enlarge and modernize the building in 1821, and construction work began in 1825. But in 1830, following the death of King George IV, he was dismissed by Parliament. The new architect was Edward Blore, who continued working to Nash’s designs until the job was complete around 1840. The palace’s design had an open three-sided forecourt and Queen Victoria, who took up residence there in 1837, built the East wing in 1847, closing off the courtyard to create the enclosed quadrangle.
Queen Victoria was the first monarch to rule from Buckingham Palace. The apartments were unfinished when she moved in at the age of 18, and work on the interiors wasn’t completed until after her marriage to Prince Albert. However, she enjoyed living there, entertained guests and held regular balls where she liked to dance late into the night.
Victoria’s parties at Buckingham Palace became part of the London social scene, but the throne room, picture gallery and blue drawing room—where these occasions were held— weren’t well suited. They were too small for the number of guests, and the candles dripped, leaving melted wax on wigs and gowns. Inspired by her travels through continental Europe, Queen Victoria commissioned a new ballroom on the south side of the palace in 1855. Over the course of 20 years, Buckingham Palace transformed from an incomplete palace needing redecoration, to a modern royal court, full of life. The new ballroom and ball supper room were well used and
came with kitchens and offices to facilitate her entertaining.
However, during Queen Victoria’s reign, London was heavy with coal dust and smoke. It seeped into every crack and made a mess of the building. After the Queen died, King Edward VII came to the throne. He redecorated the grand entrance, marble hall and grand staircase with a white-and-gold color scheme, and supported the construction of a Queen Victoria Memorial outside the palace.
Unfortunately, the gleaming white of the new statue contrasted with the decaying stonework of the East wing, which was starting to look black with soot, so a new facade was fitted during the royal family’s absence in the summer of 1913. It was described as “more stately and dignified.” A year later, the royal family stood on the central balcony in front of massed crowds as WWI broke out.
Queen Victoria’s private chapel was destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War, and the Queen’s gallery was created in its place in 1962. Inside is a display of paintings from the Royal Collection, representing different eras and monarchs. The Queen’s gallery was enlarged in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. EXTERIORS
The majestic gates create an impressive gateway to Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s London home. The East wing, behind the gates, was an addition from Queen Victoria in 1847, and a new facade was constructed in 1913 because the original frontage was suffering from soot stains and decaying stonework.
The changing of the guard ceremony takes place on the forecourt at 11 a.m. every day in the spring, summer and autumn. During winter, the ceremony occurs on alternate days. The Queen uses the central arch on important ceremonial occasions, and uses the side arches more regularly.
THE GRAND STAIRCASE
Architect John Nash was inspired by some of the sumptuous designs in London’s theaters when he created this dramatic staircase in the confined space. The staircase fosters a sense of expectation about what lays at the top of the stairs. Natural light enters the room through a glass dome etched with the images of angels. Queen Victoria decorated the walls with family portraits, and today, some say it’s like being received by Queen Victoria’s family as you ascend the stairs.
THE GREEN DRAWING ROOM
At the top of the grand staircase is the green drawing room with pilasters of lattice plasterwork, gilded and filled with florets. Garlands and swags below the ceiling create a luxurious feel, inspired by Italian villas. The plasterwork came from the London firm George Jackson and Sons. The ornate mirror on the left dates to the 1830s. The green porcelain vases on the right are Sevres vases, put in place to match the silk wall coverings. The black cabinets date to the 1780s.
THE THRONE ROOM
This majestic room, with its intricate plasterwork and gilded detail, is used for ceremonial purposes. Two angels hold a garland over the thrones with the initials of King George IV. The room’s design reflects the great pageantry of George IV’S coronation in 1821, when the King led a procession to Westminster Abbey in elaborate costume. Queen Victoria lit the throne room with more than 200 candles and held costumed balls there in the 1840s. King George V later used the room for investitures.
THE PICTURE GALLERY
King George IV’S picture collection hung in this gallery, which he used as a reception room. Today, it serves banquets and acts as a reception room for investitures, which now take place in the ballroom. Prince Albert had the walls painted lilac in 1851. The current color scheme dates from 1964.
Because of its massive size, the ballroom must have been quite remarkable for guests stepping inside for the first time. The first ball was held there in May 1856. Over the arch are plaster statues, where winged figures representing history and fame hold a medallion depicting the faces of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The chandeliers were installed in 1907, replacing earlier gas lamps.
THE STATE DINING ROOM
Queen Victoria used this room for dining on special occasions. It’s still reserved for entertaining important guests or celebrating special dates. In the roundels below the ceiling are the initials of Queen Victoria and William IV. This room was among the last to be completed after King George IV’S death. The crimson damask on the walls was installed in 1965, replacing a warm stone color wall hanging.
THE MUSIC ROOM
In the music room, the royals entertain guests and hold private recitals and royal christenings. The grand piano is from John Broadwood and Sons. The frieze, showing a triangle inside a garland, may have been inspired by Masonic imagery, as both the architect John Nash and his client, King George IV, were Freemasons. The parquet floor is an outstanding example of work by Thomas Seddon.
THE WHITE DRAWING ROOM
Giant pilasters adorn the walls in this room, along with gilded plasterwork. Nash designed this room with yellow scagliola pillars. It was painted over in the early 20th century, and now has a white and gold theme from King Edward VII. The portrait is of Queen Alexandra, painted by Francois Flameng in 1908.
Queen Victoria’s private chapel was destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War, and the Queen’s gallery was created in its place in 1962.
The picture gallery’s natural light was important for showing off picture collections in the 19th century. Unfortunately, a leaky roof would have taken the edge off this impressive room, which dripped for 20 years before it was replaced around 1915....
The white drawing room houses a roll top desk, which dates to 1775 and is veneered with marquetry, or inlaid colored wood.
The green drawing room sports olive green silk, a rich crimson carpet and gold detail on the plasterwork and furnishings.
The throne room is one of Nash’s most dramatic interiors at Buckingham Palace. The canopy and thrones sit on a small stage designed for pageantry and ceremony.
The changing of the guard is a wonderful event to see at the palace.