Vic­to­rian Charm at Buck­ing­ham Palace


Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Susie Kear­ley

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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