Buckingham Palace, has long been one of the Main Tourist Attractions in London. Here is an article explaining some of the history of this fascinating building. It is part of a series of articles on London Tourist Attractions.
As well as being the office of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, this palace is also her official London Residence and has been the official London home of Britain’s Kings and Queens since Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837.
It had originally been built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1705 as a townhouse, which still forms the architectural core of the present palace and was later aquired, by King George III in 1761, for his Queen, Charlotte as her own private place of residence.
It was close enough to St James’s Palace, (which very much still remained the official and ceremonial royal residence) to become a family home and indeed, it is where 14 of the 15 royal children of George III and Queen Charlotte were born.
The renovation and remodelling of the entire structure began in 1762, the year after the aquisition of the buildings by King George III and was continued by King George IV on his accession to the throne in 1820.
It was in 1826 that George decided to transform the structure into a palace assigning the works to his architect, John Nash, who was subsequently removed, as the cost of the renovations began to sky rocket, due to the extravagance of Nash’s designs.
On the death of King George IV, his younger brother, William IV became king and hired the architect Edward Blore, the landscape and architectural artist, to complete the works.
He did so in a similar, but much plainer style than the one envisioned by John Nash. In 1847, he designed the great facade which faces The Mall, completely enclosing the central quadrangle.
The buildings actually came under consideration for being converted into a new Houses of Parliament, after the disasterous fire which destroyed the old Houses of Parliament in 1834.
King William IV however, did not become the first British Monarch to officially reside there, as he died before it’s completion. That honour fell to his successor, Queen Victoria on her accession in 1837.
The additions did not cease with his demise however, for it was reported that the palace lacked proper ventilation and the chimneys smoked so much that the fires had to be allowed to die down to stop people from suffocating.
The Queen’s husband, Prince Albert, after their marriage in 1840, set himself the task of of redesigning and rectifying all the faults associated with Buckingham Palace, which did not stop with matters of construction. He also reorganised the lazy household staff into an effective office machine.
Most of the problems had been rectified by 1840, but by 1847, the royal couple had found the palace to be much too small for their large and growing family, combined with all the court functions and affairs of state.
They then recalled the builders to construct the East Front of the Palace and it is from the balconey on this wing that the royal family appear before the crowds on such occasions as royal weddings and each year following the Trooping The Colour ceremony.
With the Palace still lacking a large enough room in which to entertain guests, Queen Victoria, in 1853 rectified matters by adding a large room, which at the time of it’s construction was the largest room in London.
It’s completion was celebrated by a Grand Ball in 1856 when it was opened, not only to recognise those worthy stalwarts who attended, but also to celebrate the end of that most awful, bloody conflict, which had taken place in the Crimea. ‘The Crimean War’ (1853 – 1856).
That was the war, which gave us everlasting memories of, Florence Nightingale (the Lady with the Lamp), Mary Seacole, the Charge of The Light Brigade and The Victoria Cross. It is also the war that immortalized the name of ‘balaclava’, the head, face and neck warmer, treasured by countless people around the world, from time immemorial.
It is in the ballroom where state banquets and investitures take place, such as the conferring of knighthoods and other award giving ceremonies. It has taken over from the throne room in order of importance.
Until the death of Prince Albert in 1861, when his widow, weighed down with grief, withdrew from public life, Buckingham Palace had been the scene of many lavish extravaganzas. The likes of Johann Strauss II and Felix Mendelssohn are known to have played there.
All this ceased however, on his death. The Queen removed herself from the Palace, to take up residence at Windsor Castle and other royal palaces. This left the Palace very much neglected for many years until she was forced to return to London when she came under intense pressure from public opinion to do so.
The once famous Court Presentations of young girls from the Aristocracy, which was termed their “coming out” took place in the throne room. However, 1958 saw their demise and they no longer take place there, having been abolished by the present Queen in 1958. They were replaced by Garden Parties.
This garden, containing a lake, which originally took it’s water from the Serpentine in Hyde Park, but today it is a self-regulating eco-system fed from the Buckingham Palace bore hole, is the largest private garden in the whole of the City of London and is the venue of the annual garden parties, which are hosted every summer by the Queen.
The famous landscape gardener, Capability Brown originally set out the gardens, but they were later redesigned by John Nash and Kew Gardens’, William Townsend Aiton, the Scottish Botanist, who were both commissioned by King George IV to undertake the works.
The Royal carriages, including the magnificent Gold State Coach, together with the carriage horses, are all housed and stabled in the Royal Mews, which stands adjacent to Buckingham Palace. These buildings were also built to a design by John Nash.
The Gold State Coach, which is used only for coronations and royal jubilee celebrations, was first used by King George III in the year 1762 for the State Opening of Parliament.
Since 1993, the state rooms of Buckingham Palace have been open to the public from July through September with the proceeds originally going towards the restoration of Windsor Castle.
This was the result of a disastrous fire the previous year in 1992, which all but destroyed the ancient building, when so many of it’s state rooms were consumed in the conflagration.
Buckingham Palace is well worth a visit and should be on every tourist’s itinerary.