Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the sovereign, one of the most iconic images of London, and a fantastic day out.
Whether you just come to see this famous landmark from outside, or you buy tickets to go inside and marvel at the opulent state rooms, a visit to Buckingham Palace is something you will never forget.
What's inside Buckingham Palace? A lot more than meets the eye — far more than the 19 state rooms you can see if you take one of the tours.
There are 775 rooms in the Palace. 19 of these are the main State Rooms that are open to the public during August and September each year. There are also 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 78 bathrooms and 92 offices!
There's more than 77,000 square metres of floor area — by comparison the average new-build UK home has a floor area of just 76 square metres (though this includes houses and flats, and our new homes are the smallest in Europe) — but Buckingham Palace is roughly 1,000 times that size.
How many windows in Buckingham Palace? An amazing 760! There are also more than 1,500 doors! That's a lot of windows to clean and hinges to oil — the windows are cleaned every 6 weeks. There are also more than 40,000 light bulbs.
The Palace also contains a swimming pool, a chapel, a doctor's surgery and even a post office.
There are more than 350 clocks and watches — and two full time members of staff to wind them and keep the collection in good working order.
The largest single room is The Ballroom, at 36 metres by 18 metres, and 13.5 metres high.
Of course the Queen doesn't have all this space to herself: More than 800 members of staff work in Buckingham Palace, and over 50,000 people visit the Palace every year as guests of the Queen, at receptions, garden parties and other official functions. That doesn't include the members of the public who visit the state rooms when they are open each summer.
Buckingham Palace is now going green, with a CHP (combined heat and power) system to cut energy use, as well as double glazed skylights, and some LED lighting to reduce electricity consumption.
The History of the Palace begins in 1702 when the Duke of Buckingham had it built as his London home. The Duke's son sold the house in 1761 to George III, it was renamed «Queen's House» in 1774 as Queen Charlotte resided there
When it passed to George IV in 1820, Nash was commissioned to make alterations to the palace. The main block was retained but a new suite of rooms was added facing west into the garden, doubling the size of the building. The French Neo Classical style was the influence for the design. The re-modelled state rooms remain unchanged from Nash's original design.
Queen Victoria was the first monarch to take up residence in 1837. Once again extensive changes took place, one of these was to have the huge arched gateway removed to Tyburn, where it remains, known as Marble Arch.
Today Buckingham Palace is used not only as the home of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, but also for the administrative work for the monarchy. It is here in the state apartments that Her Majesty receives and entertains guests invited to the Palace.
Buckingham Palace was first opened to the public in 1993.
Visiting Buckingham Palace
For many people, visiting Buckingham Palace is the highlight of their trip to London — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see behind the usually closed doors of the Queen's official London residence.
As recently as 1992, members of the public could only gaze at this magnificent building from outside, and wonder what lay within.
However, the Palace is only open to visitors during the Queen's annual trip to Scotland, in August and September each year — if you are visiting at any other time of year you'll either have to settle for enjoying the exterior of the building or you may be able to splash out on one of the Exclusive Buckingham Palace Tours which are sometimes available in other months.
Getting to the palace for your visit is easy — Buses 211, 11, C10 and C1 will take you to the palace. There are also several tube stations nearby, including Green Park, Victoria, St James's Park and Hyde Park Corner (see directions below for more details).
Entry to the palace is usually timed, with admissions every 15 minutes, unless you have a «Royal Day Out» ticket, which will be valid throughout the day.
There's even a family audio guide available (in English) to help families with children between 5 and 11 get the most from their visit.
The entrance to the Palace is from Buckingham Palace Road, via Ambassador's Court.
Your visit to Buckingham Palace will include a tour of the nineteen magnificent state rooms, used by the Queen to receive the most important heads of state from around the globe.
These are every bit as magnificent as you might expect — lavishly appointed with some of the finest antique furniture and fine art to be found anywhere in the world, including paintings by Rembrandt, and sculpture by Canova. Audio guides are included in your tour, and are available in many languages.
On the original site of the old entrance hall, sits the Grand Hall in which you will see the aptly named Grand Staircase with its ornate floral balustrade of gilt-bronze.
Walking through the Guard Room, you will pass exceptional Gobelin tapestries on the walls. In the Green Drawing Room, the walls are covered with vibrantly coloured silk, which compliments the gilded and coved ceiling perfectly. Queen Charlotte's salon was on this site.
The Throne Room is a splendid sight — a magnificent spectacle of scarlet and gold. As its centrepiece are the chairs used at the coronation of Her Majesty The Queen in 1953. The Ballroom which is 122 feet long, was opened in Queen Victoria's reign in 1856 to celebrate the end of the Crimean war.
Buckingham Palace is home to one of the finest collections of art in the country, and in the Nash-designed picture gallery you can see wonderful paintings by Rembrandt, Canaletto, Vermeer, Rubens and many other art treasures.
The Royal Collection is held in trust for the nation by the Queen, and is rightly regarded as part of Britain's National Heritage rather than a private collection.
You will see more paintings in the State Dining Room, as portraits of several monarchs hang on the red silk damask walls. The Prince Regent purchased the regency dining chairs in 1813 for use at his home, Carlton House.
The Blue Drawing Room is another of Nash's stunning creations. If you look closely you'll see that the thirty onyx columns are in fact fake. The Sevres porcelain however is the real thing — it was made for Napoleon.
When you're in the domed Music Room, go to the semi-circular bow window — it offers and excellent view of the grounds. Four royal babies have been christened by The Archbishop of Canterbury in this room.
Many people consider the White Drawing Room to be the most magnificent room of all, with its English cut-glass chandeliers suspended from the exquisite ceiling, and the delicate colours of the French antique furnishings which can be appreciated against the gold walls.
At the end of the hall, the Minister's stairs link the state rooms on this principal floor to the Marble Hall — the heart of the original Buckingham House. Clad in Italian marble, you will see fine sculptures, including three works by Antonio Canova.
Other Things To Enjoy
There is usually a special exhibition also included in the tour, which highlights an aspect of Royal life. In 2013 the exhibition celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Queen's coronation in 1953 with fascinating displays in the palace's ballroom.
You will also be able to tour the Buckingham Palace Garden — which is an oasis of tranquility and biodiversity in the centre of London — with more than 350 wild flowers, a lake, and superb views of the palace itself.
Visiting Buckingham Palace can be thirsty work — your visit will probably last more than 2 hours, so why not call in at the superb Garden Cafe — serving tea, coffee, sandwiches and cakes, it's a great place to enjoy some refreshments.
Of course no trip would be complete without visiting the Buckingham Palace shop which has a superb range of quality souvenirs many designed exclusively for the Royal Collection.
Don't forget that during the summer, the Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place at the front of the Palace; it's a spectacle well worth seeing.
Tickets for Buckingham Palace can be purchased from a number of sources — here's an overview of the options available:
First of all, you can buy tickets direct, either online from the official Royal Collection website www.royalcollection.org.uk or by telephone (+44) (0)20 7766 7300. You can also buy your tickets on the day from the ticket office.
You can buy tickets for the state rooms only — or a «Royal Day Out» ticket which will also allow entry to the Royal Mews and the Queen's Gallery.
If you're a UK taxpayer, you can ask for your purchase to be treated as a donation, which allows the Palace to claim Gift Aid tax relief on the price of your tickets.
If you don't want to buy your tickets direct, they are also available through various other websites and booking agencies.
When booking direct, you will be asked to specify the time of your visit at the time of booking. If you book through an agency, you don't have to choose the time of your visit until the day itself, when you exchange your voucher for a timed ticket at the ticket office, potentially giving you a bit more flexibility.
If you plan to return to the palace within a year, then buying direct offers a big advantage: Tickets bought direct can be converted into a 1 year pass, offering complimentary re-admission — by asking for your tickets to be stamped on the day.
In the Middle Ages, the Buckingham Palace site formed part of the Manor of Ebury (also called Eia). The marshy ground was watered by the river Tyburn, which still flows below the courtyard and south wing of the palace. Ownership of the site changed hands many times; owners included Edward the Confessor and his queen consort Edith of Wessex in late Saxon times, and, after the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror. William gave the site to Geoffrey de Mandeville, who bequeathed it to the monks of Westminster Abbey.
In 1531 Henry VIII acquired the Hospital of St. James (later St. James’s Palace) from Eton College, and in 1536 he received the Manor of Ebury from Westminster Abbey. These transfers brought the site of Buckingham Palace back into royal hands for the first time since William the Conqueror had given it away almost 500 years earlier.
Various owners leased it from royal landlords and the freehold was the subject of frenzied speculation in the seventeenth century. Needing money, James I sold off part of the Crown freehold, but retained part of the site on which he established a four-acre mulberry garden for the production of silk. (This is at the northwest corner of today’s palace.) Eventually, in the late-seventeenth century, the freehold was inherited from the property tycoon Sir Hugh Audley by the great heiress Mary Davies.
The palace building
Originally known as Buckingham House, the building forming the core of today’s palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703. The building was acquired by King George III in 1762 as a private residence, known as «The Queen’s House.» It was enlarged over the next 75 years, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, forming three wings around a central courtyard.
Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. The last major structural additions were made in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, including the present-day public face of the Palace.
The Garden, the Royal Mews, and the Mall
At the back of the Palace is Buckingham Palace Garden. The Garden Front of the Palace, by Nash, is made of pale golden Bath stone. The garden, which includes a lake, is the largest private garden in London. Here the Queen hosts her annual garden parties each summer, but since June 2002, she has invited the public into the Garden on numerous occasions.
Adjacent to the Palace is the Royal Mews, also designed by Nash, where the royal carriages, including the Gold State Coach, are housed. This rococo gilt coach, designed by Sir William Chambers in 1760, has painted panels by G. B. Cipriani. It was first used for the State Opening of Parliament by George III in 1762 and is used by the monarch only for coronations or jubilee celebrations. Also housed in the Mews are the carriage horses used in royal ceremonial processions.
The Mall, a ceremonial approach route to the Palace, was designed by Sir Aston Webb and completed in 1911 as part of a grand memorial to Queen Victoria. It extends from Admiralty Arch, up around the Victoria Memorial to the Palace forecourt. This route is used by the cavalcades and motorcades of all visiting heads of state, and by the Royal Family on state occasions such as the annual State Opening of Parliament as well as Trooping the Color each year.
Home of the monarch
The necessities of the new palace turned out to be far from ideal royal standards. The chimneys smoked badly, and consequently the court was forced to shiver in icy magnificence. Ventilation was also poor, and the interior smelled. The installation of gas lamps led to serious worry about the build-up of gas on the lower floors. Following the Queen’s marriage in 1840, her husband, Prince Albert, concerned himself with a reorganization of the household offices and staff, and dealing with the design faults of the palace; and the problems were finally rectified.
By 1847, the couple had found the palace too small for Court life and their growing family. 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 acknowledges the crowds on momentous occasions. The ballroom wing and a further suite of state rooms were also built in this period, designed by Nash’s student Sir James Pennethorne.
Before Prince Albert’s death, Queen Victoria was known to openly love music and dancing and the greatest contemporary musicians entertained at Buckingham Palace. Felix Mendelssohn is known to have played there on three occasions. Johann Strauss II and his orchestra also played there when in England. Strauss’s «Alice Polka» was first performed at the palace in 1849 in honor of the Queen’s daughter, Princess Alice. Under Victoria, Buckingham Palace was frequently the scene of lavish costume balls, in addition to the routine royal ceremonies, investitures, and presentations.
When widowed in 1861, the grief-stricken Queen withdrew from public life and left Buckingham Palace to live at Windsor Castle, and other estates. For many years the palace was seldom used. Eventually public opinion forced the Queen 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, while Buckingham palace remained shuttered for most of the year.
The palace contains 828,818 square feet of floor space. The principal rooms of the palace are contained on the piano nobile behind the west-facing garden facade at the rear of the building. The center of this ornate suite of State Rooms is the Music Room, its large bow the dominant feature of the facade. Flanking the Music Room are the Blue and the White Drawing rooms. At the center of the suite, serving as a corridor to link the state rooms, is the Picture Gallery, which is top lit and 55 yards long. The Gallery is hung with works by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens, and Vermeer.
Other rooms leading from the Picture Gallery are the Throne Room and the Green Drawing Room. The Green Drawing room serves as a huge anteroom to the Throne Room, and is part of the ceremonial route to the Throne from the Guard Room at the top of the Grand Staircase. The Guard Room contains a white-marble statue of Prince Albert, in Roman costume set in a tribune lined with tapestries. These very formal rooms are used only for ceremonial and official entertaining.
Directly underneath the State Apartments is a suite of slightly less grand rooms known as the semi-state apartments. Opening from the marble hall, these rooms are used for less-formal entertaining, such as luncheon parties and private audiences. Some of the rooms are named and decorated for particular visitors, such as the «1844 Room,» which was decorated in that year for the State visit of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. At the center of this suite is the Bow Room, through which thousands of guests pass annually to the Queen’s Garden Parties in the Gardens beyond. The Queen privately uses a smaller suite of rooms in the North wing.
Between 1847 and 1850, when Blore was building the new east wing, the Brighton Pavilion was once again plundered of its fittings for the new wing. As a result, many of the rooms in the new wing have a distinctly oriental atmosphere. The red and blue Chinese Luncheon Room is made up from parts of the Brighton banqueting and music rooms, but has a chimney piece, also from Brighton, in design more Indian than Chinese. The Yellow Drawing Room has eighteenth-century wall paper, which was supplied in 1817 for the Brighton Saloon, and the chimney piece in this room is a European vision of what the Chinese equivalent would look like, complete with nodding mandarins in niches and fearsome winged dragons.
At the center of this wing is the famous balcony, with the Center Room behind its glass doors. This is a Chinese-style saloon enhanced by Queen Mary, who working with the designer Sir Charles Allom, created a more «binding» Chinese theme in the late 1920s, although the lacquer doors were brought from Brighton in 1873. Running the length of the piano nobile of the east wing is the great gallery, modestly known as the Principal Corridor, which runs the length of the eastern side of the quadrangle. It has mirrored doors, and mirrored cross walls reflecting porcelain pagodas and other oriental furniture from Brighton. The Chinese Luncheon Room and Yellow Drawing Room are situated at each end of this gallery, with the Center Room obviously placed in the center.
Visiting heads of state today, when staying at the palace, occupy a suite of rooms known as the Belgian suite, which is on the ground floor of the North-facing garden front. These rooms, with corridors enhanced by saucer domes, were first decorated for Prince Albert’s uncle Léopold I, first King of the Belgians. King Edward VIII lived in these rooms during his short reign.
During the current reign, court ceremony has undergone a radical change, and entry to the palace is no longer the prerogative of just the upper class.
There has been a progressive relaxation of the dress code governing formal court uniform and dress. In previous reigns, men not wearing military uniform wore knee breeches of an eighteenth-century design. Women’s evening dress included obligatory trains and tiaras and/or feathers in their hair. After World War I, when Queen Mary wished to follow fashion by raising her skirts a few inches from the ground, she requested a Lady-in-Waiting to shorten her own skirt first to gauge the King’s reaction. King George V was horrified and Queen Mary’s hemline remained unfashionably low. Subsequently, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth allowed daytime skirts to rise.
Today there is no official dress code. Most men invited to Buckingham Palace in the daytime choose to wear service uniform or morning coats, and in the evening, depending on the formality of the occasion, black tie or white tie. If the occasion is «white tie,» then women, if they possess one, wear a tiara.
One of the first major changes was in 1958 when the Queen abolished the presentation parties for debutantes. These court presentations of aristocratic girls to the monarch took place in the Throne Room. Debutantes wore full court dress, with three tall ostrich feathers in their hair. They entered, curtsied, performed a choreographed backwards walk and a further curtsy, while maneuvering a dress train of prescribed length. The ceremony corresponded to the «court drawing rooms» of earlier reigns, and Queen Elizabeth II replaced the presentations with large and frequent palace garden parties for an invited cross-section of British society. The late Princess Margaret is reputed to have remarked of the debutante presentations: «We had to put a stop to it, every tart in London was getting in.» Today, the Throne Room is used for the reception of formal addresses such as those given to the Queen on her Jubilees. It is here on the throne dais that royal wedding portraits and family photographs are taken.
Investitures, which include the conferring of knighthoods by dubbing with a sword, and other awards take place in the palace’s Victorian Ballroom, built in 1854. At 123 feet by 60 feet, this is the largest room in the palace. It has replaced the Throne Room in importance and use. During investitures the Queen stands on the throne dais beneath a giant, domed velvet canopy, known as a shamiana or a baldachin, used at the coronation of Durbar in Delhi in 1911. A military band plays in the musicians’ gallery, as the recipients of awards approach the Queen and receive their honors, watched by their families and friends.
State banquets also take place in the Ballroom. These formal dinners take place on the first evening of a state visit by a visiting Head of State. On these occasions, often over 150 guests in formal «white tie and decorations,» including tiaras for women, dine off gold plates. The largest and most formal reception at Buckingham Palace takes place every November, when the Queen entertains members of the foreign diplomatic corps resident in London. Smaller ceremonies such as the reception of new ambassadors take place in the ‘1844 Room’. Here too the Queen holds small lunch parties, and often meetings of the Privy Council.
The largest functions of the year are the Queen’s Garden Parties for up to 8,000 invitees, taking tea and sandwiches in marquees erected in the Garden. As a military band plays the National Anthem, the Queen emerges from the Bow Room and slowly walks through the assembled guests towards her private tea tent, greeting those previously selected for the honor. Those guests who do not actually have the opportunity to meet the Queen at least have the consolation of being able to admire the Garden.
Redecoration, final building
In 1901, the accession of Edward VII saw new life breathed into the palace. The new King and his wife, Queen Alexandra, had always been at the forefront of London high society, and their friends, known as «the Marlborough House Set,» were considered to be the most eminent and fashionable of the age. Buckingham Palace—the Ballroom, Grand Entrance, Marble Hall, Grand Staircase, vestibules, and galleries redecorated in the Belle epoque cream-and-gold color scheme they retain today—once again became the focal point of the British Empire and a setting for entertaining on a majestic scale. Many people feel King Edward’s heavy redecoration of the palace does not complement Nash’s original work. However, it has been allowed to remain for one hundred years.
The last major building work took place during the reign of King George V when, in 1913, Sir Aston Webb redesigned Blore’s 1850 East Front to resemble in part Giacomo Leoni’s Lyme Park in Cheshire. This new, refaced principal facade (of Portland stone) was designed to be the backdrop to the Victoria Memorial, a large memorial statue of Queen Victoria, placed outside the main gates. George V, who had succeeded Edward VII in 1910, had a more serious personality than his father; greater emphasis was now placed on official entertaining and royal duties than on lavish parties.
George V’s wife, Queen Mary, was a connoisseur of the arts and took a keen interest in the Royal collection of furniture and art, both restoring and adding to it. Queen Mary also had many new fixtures and fittings installed, such as the pair of marble Empire-style chimney pieces by Benjamin Vulliamy, dating from 1810, which the Queen had installed in the ground floor Bow Room, the huge low room at the center of the garden facade. Queen Mary was also responsible for the decoration of the lavish Blue Drawing Room.
In 1999 that the palace contained 19 state rooms, 52 principal bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. While this may seem large, it is small when compared to the Tsar’s palaces in St. Petersburg and at Tsarskoe Selo, the Papal Palace in Rome, the Royal Palace of Madrid, or indeed, the former Palace of Whitehall, and tiny compared to the Forbidden City and Potala Palace. The relative smallness of the palace may be best appreciated from within, looking out over the inner quadrangle. A minor extension was made in 1938, in which the northwest pavilion, designed by Nash, was converted into a swimming pool.
World War I and II
During World War I the Palace, then the home of King George V and Queen Mary, escaped unscathed. Its more valuable contents were evacuated to Windsor, but the Royal family remained in situ. The largest change to court life at this time was that the government persuaded the King to ostentatiously and publicly lock the wine cellars and refrain from alcohol for the duration of the war, to set a good example to the supposedly inebriated lower classes. The lower classes continued to imbibe and the King was left reputedly furious at his enforced abstinence. The King’s children were photographed at this time serving tea to wounded officers in the adjacent Royal Mews.
During World War II the Palace fared worse: it was bombed no less than seven times, and was a deliberate target, as it was thought by the Nazis that the destruction of Buckingham Palace would demoralize the nation. One bomb fell in the palace quadrangle while King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were in residence, but while many windows were blown in and the chapel destroyed, they escaped harm. However, war-time coverage of such incidents was severely restricted. The most serious and publicized bombing was the destruction of the palace chapel in 1940: coverage of this event was played in cinemas all over England to show the common suffering of rich and poor. The King and Queen were filmed inspecting their bombed home, the smiling Queen, as always, immaculately dressed in a hat and matching coat seemingly unbothered by the damage around her. It was at this time the Queen famously declared: «I’m glad we have been bombed. Now I can look the East End in the face.» The Royal family were seen as sharing their subjects’ hardship, as The Sunday Graphic reported:
On VE Day —May 8, 1945—the Palace was the center of British celebrations, with the King, Queen and the Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen, and Princess Margaret appearing on the balcony, with the palace’s blacked-out windows behind them, to the cheers from a vast crowd in the Mall.
Palace use and public access
Today, Buckingham Palace is not only the weekday home of the Queen and Prince Philip, but also the London residence of the Duke of York and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The palace also houses the offices of the Royal Household and is the workplace of 450 people.
Every year some 50,000 invited guests are entertained at garden parties, receptions, audiences, and banquets. The garden parties, usually three, are held in the summer, usually in July. The Forecourt of Buckingham Palace is used for Changing of the Guard, a major ceremony and tourist attraction (daily during the summer months; every other day during the winter).
The palace is not the monarch’s private property; both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace and their art collections belong to the nation. The furnishings, paintings, fittings, and other artifacts, many by Fabergé, from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are known collectively as the Royal Collection; owned by the nation, they can be viewed by the public. The Queen’s Gallery near the Royal Mews is open all year and displays a changing selection of items from the collection. The rooms containing the Queen’s Gallery are on the site of the former chapel, which was damaged by one of the seven bombs to fall on the Palace during World War II. The Palace’s State Rooms have been open to the public during August and September since 1993. The money raised in entry fees was originally put towards the rebuilding of Windsor Castle following the 1992 fire which destroyed many of its State Rooms.
Thus, Buckingham Palace is a symbol and home of the British Monarchy, an Art Gallery, and a tourist attraction. Behind the gilded railings and gates, which were made by the Bromsgrove Guild, and Webb’s famous facade which has been described as looking «‘like everybody’s idea of a palace,» the large staff employed by the Royal Household work to keep Britain’s constitutional monarchy functioning.
- ↑ Thomas Blaikie, You look awfully like the Queen: Wit and Wisdom from the House of Windsor. (Harper Collins, 2002)
- ↑ John Martin Robinson, Buckingham Palace. (London: The Royal Collection, 1999), 11
- ↑ Kenneth Rose, King George V. (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983)
- Blaikie, Thomas. You look awfully like the Queen: Wit and Wisdom from the House of Windsor. Harper Collins, 2002. ISBN 0007148747
- Harris, John, Geoffrey de Bellaigue, and Oliver Miller. Buckingham Palace. Nelson, 1968. ISBN 0171410114
- Hedley, Olwen. The Pictorial History of Buckingham Palace. Pitkin, 1971. ISBN 085372086X
- Nash, Roy. Buckingham Palace: The Place and the People. Macdonald Futura, 1980. ISBN 0354045296
- Robinson, John Martin. Buckingham Palace. London: The Royal Collection, 1999. ISBN 1902163362
- Rose, Kenneth. King George V. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983. ISBN 0297782452
- Williams, Neville. Royal Homes. Lutterworth Press, 1971. ISBN 0718808037
- Wright, Patricia. The Strange History of Buckingham Palace. Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1999. ISBN 0750912839
Buckingham Palace today
Today, Buckingham Palace is very much a working building and the centrepiece of the UK’s constitutional monarchy, serving as the venue for many royal events and ceremonies from entertaining foreign Head of States to celebrating achievement at Investitures and receptions.
More than 50,000 people visit the Palace each year as guests to State banquets, lunches, dinners, receptions and Garden Parties. Her Majesty also holds weekly audiences with the Prime Minister and receives newly-appointed foreign Ambassadors at Buckingham Palace.
Receptions are held at the Palace throughout the year to recognise the work of industry, government, charities, sport, the Commonwealth and many more areas of life. For example, in 2013 The Queen hosted a reception to celebrate the Commonwealth, Youth and Education, which was attended by 350 guests from academic institutions around the world and included a performance by the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and choir and more recently, in 2015, Her Majesty hosted a reception for players, organisers and supporters of the Rugby World Cup.
Buckingham Palace is often a focal point for significant national celebrations and commemorations.
In 2002, a music concert was staged in the garden of Buckingham Palace to mark The Queen’s Golden Jubilee, which included a unforgettable performance of ‘God Save The Queen’ by Brian May from the roof of the Palace and at Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012 members of the public were invited to have a special picnic in the Buckingham Palace garden.
The balcony of Buckingham Palace is one of the most famous in the world. The first recorded Royal balcony appearance took place in 1851, when Queen Victoria stepped onto it during celebrations for the opening of the Great Exhibition. Since then, Royal Balcony appearances have marked many occasions from The Queen’s annual official birthday celebrations to watch the RAF Flypast at the end of Trooping the Colour, Royal Weddings, as well as special events of national significance such as the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
Whilst Buckingham Palace is seen as the administrative hub of the Monarchy, it is also very much a family home, in addition to holding The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews. The Queen gave birth to Prince Charles and Prince Andrew at the Palace, and to this day notice of royal births and deaths are still attached to the front railings for members of the public to read. The christenings of The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal, The Duke of York and Prince William took place in the Music Room and many Royal Weddings have been celebrated at Buckingham Palace, most recently The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s.
The offices of those who support the day-to-day activities and duties of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh and their immediate family, such as the Private Secretary’s Office and the Privy Purse and Treasurer’s Office are located at Buckingham Palace.
History of Buckingham Palace
George III bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a comfortable family home close to St James’s Palace, where many court functions were held. Buckingham House became known as the Queen’s House, and 14 of George III’s 15 children were born there.
George IV, on his accession in 1820, decided to reconstruct the house into a pied-à-terre, using it for the same purpose as his father George III.
As work progressed, and as late as the end of 1826, The King had a change of heart. With the assistance of his architect, John Nash, he set about transforming the house into a palace. Parliament agreed to a budget of £150,000, but the King pressed for £450,000 as a more realistic figure.Nash retained the main block but doubled its size by adding a new suite of rooms on the garden side facing west. Faced with mellow Bath stone, the external style reflected the French neo-classical influence favoured by George IV.
The remodelled rooms are the State and semi-State Rooms, which remain virtually unchanged since Nash’s time.
The north and south wings of Buckingham House were demolished and rebuilt on a larger scale with a triumphal arch — the Marble Arch — as the centrepiece of an enlarged courtyard, to commemorate the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo.
By 1829 the costs had escalated to nearly half a million pounds. Nash’s extravagance cost him his job, and on the death of George IV in 1830, his younger brother William IV took on Edward Blore to finish the work. The King never moved into the Palace. Indeed, when the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834, the King offered the Palace as a new home for Parliament, but the offer was declined.
Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to take up residence in July 1837 and in June 1838 she was the first British sovereign to leave from Buckingham Palace for a Coronation. Her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 soon showed up the Palace’s shortcomings.
A serious problem for the newly married couple was the absence of any nurseries and too few bedrooms for visitors. The only solution was to move the Marble Arch — it now stands at the north-east corner of Hyde Park — and build a fourth wing, thereby creating a quadrangle. The cost of the new wing was largely covered by the sale of George IV’s Royal Pavilion at Brighton.
Blore added an attic floor to the main block of the Palace and decorated it externally with marble friezes originally intended for Nash’s Marble Arch. The work was completed in 1847.By the turn of the century the soft French stone used in Blore’s East Front was showing signs of deterioration, largely due to London’s notorious soot, and required replacing.
In 1913 the decision was taken to reface the façade. Sir Aston Webb, with a number of large public buildings to his credit, was commissioned to create a new design. Webb chose Portland Stone, which took 12 months to prepare before building work could begin. When work did start it took 13 weeks to complete the refacing, a process that included removing the old stonework.
The present forecourt of the Palace, where Changing the Guard takes place, was formed in 1911, as part of the Victoria Memorial scheme.
The gates and railings were also completed in 1911; the North-Centre Gate is now the everyday entrance to the Palace, whilst the Central Gate is used for State occasions and the departure of the guard after Changing the Guard. The work was completed just before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.
Visiting Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is open to the public during the summer months and for a limited number of tours in December, January and at Easter each year. Find out more about visiting the Palace on the Royal Collection Trust website.