BUCKINGHAM PALACE




If you are unfortunate enough to have not been born in the green and pleasant land that is known to all as England, then your first thoughts of Her Royal Highnesses' kingdom are likely to be drawn to the City of London. More specifically St Pauls Cathedral, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace!

Originally known as Buckingham House, the building which forms the core of today's palace was in the beginning just a large town house built for the Duke of Buckingham (hence the name) in 1705. However, continuing building work has made the original house unrecognisable. The last major structural additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the East front which contains the well-known balcony on which the Royal Family traditionally congregate to greet crowds outside.

Located in the City of Westminster, Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837.

Today it is best known as the official London residence and office of the British monarch - currently Queen Elizabeth II.

At the rear of the palace, is the large and park-like garden which, together with its lake, is the largest private garden in London.

Here the Queen hosts her annual summer garden parties, and also holds large functions to celebrate royal milestones, such as jubilees. The grounds cover 40 acres, and include a lake, a tennis court, and a helicopter landing pad!

The State Rooms

The principal rooms of the palace are contained on the piano nobile behind the west-facing garden façade at the rear of the palace.

The centre of this ornate suite of state rooms is the Music Room, its large bow the dominant feature of the façade.

Flanking the Music Room are the Blue and the White Drawing rooms.

At the centre of the suite, serving as a corridor to link the state rooms, is the Picture Gallery, which is top-lit and 55 yards (50 m) long.

The Gallery is hung with numerous works including some 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 white marble statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in Roman costume, set in a tribune lined with tapestries. These very formal rooms are used only for ceremonial and official entertaining, but are open to the public every summer.

Buckingham Palace and Queen Victoria

Buckingham Palace became the principal royal residence in 1837, on the accession of Queen Victoria. She was in fact the first monarch to reside there as her predecessor William IV had died before its completion.

While the state rooms were a riot of gilt and colour, the necessities of the new palace were somewhat less luxurious.

For one thing, it was reported that the chimneys smoked so much that the fires had to be allowed to die down, and consequently the court shivered in icy magnificence.

Ventilation was so bad that the interior smelled, and when a decision was taken to install gas lamps, there was a serious worry about the build-up of gas on the lower floors. It was also said that the staff were lax and lazy and the palace was dirty.

Following the Queen's marriage in 1840, her husband, Prince Albert, concerned himself with a reorganisation of the household offices and staff, and with the design faults of the palace. The problems were all rectified by the close of 1840. However, the builders were to return within the decade.

 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 by Thomas Cubitt, enclosing the central quadrangle.

The large East Front 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 after 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.

Before Prince Albert's death, the palace was frequently the scene of musical entertainments, and the greatest contemporary musicians entertained at Buckingham Palace. The composer Felix Mendelssohn is known to have played there on three occasions. Johann Strauss II and his orchestra played there when in England. Strauss's "Alice Polka" was first performed at the palace in 1849 in honour 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.

Widowed in 1861, the grief-stricken Queen withdrew from public life and left Buckingham Palace to live at Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle, and Osborne House. For many years the palace was seldom used, and even neglected. 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 while Buckingham Palace remained shuttered for most of the year.

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