Location: The Mall, SW1
Victoria, St. James Park, Green Park
Standing guard at the Palace
Britain's monarchs have changed their official residences throughout the centuries from The Tower of London to Westminster to Whitehall to Kensington and St. James's, and finally to Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace is now the official London residence of the reigning monarch. The royal residences or palaces were individually tailored to suit each monarch, consequently subjecting the buildings to virtually incessant remodelling, rebuilding and repairs.
Buckingham House, named for the original red brick structure, was built in 1703- complete with mulberry garden for silk production- by the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. The manor attracted the eye of King George III; and because of its close proximity to St. James' Palace, the king bought it as a dower house in 1762 for the 17-year-old Queen Charlotte. That same year Sir William Chambers was hired to remodel the residence with a budget of £72,000 ($126,000.) Buckingham house was then renamed Queen's House in 1774 and all but one of George III's 15 children were birthed there.
Five years after George IV's ascession to the throne in 1820, the king hired architect John Nash to transform Queen's House into a palace of the the pied-a-tarre style. The new palace exterior was constructed of honey-hued Bath Stone in the Neo-classical French design favored by George III and boasted a marble arch, the centerpiece of the enlarged courtyard that was built to commemorate the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo. Nash's extravagance, however, cost him his job in 1829 when project expenses soared to over £500,000, far exceeding the £150,000 Parliament allotment. King George IV died the following year, never having lived in his newly reconstructed palace.
William IV then employed Edward Blore to complete the palace left undone by the termination of John Nash. When Parliament was nearly completely destroyed by fire in 1834, King William IV offered the new Buckingham Palace as the new Parliament building, but his offer was declined.
Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to take up residence in Buckingham Palace in July 1837 and her June 1838 coronation was the first State procession to leave from there. Due to the lack of any nurseries and an insufficient number of guest rooms, Victoria and Albert hired Edward Blore to build a 4th wing on to the palace in 1840. This addition necessitated the removal of the marble arch to the northeast corner of Hyde Park, where it stands today. Most of the expansion project work was financed by the liquidation of George IV's Royal Pavillion in Brighton. The construction was completed well under budget in 1847.
The forecourt of Buckingham Palace, where the Changing of the Guard takes place, was formed and Victorian memorial wrought iron gates and railings were commissioned in 1911. The north center gate secures the everyday entrance to the palace while the center gate provides entrance for state occasions or officials. George V subsequently employed Sir Aston Webb to reface the crumbling Bath Stone of the east facade in 1913 with Portland Stone. It required 12 months to prepare the stone, yet only 13 weeks to complete the refacing. The gates and refacing were completed in 1914. Buckingham Palace has endured few changes since. Sir Aston Webb is the architect primarily responsible for the palace's current aspect of reserved grandeur.
The palace interior and grounds also underwent a gradual metamorphosis into the stately, 600 room royal palace it is today. The Palace bosts a 40 acre garden, a movie theater, swimming pool and the Queen's private art collection (opened to the public in 1962.) In addition, the Royal Mews, designed by Nash in 1825, house the state carriages and royal ceremonial apparel. Regular investitures held by the Queen afford guests rare views of the Mews unavailable to tourists. The Summer Opening of the Palace from early August to late September is the only time tourists are allowed in the palace to view the State Rooms, resplendent in gilding, fine art, priceless heirlooms, antique furniture and, of course, thrones. Guests can, however, visit the Queen's Gallery and the Royal Mews throughout the year.
The Palace Today
Beautiful Buckingham Palace as seen from St. James' Park
Buckingham Palace is one of the most visited attractions in London and is a source of fascination for many royal-watchers. The old rule that when the Union Jack flies full mast above the palace, Queen Elizabeth II is in residence is no longer accurate. The Queen changed that policy in 1998 probably for security purposes. This rule affects all the royal palaces and residences.
The palace is surrounded on three sides by parks, St. James' Park, Green Park and Hyde Park. There are also 40 acres of gardens on palace grounds, complete with statuary, pool and fountain. Queen Elizabeth's own private suites overlook Green Park, a lovely, tree-lined preserve virtually overflowing with daffodils in the spring.
Between St. James' Park, the oldest of the nine royal parks, and Green Park lies The Mall. The Mall begins at the gates of Buckingham Palace and ends at Trafalgar Square. It is the route most commonly taken by royal processions on state occasions.
The royal family lives here at the palace when in London. They are: Their Majesties the Queen, Elizabeth II and her husband/consort, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh; their daughter, Princess Anne; their eldest son, Prince Charles of Wales; their second son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and their youngest son, Prince Edward and his wife Princess Sophie, Earl and Countess of Wessex. The second in line for the throne, Prince William of Windsor, is the first son of the late Princess Diana of Wales and her ex-husband Prince Charles of Wales. The other son of the couple is Prince Harry.
The Changing of the Guard
The world-famous Changing of the Guard is a definite must-see for any London traveler interested by the pageantry associated with Britain's monarchy. This ceremony can be seen at one of several royal palaces, Buckingham, St. James', Windsor Castle and the Horse Guards at Whitehall Palace.
The Palace Today
Links to my other London Attractions pages
The Royal Family's Official Website
The Royal Palaces Official Website
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Last Updated: 20 January 2003
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