To borrow from the words of Boromir from the Lord of the Rings, one does not simply do a tour of London without including a visit to the iconic Buckingham Palace in it. The history of the royal palace can be traced back to the start of the 17th Century, when King James VI ruled Great Britain. Interestingly, the monarch commissioned building a royal home in London because he was envious of the French dominating the fashion industry at the time. He even ordered whole heaps of mulberry trees planted to raise silkworms, so England could someday compete with France as a producer of silk. The same ground is where Buckingham Palace stands today.
The Construction of Buckingham Palace
In 1703, the first Duke of Buckingham, John Sheffield, built a stately house at the site, but it was not a palace yet. The Buckingham House, as it was known for years following its initial construction, went on to become the informal residence of the Dukes of Buckingham for as long as 1761. Eventually, King George III took it over as a family home in order to get some breathing space from his political life at St James’s Palace. Although it was still an unofficial house, the Buckingham House had come to be colloquially called the Queen’s House by then.
King George III’s successor, King George IV, saw the potential of the stately house as a royal palace, and consulted with architect John Nash in 1825 on its conversion. The initial reconstruction works saw the renovation of the house into a full-scale ceremonial as well as residential palace. However, the amount of money spent on construction was three times over what was planned at the beginning. Even though Nash tried to save some money by retaining the core of the house, he was fired in 1828 for blowing the budget.
After the death of George IV, his successor William IV hired Edward Blore to continue renovation of the palace. However, as William IV did not have much desire to leave the Clarence House, he offered up this palace as a replacement for the Houses of Parliament, which were destroyed in a fire in 1834. Interestingly, that idea was rejected because the extravagant house did not have the required floor plans for parliamentary use. When Queen Victoria came to power in 1837, the 18-year-old monarch instated Buckingham Palace as the official royal residence. Even so, construction of the palace was still unfinished – it had only a few ventilated toilets, most of the bells did not ring, and many of the windows could not be opened. When the Queen married Prince Albert in 1840, these shortcomings became even harder to ignore. As it became increasingly difficult to regard the palace as a family home, Queen Victoria rehired Blore in 1845 to construct another wing.
This time, renovation and construction were funded in part using proceedings which the government got from the sale of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. The project was completed within two years, its most significant addition bring the central balcony, which was a suggestion placed by Prince Albert. This balcony is the place from where the royal family still waves out to adoring crowds from time to time. Many more changes followed in ensuing years, such as relocation of the Marble Arch to the Hyde Park’s northeast corner, and the inclusion of new galleries, a ballroom, and a dining hall. Queen Victoria left Buckingham Palace when Prince Albert died in 1861, and lived in Windsor Castle after that.
During the Time of WWII and Now
World War II had its effects on Buckingham Palace, just as the conflicts destroyed many other buildings in London. In fact, the palace was hit by nine bombs directly, some even at times when the royal family was still living there. Queen Elizabeth said at the time, “I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel I can look the East End in the face.” She was talking in reference to the 57-day bombardment which basically leveled East London, commenting on how the terrors of war can affect all people regardless of their status in society.
After the war ended, the palace was renovated and transformed into a truly regal house. Buckingham Palace today is home to the present British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, and boasts 775 rooms spread over an area of over 75,000 sq. meters. The palace also has around 800 staff members. Visitors are allowed access to the Queen’s Gallery at most times of the year. Other parts of the palace too are opened for public visitation during the summer months. Contact your London tour guide to know more about this palace, and the best time to visit the royal home.