Victorian London - Buildings, Monuments and Museums - Buckingham Palace 

Buckingham Palace, 'from a house to a palace'

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June 20, 1835:—YESTERDAY, in company with Mr. D , and several other persons, I visited Buckingham House, the king’s new palace, in St. James’s Park. 
    But what shall I say of the interior? I never saw anything that might be pronounced a more total failure, in every respect. It is said, indeed, that, spite of the immense sums which have been expended, the king is so ill-satisfied with the result, that he has no mind to take up his residence in it when the unhappy edifice shall be finished. This reluctance appears to me very natural. For my own part, I would not live in it rent-free; I should vex myself all the day long with the fantastic mixture of every style of architecture and decoration—the absence of all pure taste—the total want of feeling of measure and proportion. Even the great entrance­hall does not answer its object, because the principal staircase is on one side, and an immense space, scarcely lighted, seems to extend before you as you enter, to no purpose whatever. The grand apartments of the principal story are adorned with pillars; but what kind of pillars? Partly red, like raw sausages; partly blue, like starch—bad imitations of marbles
which nobody ever saw, standing upon blocks which art rejects, to support nobody knows what. Then, in the next apartment (in defiance of keeping), no pillars, but pilasters; then pilasters without base or capita]; and then with a capital, and with the base preposterously cut away. In the same apartment, fragments of Egypt, Greece, Etruria, Rome, and the Middle Ages, all confusedly mingled together; the doors, windows, and chimney-pieces, in such incorrect proportions, that even. the most iinpractised eye must be offended.. . In one room there are three doors of different height and breadth; over the doors, in some apartments, bas-reliefs and sculptures, in which pygmies and Brobding­nagians are huddled together—people from two to six feet high living in admirable harmony. The smaller figures have such miserable spider legs and arms, that one would fancy they had been starved in a time of scarcity, and were come to the king’s palace to fatten.... This palace, therefore, stands as a very dear proof that wealth, without knowledge of art and taste, cannot effect so much as moderate means aided by knowledge and sound judgment. Of what use, then, is it? The best thing that could happen would be, if Aladdin, with his magic lamp, would come and transport it into an African desert.

Friedrich von Raumer, England in 1835.

BUCKINGHAM PALACE. The palace of her Majesty in St. James's Park, built in the reign of King George IV., on the site of Buckingham House, by John Nash, and completed in the reign of William IV., but never inhabited by that sovereign, who is said to have expressed his great dislike to the general appearance and discomfort of the whole structure. When the grant was given by Parliament, it was intended only to repair and enlarge old Buckingham House: and therefore the old site, height, and dimensions were retained. This led to the erection of a clumsy building, and was a mere juggle on the part of the king and his architect - knowing as they did that Parliament would never have granted the funds for an entirely new Palace. On her Majesty's accession several alterations were effected - a dome in the centre, like a common slop-basin turned upside down, was removed, and new buildings added to the south. The alterations were made by Mr. Blore, and her Majesty entered into her new Palace on the 13th of July, 1837. The chapel on the south side, originally a conservatory, was consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury March 25th, 1843. The Grand Staircase is of white marble and has lately been deocrated by L. Gruner. The Library is generally used as a Waiting-room for deputations, which, as soon as the Queen is ready to receive them, pass across the Sculpture-gallery into the Hall, and thence ascend by the Grand Staircase through an ante-room and the Green Drawing-room, to the Throne-room. The Green Drawing-room, which occupies the centre of the eastern front, and opens upon the upper story of the portico, is fifty feet in length, and thirty-two in height, and hung with green satin, striped and relieved with gilding. The door and shutter panels are filled with mirrors. When state balls are given, the spacious tent, formerly belonging to Tippoo Saib, is raised beneath the portico of the west quadrangle, and the windows being removed, the tent is lit by an "Indian sun," eight feet in diameter, set round a chandelier. Here the refreshments are served. The Throne-room is sixty-four feet in length, and hung with crimson satin, striped. Here is placed the Royal Throne or chair of state. The ceiling of the room is coved, richly emblazoned with arms, and gilded in the boldest Italian style of the fifteenth century. Beneath is a white marble frieze, (the Wars of the Roses), designed by Stothard and executed by E.H.Baily, R.A. In the spring of 1846 Sir Robert Peel informed the Lords of the Treasury that her Majesty had been for some time past subjected to the greatest inconvenience "from the insufficient accomodation" afforded by the Palace. A letter was consequently written (May 23rd, 1846) to the Commissioners of the Woods and Forests, by whom (Aug. 3rd 1846) Mr. Blore was called upon to report "of the nature and extent of the insufficiency of accomodation, together with such plans as would best provide for its improvement and enlargement." In his reply (Aug. 4th 1846) Mr. Blore observed that he had "long been aware of the extreme inconvenience to which her Majesty personally, the juvenile members of the Royal Family, and the whole of the royal establishment, had been subjected in consequence of the insufficiency of Buckingham Palace in point of accomodation." It appears, among other inconveniences enumerated by Mr. Blore, that the private apartments in the north wing "were not calculated originally for a married sovereign - the head of a family;" that the Nursery department was confined "to a few rooms in the attics of the same wing;" and that the basement story of the wing was used by the Lord Chamberlain's department for "store-rooms and work-shops;" that there was a constant noise and a continual smell of oil and glue, and if these were not enough, he adds, "the kitchen again is a nuisance to the Palace." Mr. Blore's estimate amounted to 150,000l., and for this he was to make a "new east front to the Palace, clear out and re-arrange rooms in south wing; make alterations in the north wing, new kitchens and offices, with ball-room over, taken down the marble arch, decorate, paint, and alter drains." The sum was large but the nuisance complained of was so great that the work was commenced forthwith. The marble arch cost 80,000l., and was to have been surmounted by Chantrey's equestrian statue of George IV., now in Trafalgar-square. When her majesty is in town the arch is surmounted by a standard of silk. The metal gates, designed and executed by Samuel Parker and of exquisite workmanship, cost three thousand guineas.- The pictures in Buckingham Palace were principally collected by George IV. ...
    The Mews, concealed from the Palace by a lofty mound, contains a spacious riding-school; a room expressly for keeping state harness; stables for the state horses; and houses for forty carriages. Here, too, is kept the magnificent state coach, designed by Sir W. Chambers in 1762; and painted by Cipriani with a series of emblematical subjects; the entire cost being 7661l. 16s 5d. The stud of horses and the carriage may be inspected by an order from the Master of the Horse. The entrance is in Queen's-row, Pimlico. In the Gardens is the Queen's summer-house, containing the frescoes (8 in number) from Milton's Comus, executed in 1844-5, by Eastlake, Maclise, Landseer, Dye, Stanfield, Uwins, Leslie, and Ross. The ornaments and borders are by Gruner. The Queen has 325,000l. a year settled upon her, of which 60,000l. a year only is in her own hands; the remainder is spent by the Lord Chamberlain, the Lord Steward, &c.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

Buckingham Palace is a building as devoid of architectural pretensions as could well be found even in London. It is the only royal palace in London ever used by the Queen as a residence, and until within the last few years was confined exclusively to that purpose, both drawing-rooms and levees being held at St. James’s. Latterly the crush at the former has been found unendurable, and they have been transferred to the larger rooms of Buckingham Palace. The building itself has been considerably enlarged since it was first built in the reigns of George IV and William IV., on the site of old Buckingham House, and the interior arrangements are now fairly handsome and tolerably commodious. It is not, however, nor can it ever be, a really fitting town palace for the sovereign of England. There are some few good pictures, but no regular collection. The part of the establishment best worth seeing is the Royal Stables, for which an order must be obtained from the department of the Master of the Horse. The gardens, occupying the space on the north front—where are Her Majesty’s private apartments—between Constitution-hill and Grosvenor-place, are interesting. NEAREST Railway Stations, Victoria and St. James’s-park; Omnibus Routes, Grosvenor-place, Victoria-street, Whitehall, and Piccadilly; Cab Rank, James-street.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

    BUCKINGHAM PALACE ... The town residence of the Queen. Here are held the "Drawing Rooms" at which the ladies of the higher ranks of society are present to Her Majesty. The interior of the Palace can be viewed only by special favour.

Reynolds' Shilling Coloured Map of London, 1895

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Buckingham Palace, from St. James's Park

Buckingham Palace, from St. James's Park - photograph


From this point of view is seen the principal façade of Queen Victoria's London residence - that part of Buckingham Palace which faces the east. This side of the huge quadrangle is 360 feet long, and was added in 1846 by Blore, Parliament voting £150,000 for the purpose. The style is German, of the last century, and the architect wisely made no attempt to harmonise the new front with the older parts, built by Nash in the reign of George IV. Formerly there stood here the mansion of the Duke of Buckingham - hence the name; this was bought by George III., and rebuilt by his successor. Before the present front was erected, the Marble Arch served as the gateway to the Palace, which was unoccupied for some years before Her Majesty began to reside here. The rooms on the north side are those used by the Queen.