27.03.2015
12:15

Buckingham Palace

Address:

Ticket office at Canada Gate, Green Park, W1 (open 9:00–16:00)

Phone:

020-7766 7300; 020-7766 7324 for disabled visitors

Website:

www.royalcollection.org.uk

Opening times:

Daily 9:30-19:30 (August), 9:30-18:30 (September)

How to get there:

Tube: Victoria/St James’s Park

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Shop

Buckingham Palace, impressively situated at the west end of the Mall, is the official residence of the British monarch (when the Queen is in residence the Royal Standard flies from the top of the flagpole on the palace roof). It is the Mall façade, from the balcony of which the Queen waves on great public occasions, that is best known to the world. A picturesque view of it, framed by trees, can be had from the bridge over the lake in nearby St James’s Park. The façade in fact dates only from 1913 and was designed by Sir Aston Webb, who was also responsible for the spacious circus in front of the palace with its radiating avenues and the Victoria Memorial at its centre. The Memorial, executed by Sir Thomas Brock in 1911, shows Queen Victoria seated on the east side with groups representing Truth, Motherhood and Justice on the others and is crowned by a gilded bronze figure of Victory. On the wide palace forecourt, behind the ornamental railings, the Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place (11.30am, daily April–end June, otherwise alternate days, weather permitting). The new guard, accompanied by a band with pipes and drums, marches from the nearby Wellington Barracks to relieve the old guard assembled on the forecourt. When the officers of the old and new guards advance and touch left hands, symbolising the handing over of the keys, the guard is ‘changed’.

The Building
Buckingham Palace was originally Buckingham House, a private mansion built by John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham in 1702–05. In 1762 the house was purchased by George III and it became the chief residence of Queen Charlotte, who had it enlarged and altered by Sir William Chambers. It was for George IV that the building was transformed into a palace; on his accession the new king signalled his intention to vacate his magnificent home, Carlton House, and to rebuild Buckingham House on a grand and regal scale. Parliament voted £250,000 for the project, John Nash was the chosen architect, and building work began in 1825. On the king’s death in 1830, with the palace still unfinished and costs having spiralled to £600,000, Nash was dismissed and Edward Blore, considered a safe pair of hands, was appointed in his place. Blore removed Nash’s insubstantial and much criticised dome, added an attic storey, and in 1846–50 created the east wing across the forecourt, now hidden behind Webb’s 1913 refacing. The new wing necessitated the removal of Nash’s Marble Arch, designed as a ceremonial gateway to the palace: in 1850–51 it was relocated to its present site, on the edge of Hyde Park at the junction of Park Lane and Oxford Street.

The palace was first opened to the public in 1993 to help fund the restoration of the then fire-damaged Windsor Castle, and has remained open to visitors in the summer ever since. For obvious reasons, not all areas of the palace are accessible but the tour takes in the main State Rooms, the majority of them opulently conceived by Nash in the 1820s and completed by Blore. Nash’s inventive interiors, with their gilded plaster ceilings, heavily decorated coves, wall hangings in richly coloured silks and use of expensive materials (Carrara marble; gilt bronze) offered the unsurpassed grandeur sought by George IV. Many of the rooms were partially designed around the king’s magnificent collection of pictures, furniture and porcelain from Carlton House, several items from which, together with other items from the Royal Collection—a private collection unrivalled in its size, scope and importance—still furnish them.

Tour of the Palace
Visitors enter the palace via the Ambassador’s Entrance on Buckingham Gate, which leads to the Courtyard behind the east wing. Here, Nash’s building, in warm Bath stone, with Blore’s alterations, is revealed. The sculptural theme is British sea power: in the pediment Britannia Acclaimed by Neptune, designed by Flaxman and executed by E.H. Baily in 1828; and inside Nash’s two-storey columned portico J.E. Carew’s The Progress of Navigation. The friezes in the attic storey, The Death of Nelson and The Meeting of Blücher and Wellington, both by Westmacott, were added by Blore and were originally intended for the Marble Arch. The portico entrance leads into the Grand Hall, actually relatively low-ceilinged, with mahogany hall furniture from Carlton House and Brighton Pavilion. From here, visitors approach the magnificent Grand Staircase, one straight flight leading to a landing and branching into two to the upper floor. The stairs are of Carrara marble, the intricate balustrade, supplied by Samuel Parker 1828–30 for £3,900, of gilt bronze. Parker also made the gilt metal mounts for the mirror-plated doors which occur throughout the State Rooms. The small but ornate Guard Room, with an apsed end, Carrara marble columns and rich plaster ceiling in white and gold, contains full-length sculptures of Queen Victoria—the first monarch to occupy the palace—and her consort Prince Albert.

The Green Drawing Room serves as an anteroom to the Throne Room and occupies the site of Queen Charlotte’s Saloon, designed by Chambers. The deeply coved and bracketed ceiling, set off by the green silk hangings, is Nash’s. The room contains items from George IV’s priceless collection of Sèvres porcelain, the finest in the world, much of which was purchased from the French Royal Collection, sold during the French Revolution. The Throne Room itself, with red silk wall hangings and another rich ceiling, the cove of which is decorated with heraldic shields and garter stars, was intended for investitures and ceremonial receptions. The throne (the chairs were made for the Queen’s Coronation Ceremony of 1953) is divided from the rest of the room by a proscenium with two winged Victories holding garlands, modelled by Francis Bernasconi, the chief plasterer employed at the palace. The classical sculptural frieze, designed by Stothard, has a medieval theme: the Wars of the Roses.

The Picture Gallery, 155ft long, was designed by Nash for George IV’s outstanding collection of Dutch and Flemish art but was much altered, and tempered, in 1914. Nash’s hammerbeam design for the roof was replaced by the present arrangement, more practical for lighting the pictures. Some of the greatest works from the Royal Collection usually hang here, including van Dyck’s equestrian portrait Charles I with Monsieur de St-Antoine (1633); van Dyck’s ‘greate peece’, Charles I and Henrietta Maria with their Two Eldest Children (1632); and Rubens’ Landscape with St George and the Dragon.

The East Gallery is the first of the rooms in the new block added by Queen Victoria in 1853–55 to designs by James Pennethorne, which added a magnificent new Ballroom, the previous one having been considered too small. The interior decoration was overseen by the Prince Consort although it is now much altered. Of the pictures usually on show, the most important is the familiar Franz Xaver Winterhalter’s Family of Queen Victoria (1846). Further rooms lead to the actual Ballroom, 37.5m (123ft) long, where present-day investitures and other official receptions take place. The State Dining Room has a heavy and elaborate ceiling by Blore, with three saucer-domed compartments and large roundels in the cove. The series of full-length Hanoverian royal portraits was hung here by Queen Victoria. The room is used for official luncheons and dinners. Examples from George IV’s magnificent silver-gilt service by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell are on show. The Blue Drawing Room was formerly the Ballroom. It is a magnificent, pure Nash interior, one of the finest in the Palace, with wide, flaring ceiling coves and coupled columns painted in imitation onyx. The delicate plasterwork reliefs show the apotheoses of Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton. The gilt sofas and armchairs are from Carlton House and the ‘Table of the Grand Commanders’, commissioned by Napoleon in 1806–12, with a top of hard-paste Sèvres porcelain with the head of Alexander the Great in the centre, was presented to George IV by Louis XVIII.

The Music Room is the most beautiful interior in the palace. Completed by Nash in 1831 and not much altered, it has a coffered domed ceiling and occupies the bow window, the central feature of Nash’s west front, with views over the palace’s private gardens. The large plate glass windows were an innovation of the 1820s. Between the windows and mirrors are lapis lazuli scagliola columns. The parquet floor is by Seddon and the magnificent early 19th-century cut glass and gilt bronze chandeliers are from Carlton House. The White Drawing Room, with its innovative convex ceiling and white and gold damask wall hangings, has Siena scagliola pilasters with capitals incorporating the garter star. The Minister’s Stairs, redecorated in white and gold by Edward VII, as was much of the Palace, leads to the Marble Hall, George IV’s sculpture gallery which runs underneath the Picture Gallery. It is dominated by Canova’s Mars and Venus, commissioned by George IV for Carlton House.

From here, via the Bow Room, visitors pass out to the Gardens, landscaped by Nash and W.T. Aiton of Kew Gardens, and including an ornamental lake, fed by the Serpentine. It is on these spacious lawns that the Queen’s public garden parties take place. Nash’s garden façade itself, a hidden and less familiar view of the palace, is worth a backward glance. Above the central bow is Westmacott’s Fame Displaying Britain’s Triumphs. The ‘King Alfred’ frieze, designed by Flaxman, is also by Westmacott. Visitors exit this peaceful seclusion onto the heavy traffic of Buckingham Palace Road, where the Royal Mews and the Queen’s Gallery can also be visited.

John Nash (1752–1835) His style lacks grandeur, and great monotony is produced by his persistent use of stucco.’ Thus the Dictionary of National Biography dismisses John Nash, the millwright’s son who became one of the most distinctive of all British architects, whose grand, aspirational creations add character to much of London. There is more behind the portentous façades than meets the eye. Nash was a brilliant engineer and gifted town planner. He was chosen by the Prince Regent as architect of an ambitious project: developing a tract of former farmland into a graceful ‘garden city’, with a ceremonial avenue linking it with the prince’s residence at Carlton House. Regent’s Park, the layout of Trafalgar Square, and the graceful sweep of Regent Street (though altered since) are all legacies of this splendid scheme. When George became king, he retained Nash to transform Buckingham House into a palace of a splendour to rival Napoleon’s Paris. Napoleon, by his own account, approved of what he saw, remarking that Nash had made London appear ‘for the first time like a royal residence, no longer a sprawling city for shopkeepers’. Though Nash longed for a knighthood, he never received one. Wellington, the prime minister, refused to grant it so long as Buckingham Palace remained unfinished. And Nash never completed it.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.

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2 Willow Road (National Trust)
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Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)
Sir John Soane's Museum
Shakespeare’s Globe
Serpentine Gallery
Science Museum
St Bride’s Crypt Museum
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum
Saatchi Gallery
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Mews
Royal London Hospital Museum
The Faraday Museum
Royal Hospital Chelsea
RCM Museum of Music
Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
Ragged School Museum
The Queen’s Gallery
Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
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Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
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National Gallery
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Musical Museum
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Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
The Royal Observatory
The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Marble Hill House (English Heritage)
Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
18 Stafford Terrace – The Sambourne Family Home
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Leighton House
Kingston Museum
Kew Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
London Museum of Water & Steam
Kenwood House (English Heritage)
Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
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Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum
Fenton House (National Trust)
Fashion and Textile Museum
Fan Museum
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Eltham Palace (English Heritage)
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Dennis Severs' House
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Cutty Sark
Contemporary Applied Arts
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