Those that follow London Shoes will be aware that they rarely walk the more popular touristy type attractions of this wonderful City – but last week an exception was made – mainly because I had the rare but absolute pleasure of having 2 accomplices for the day, namely the good lady wife Angela and my ex-Canary Wharf work colleague Jackie – both of whom had expressed a desire for a ‘nice day-out’ in town and who both suggested that we spend it at this particular place.
So – the topic in question, published on the London Shoes website, FB page and Twitter feed, is all about the magnificent London royal abode of “Kensington Palace” – and I have to say that I found the visit there to be far more interesting and enjoyable than I thought it would be.
Kensington Palace is one of the most iconic royal palaces in London – and from the very first day it was built, it has had royal connections – connections which have continued over the centuries, right up to the present day.
It is a building that is steeped in history and has certainly seen a bit of life within its 4 walls – some good, and some downright tragic – but it still lives on today, to tell the tale.
The Palace’s origins date back to the early 1600’s when Kensington was just a quiet sleepy little village on the outskirts of the bustling City of London.
It was an ideal location for a quiet country retreat, where you could get the best of both worlds, as it wasn’t that far away from where the ‘action’ was.
The first building to be constructed on the site of where Kensington Palace is today, was built in 1605, and consisted of a very large 2 storey house.
In 1619 it was bought by the Earl of Nottingham and re-named ‘Nottingham House’.
In 1689 it was purchased by the reigning Monarchs of the time William III & his consort Queen Mary – who very much saw it as an alternative to the royal palace of that time, which was situated in Whitehall.
Upon moving in to Nottingham House, William & Mary immediately called upon the services of Sir Christopher Wren to transform the property into a Royal residence – and they renamed the property ‘Kensington Palace’.
Sir Christopher Wren made significant structural changes to the residence, adding a chapel, large kitchens, stables, a military barracks and accommodation for servants and courtiers – but the biggest alteration he made was the construction of numerous ‘state rooms’ and ‘apartments’.
King William & Queen Mary were very much party animals, and wanted a palace where they could wine, dine and entertain the ‘in-crowd’ from not only Britain but from all over Europe – all in separate halls, drawing rooms and galleries throughout the building.
By 1692 Wren’s extensive renovation work was fully completed – but the first of what was to become a whole series of serious tragedies, struck the palace, when poor old Queen Mary suddenly contracted the disease smallpox and died shortly after in her bed chamber at the palace.
Following his wife’s sudden death poor old William III quite naturally lost interest in living the high-life at the palace as he had previously – but he did continue to oversee the addition of a separate Gallery room – which doubled up as a top-secret meeting room for the many ‘spies’ that he had scattered about town and beyond.
William III’s successor ‘Queen Anne’ (who only reigned from 1702 to 1714) didn’t have anything against Kensington Palace, but she much preferred Hampton Court further on down the River Thames, because of the hunting activities carried out there – and she loved hunting.
Sadly, the 2nd major tragedy fell upon a ‘royal’ at Kensington Palace when, in 1714, Queen Anne at the age of 49, suffered a stroke whilst staying at the palace – and died as a result.
However, she did leave her own footprint by having a huge ‘Orangery’ built alongside the palace building – where plants, trees and shrubs from around the globe were grown. She also used the Orangery as a venue to hold lavish parties, banquets and ceremonies.
As Queen Anne left no heirs, on her death the British Monarchy passed to one of her distant relatives ‘George of Hanover’, who became George I.
Like some of his predecessors King George I loved Kensington Palace, but he felt that the place had become a bit worn and shabby, and so he commissioned a complete overhaul of the existing State Rooms plus adding a few more. He then went about filling the place with art and expensive bespoke furniture, much of which remains on display to the public today.
Following George I death in 1727, the monarchy was handed over to his son George II & his consort wife Queen Caroline – and they too, had a massive influence on the Kensington Palace that we know today.
They both really loved living at Kensington Palace, and regularly held big parties and events there, filling the place with all the big celebs of the time.
One of the main things they did structurally to the palace was to commission one of Britain’s most up and coming artists of the day, William Kent, to cover the walls, ceilings and staircases with life size murals – and they also filled the palace with the top furniture designs of the period.
However, when Queen Caroline died suddenly of a bowel blockage in 1737 – King George II completely lost the plot, and as a result, the palace fell into a bit of disrepair.
In 1760 King George II dropped dead of a heart attack in his private apartment at Kensington Palace.
His son George III succeeded his father to the throne – but he couldn’t really care less about Kensington Palace – he had no enthusiasm for the place at all.
However – what George III did do, which in a way set the precedent for Kensington Palace from then on and right up to this very day – was to let his son’s take up residence in a couple of the Palaces private apartments.
He also granted permission for lesser members of the extended Royal Family to take up residence in the Palaces other apartments. As a result, Kensington Palace came to be known affectionately among the masses as the royal ‘Aunt Heap’.
George III’s sons were Prince Augustus-the Duke of Sussex and Prince Edward-the Duke of Kent.
On May 24th 1819 Edward-the Duke of Kent’s German wife gave birth to their first child at Kensington Palace – a daughter who they named ‘Alexandrina Victoria’ (who was always commonly known as ‘Victoria’)…….and the rest, as they say–is history.
At just 8 months old, Victoria’s father died of a heart attack – leaving the young princess to be brought up by her widowed mother.
Victoria’s mother completely controlled and dominated every aspect of her daughters early life, at Kensington Palace.
During her childhood and early teenage years, Victoria was very rarely allowed to leave the confines of Kensington Palace – she was even schooled there by private tutors, and she was never allowed to mix with other children.
The strict code of discipline applied by her mother to bring-up and educate the young Victoria within the confines of Palace became known as the ‘Kensington System’.
On the morning of 20th June 1837, the 18 year old Victoria was woken-up to be told that her monarch Uncle has died suddenly, and that she was now England’s new ‘Queen’.
The very next day ‘Queen Victoria’ called for a meeting to be held at Kensington Palace with all of her now Government, military officials and advisors – to make it quite clear to them as to how she intended to rule the country, and that she would be no push-over.
The following day, Queen Victoria reluctantly said her goodbyes to Kensington Palace to take up royal residency in the nearby Buckingham Palace.
Kensington Palace continued to be occupied by members of the extended royal family, but the building became a bit neglected and dilapidated.
In 1898 Queen Victoria ordered that the entire building inside & outside, be given a through face-life and in 1899 upon her Golden Jubilee year, she gave the order for the Palaces ‘State Rooms’ to be opened up to the public – leaving one side of the building ‘public’ and the other side of the building ‘private’.
Throughout the following century and a half, leading right up to today – Kensington Palace has continued to be the ‘home’ of generations of royal family members.
Many of Queen Victoria’s children and subsequent grandchildren have lived there, including her daughter Princess Louise, who was a top sculptor in her time, and produced the iconic statue of her grandmother that stands proudly at the entrance to the Palace.
In more modern times Kensington Palace has been the home of royals such as the Queens sister Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowden, whose children David & Sarah were brought up there – Prince Michael of Kent and his life live there – Charles & Diana lived there – their sons William & Harry grew up there – Prince William & Kate and their 3 children live there – and Prince Harry & Megan lived there briefly following their marriage.
So – Kensington Palace – a building that started its life as just a simple country retreat, but went on to be the ‘hub’ of Royal family life and history – and continues to do so to this very day.
Although it costs ’21 notes’ to get in, Kensington Palace is definitely well worth a visit – you certainly won’t be disappointed.
Following hours of poking our noses every nook & cranny of Kensington Palace, London Shoes and its 2 female accomplices for the day, headed off to the nearby ‘Churchill Arms’ pub in Kensington, very close to Notting Hill Gate tube station.
The ‘Churchill Arms’ is probably without doubt, the most visually attractive pub in the whole of London – and the ideal venue to sink a couple of ‘cheeky’ beers before the trek home.
Hope you enjoy this brief history of the Palace and that the accompanying photos bring the place to life a bit.
See below for more detailed photographic coverage of this ‘Kensington Palace’ blog