Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Queen Charlotte's Cottage, Kew

Queen Charlotte's Cottage was a favourite rustic retreat for the royal family. The cottage was finished in 1771 in the grounds of Richmond Lodge (which now forms the western half of Kew Gardens).George III had bestowed Richmond Lodge on Queen Charlotte as part of their marriage settlement.

The cottage overlooked an enclosure known as the menagerie. A collection of exotic animals were kept here for the amusement of the royal family. These included pheasants and other exotic birds including a pair of black swans, also buffaloes and a herd of kangaroos which went on to breed successfully at Kew. More poignantly George III had also kept a quagga ( an animal from South Africa closely related to a zebra) which is now extinct.

It seems likely that the Queen was inspired by her gardener at Richmond, 'Capability' Brown who was so influential in introducing the picturesque movement to the land owning classes. The cottage was the perfect location for a royal retreat where the Queen and and the rest of the royal family could enjoy enjoy secluded picnics and take tea during long summer walks through the gardens.

On the ground floor the Print Room is a small salon hung with more than 150 satirical engravings, mostly by William Hogarth. The terracotta tiled floor enhances the rustic appearance of the room.


Originally the cottage was only single storey but in the early 1770's an upper storey was added, reached by an elegant curving staircase.

The first floor Picnic Room has two full-height windows to look out across the tree tops and the menagerie. The room bamboo  motifs door mouldings and pelmets and  trailing convolvulus and nastertium growing up its walls and ceiling to give the impression of a bower painted by Queen Charlotte's third daughter,Princess Elizabeth.

The servants used a separate staircase. A small kitchen was used for the preparation of impromptu picnics. Most of the food would have been prepared in  advance in the kitchens at Kew Palace.

Despite considering it a favourite place George III did not return  to Kew after 1806, and the royal family stopped coming after 1818.

The cottage remained hidden from public view until Queen Victoria ceded it and 15 acres surrounding it to Kew in 1898, to commemorate her diamond jubilee. At that time the furniture and fittings were removed to Windsor Castle. They have since been returned.

The last member of the royal family to use the cottage was in 1996, when the  late Princess Margaret used it as the venue for a party.