Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Kew Palace

Kew is an unusual palace.  No gilded reception rooms, no glittering enfilade, no throne. Kew Palace acquired  its name from the brief period in the early 18th century when it became a royal residence. The "Dutch" house as it used to be known, dates from the 1603's when successful city merchant, Samuel Fortrey, built himself a villa by the Thames. The site he chose had been occupied by an earlier property, the remains of which include the vaulted cellars under the palace. The palace is a palimpsest built from reused  wood and stone.  Linenfold panelling that lines the walls of the anteroom dates from the early Tudor period; a chimney piece is Gothic. The date 1631 and the initials of Samuel Fortrey and his wife, Catherine are shown off above the entrance. The house built of rubbed and carved brick was embellished with pilasters in the Classical style. The palace was modernised with sash windows in the 1730's and first painted with the red ochre wash it has today.


 The Prince and Princess of Wales, son and daughter-in-law of George I (1714-1727) acquired  Richmond Lodge in 1716 and began embellishing the gardens at Kew. After their accession as George II (1727-1760) and Queen Caroline, the couple continued to  live at Richmond. Their growing family meant they needed more accommodation to house their children and retainers. Queen Caroline took the lease on the palace in 1728 as lodging for the three eldest daughters, princesses Anne, Caroline and Amelia, needed when the court was at Richmond. Soon after, Frederick, Prince of Wales bought the large 16th century house opposite the palace and employed William Kent to transform it into the White House, a modern Palladian mansion and at the same time when on to lay the foundations of the botanical gardens, introducing the chinoiserie garden pavilions, of which the Pagoda is the only survivor.

 When in 1751 the Prince of Wales was killed by a cricket ball, his eldest son aged ten years old, (future George III) and his younger brother were given the palace to set up their own small establishment, so giving the house the name of the Prince of Wales' House. On his accession George III and his wife used Richmond and Kew as a getaway and retreat. It became the royal routine to spend Friday and Saturday at Kew. Richmond Lodge was soon too small for their increasing family so the various houses at Kew were pressed into service, and  again Kew Palace was occupied by a Prince of Wales and his brother.

In 1788 George III suffered the first attack of the illness that was to blight the rest of his, long, life. At that time his illness was thought to be madness but is now understood to be porphyria. From November 1788 to March 1789 the King was kept hidden away from the public eye at Kew, in the White House. He did recover however and became able to resume a public life and then Kew became his midweek residence, to and from Windsor.

When the illness returned in 1801 Kew was recommeded as an ideal place for the King to recuperate, away from the public eye.While the King was incarcerated in the White House, Kew Palace was refurbished and redecorated in preparation for the Queen and her daughters. When the King could bare his isolation no longer he moved into Kew Palace to rejoin his family, and soon recovered. After the illness returned for a third time in 1804 he was brought back to Kew again.

George III.
A cast from the waxwork created from life by Madame Tussaud
for the King's Golden Jubilee of 1810.

The service wing on the west side was prepared for him, with a bedroom, a small gallery and library. The main part of the Palace was again refurbished, for his daughters, Queen Charlotte who was frightened of him stayed away. Poor George III declined into blindness. Then in 1818 the Queen was taken ill enroute to Windsor and forced to stay at Kew, a visit that lasted for months.She died at Kew on 17 November 1818, lying in state in the dining room, before being taken for burial at Windsor. 

The King's Dining Room was the original hall of the Fortreys  house.  Remnants of the original decoration include the strapwork plaster overdoor decoration. The chimney- piece was installed during William Kent's renovation in the mid-1730's.

King's Dining Room

The Queen's Drawing Room was the principal room of the house. As the Queen's health deteriorated she became too weak to leave Kew. The Queen's indisposition led to the Queen's Drawing Room being used as the unlikely venue for not one, but two royal weddings. On 11 July 1818 William, Duke of Clarence married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Coburg-Meiningen and Edward, Duke of Kent married Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, a union that would produce the future Queen Victoria

Queen's Drawing Room

The Queens's Boudoir on the first floor was where the Queen and her companions spent their time doing "women's work", needlework, knotting and spinning. The furniture reflects the taste of the Queen and the princesses for the fashionable Greek-revival style.

Queen's Boudoir

Queen Charlotte's Bedroom did not follow the latest fashion, like her daughter's. After four nights unable to get into her bed, the Queen died sitting in the black horsehair armchair on 17th November 1818. Her husband at Windsor was unaware of his wife's death and George III was himself to die two years later.

Queen Charlotte's Bedroom

Princess Elizabeth as befitting her position as her father's favourite daughter who also did the running of the house, took the best room, the King's library, when the palace was prepared for the royal occupants in 1804-5. The walls were lined to create arched recesses in the style of John Soane.

Princess Elizabeth's Bedroom

The bedroom floor has been abandoned since 1818.

Bedroom Floor


After Queen Charlotte's death  at Kew in 1818 the royal family has avoided Kew Palace; not enough thrones....George IV considered demolition, his brother William IV planned to double its size........At the end of her reign George III's granddaughter opened the palace to the public. A royal relic in the botanic gardens.  A charming place that still has its ghosts.