Many people will be unaware that Buckingham Palace has a history which goes back over 500 years, has changed hands on numerous occasions and much of the building which remains today is from the original structure built in the early 1700. Buckingham Palace is located in the City of Westminster and is known throughout the world as the home of the Queen of England. It is used to host a number of Royal occasions, state entertainment and is now one of the best-known tourist attractions in the world. However, Buckingham Palace as we know it today started life as Buckingham House and can be traced back over 500 years.
The site of Buckingham Palace
The land where Buckingham Palace is located was once marshland beside the river Tyburn which still runs below the courtyard and the south wing of the sprawling development. The land itself has changed hands on numerous occasions in the past and owners include Edward the confessor, Edith of Wessex, William the Conqueror and Geoffrey de Mandeville who bequeathed the site to the monks of Westminster Abbey.
The turning point for the royal connection came in 1531 when Henry VIII acquired the property which hosted the Hospital of St James (which is now St James’s Palace) and this was joined with the land given to the Westminster Abbey when Henry VIII acquired this in 1536. This was the first time that the land on which Buckingham Palace was back in royal hands since William the Conqueror gave it away over 500 years earlier.
The first buildings on the site of Buckingham Palace
The first house to be built on the site was finished in 1624 under the orders of Sir William Blake although this was the start of a very mixed and very controversial period for the site. Legal arguments, missing documentation, omissions of royal approval and confusion as to actually owned the site continued for many years. However, the first major building to be erected in the current confines of Buckingham Palace was Goring House although after this burnt down in 1674 we saw the building of Arlington House which is now the south wing of today’s Palace.
In 1703 the Duke of Buckingham and Normandy decided to build a substantial house on the land and this is still the central part of today’s Buckingham Palace. In 1761 Buckingham House was sold to George III for a mere £21,000 and was originally acquired as a private retreat for the Royal family. As Buckingham House became a central piece of the Royal family in UK we also saw St James’s Palace come to the fore as the official and ceremonial royal residence. Indeed to this day visitors to the Palace are welcomed into the Court of St James’s even though they are actually visiting Buckingham Palace.
The conversion to official residence
It was not until 1837 when Queen Victoria was on the throne that Buckingham Palace as it is now became the official principal Royal residence. Initially Buckingham Palace was something of a shambles with poor heating, lazy staff, terrible working conditions and an unkempt and unclean environment. When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840 he took it upon himself to totally reorganise the staffing situation at the now principal Royal residence and we saw the emergence of the Buckingham Palace we know today.
The original building has been expanded and new areas added to the site which now houses numerous members of the Royal family and many full-time staff members. The East Front is the more visible side of the Buckingham Palace development which faces onto The Mall and contains the famous balcony which the Queen and the Royal family use to acknowledge the public.
However, the Palace was somewhat neglected after Queen Victoria was widowed upon the death of Prince Albert. The Queen withdrew from the principal Royal residence to live in Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle and Osborne House although officially Buckingham Palace still remained the focal point of the Royal family.
The interior of Buckingham Palace
The Palace itself contains 77,000 m² of floor space spread across a number of highly impressive rooms used for a variety of functions, staffing requirements and entertainment. Buckingham Palace also has its own picture gallery which contains work by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens and Vermeer many of which are priceless.
Rather bizarrely Buckingham Palace has a number of state rooms which were named after VIP visitors who often travelled from around the world to visit the Royal family. In total there are 19 state rooms, 52 principal bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and a massive 78 bathrooms. There were a number of attempts to bomb Buckingham Palace during World War I although it was World War II which saw a number of casualties and major damage to the surrounding buildings from the German attacks.
The Nazis were known to believe that the destruction of Buckingham Palace would see the British resolve shatter and make life very much easier as they sought to claim Britain as their own. However, when the Royal Chapel was destroyed in 1940, if anything this increased the resolve of the British people and improved the relationship between the Royal family and the UK public, something which has lasted to modern times.
The modern day Buckingham Palace
In 1993 the Royal family took the massive decision to open Buckingham Palace to tourists and the public as a way to increase income for the Royal household and reduced dependence upon the taxpayers of the UK. While technically the Queen owns Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace these buildings, together with the possessions of the current monarch, are held in trust for the successors of the Queen and the nation as a whole. The same is true of the possessions within Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle which are held in trust for the nation.
While literally millions of tourists visit the Royal residence each year the Queen herself holds garden parties, receptions, audiences and banquets which involve upwards of 50,000 guests per year.
Buckingham Palace is perhaps the best-known building in the UK and it attracts literally millions and millions of tourists each year from around the world. It would be impossible to place a price on the value of Buckingham Palace in terms of its location, its history and its position as the Royal residence. It is situated in the City of Westminster and a focal point of London itself.