August 2007 & March 2019
|The Palace Grounds State Apartments Rescue ! Dedication Time Line Information Read Me|
Kensington Palace was, between 1694 and 1760, the residence of five successive monarchs spanning four successive reigns. King William III and Queen Mary II were invited to the English throne from Holland in 1694. However, Whitehall Palace was too close to the Thames for the asthmatic King William. So, for their main Royal residence, William and Mary made the original Jacobean Nottingham House in the village of Kensington into a grand palace in the Dutch style.
William and Mary's successor, Queen Anne, asked Wren to complete The Queen's State Apartments. Queen Anne had no heirs and was succeeded by George I in 1714; he redesigned The King's State Apartments in lavish style, adding three new rooms: the Cupola Room, the Presence (Throne) Room and the Withdrawing Room.
George II and Queen Caroline, whilst not adding any new features to the Palace, used it for lavish entertaining. It is said that Queen Caroline was in charge and even "stood in" for her husband in matters political and administrative when he was away "on business trips" to Hanover. Queen Caroline's dominance was reflected in a popular refrain of the day.
Indeed, it is said that King George was furious when he found out what his wife had spent his money on. You see, the River Westbourne fed a series of ponds before making its way to the Thames. Queen Caroline had the ponds joined up and converted into a large lake which today shares the names of "The Serpentine" and "The Long Water". George II was the last reigning monarch to use Kensington Palace as a main Royal Residence, so without his wife there may not have been another ready chance to create this watery re-sculpturing of the landscape for future generations to enjoy.
What you see on this page are some pictures and narrative covering two particular visits I made to Kensington Palace. The first was in August 2007. The second visit was in March 2019 to the State Apartments at the Palace, in the company of a lady who had been a friend of my parents for over 50 years and who also contributed to the conservation work at the Palace.
Notable features of the Palace grounds are the Orangery and the Sunken Garden. Here we also look at the north aspect of Kensington Palace, the east aspect of Kensington Palace with the Statue of Queen Victoria and the south aspect of Kensington Palace with the Gold Gates and the Statue of William III. I took the pictures in this section in August 2007, except for the one indicated, which dates to March 2019.
As we approach Kensington Palace from Queensway, we first meet the Orangery which Queen Anne had built in 1704 to the design of one John Vanbrugh. Its purpose was to protect Anne's citrus trees from the winter frosts. For the record, the Orangery is 28 metres (92 ft) long and was once the largest glass house in Britain; at one time, the Orangery also had underfloor heating. Oranges and citrus fruit were regarded as special exotic fruits at the time, and orangeries [see more] were prestige buildings, allowing citrus fruit to be available in winter time.
The Sunken Garden was created as late as 1908, and its design was inspired by a similar terraced and paved garden at Hampton Court Palace. Three 18th century water cisterns were retrieved from the Palace and used to form the fountains. Queen Anne and Queen Victoria were never to see the Sunken Garden, but both would probably have approved!
The original tourist entrances to the State Apartments and the London Museum were from the north side, coming from Queensway. It was a pleasant walk leading past the tended shrubbery between the Orangery and the Palace. By the Palace there was a fine set of gates towards the west side. Shrubbery and Gates are gone, the gates being replaced by a wall topped - if I remember - with barbed wire. Sic transit gloria mundi. If these assets will ever be replaced is a question of conjecture.
The east side of the Palace was graced with gardens; these provide a welcome addition of tended nature to the metropolis. These welcome gardens have been cleared away to provide access to the new public entrance to the Palace. However, Queen Victoria's statue has gained more emphasis.
Coming from Kensington Road and Kensington High Street, we can approach the southern flank of Kensington Place by the "Gold Gate" with its elaborate gold and black iron work. Just beyond this, we are welcomed by King William proudly standing in front of his "King's Gallery", which we shall visit "in the next section".
The State Apartments comprise both the King's State Apartments and the Queen's State Apartments. These are connected and occupy part of the second floor of Kensington Palace. The Queen's State Apartments date back to 1693 when William III and Mary II took over and extended the original Nottingham House. (See Time Line). The present King's State Apartments are due to King George I, who modified and extended the Apartments of William III. George II, who reigned from 1760 to 1820, made no substantial additions to the Palace.
The pictures you see here were taken in March 2019, when I visited Kensington Palace in the company of a lady who knew my parents and who made important contributions to the textile and clothing conservation work at the Palace. This conservation work subsequently moved to the London Museum when this Museum moved from its base in Kensington Palace to a new site in the Barbican in the City of London. On our visit today, my partner for the day related to me her work and experiences when she was at the Palace; she also reminisced with some of the curatorial staff about those with whom she used to work at the Palace.
The Queen's apartments are the oldest part of the Palace. Mary II, and later also her royal consorts, lived here. Compared to the King's Apartments, the Queen's Apartments had plain white ceilings. Here you will see the Queen's Gallery (1693), Dining Room and Bedroom. Rooms that escaped my photographic attention were the Drawing Room and the Closet. There is also the Queen's Staircase (1690) which was intentionally built in a plain style and provided access to the gardens, and today, is the visitor's access to the Queen's Apartments. Work, under William and Mary, on the Queen's Apartments was completed about 38 years before the completion, under George I, of the King's Apartments. [see timeline]. This time span of about 38 years may help to explain why the ceilings in the Queen's Apartments are plain in contrast to the richly painted ceilings in the King's State Apartments
A plain white ceiling and wooden panelled walls characterize all the rooms in the Queen's Apartments. This arrangement gives the Queen's Gallery a "light and airy" feel, suitable for Mary's pastimes including reading and needlework and also walking in inclement weather. The Gallery at one time contained an abundance of carpets and silk hangings.
Note the queen's pastimes. At the time, the important task of the womenfolk was to produce children, and in the royal context, this meant an heir. The affairs of state were left to the menfolk. However, not many years later, Queen Caroline, the wife of George II, was to show that women should also have their say when it came to matters of politics and administration.
Here William and Mary would dine in privacy, away from the public gaze. They often had modest fare. Pictures that accompanied their repasts included one of Queen Anne, one of Antwerp Cathedral, and one of the then new Kensington Palace with deer in the foreground.
James II, a catholic, may have been born in the bed when it was at St James' Palace in 1688. In 1694, Queen Mary died of smallpox at Kensington Palace, in a room next to the Bedroom itself. It could be noted here, that in the Italian Gardens near Lancaster Gate, there is a memorial to Jenner, who discovered a cure for Smallpox. He observed that milkmaids were rarely infected with Smallpox, because, as he correctly surmised, they had contracted the far less virulent form of Smallpox, namely Cowpox, from the cattle with which they were in almost daily contact through their work. This discovery was not in time for Mary.
The King's State Apartments, in their present form, date from between 1722 to 1727 and owe their redesign to George I. He commissioned William Kent to carry out the work and add three new rooms. The Cupola Room was the central feature of these redesigned apartments, which also included the Privy Chamber, the Presence Chamber, and the King's Drawing Room, the King's Gallery and the King's Staircase. The Council Chamber and the Queen's Closet are two further rooms which escaped my photographic attention.
Tapestries from the "Mortlake Tapestry Workshop" grace some of the walls and the ceiling was painted by William Kent in 1723. With all this opulence it is no wonder than Queen Caroline loved to entertain in this room. If the room had some administrative function, I could not ascertain. However, the Privy Chamber gives direct access to the adjacent Presence Chamber and Cupola Room.
The Presence Chamber was where dignitaries such as ambassadors and scientists were received by the King. Even ordinary folk could come to present petitions. Essentially, an audience with the King could profoundly influence the life of the visitor coming to see the Monarch. Visitors even included natives bringing emblems of peace from one of Britain's new American colonies.
The Cupola Room dates from the mid-1720s. It was used for entertaining and its centrepiece, sitting on a "grand pedestal" or plinth, is a four-faced clock, designed by one Charles Clay working from near St. Mary-le-Strand Church. It is a musical clock which originally played compositions by Handel, Geminiani and Corelli, all of whom were popular composers of the day. Each clock face represented one of the four great empires of antiquity, namely Assyria, Persia, Greece and Rome. So, one might say, a very expensive toy, fit for royalty and the financially well endowed. At one time, the clock was removed, enabling the future Queen Victoria to be christened in 1819 on a gold font mounted on the clock pedestal. One might say that the Cupola Room was used for performances of mechanical music. In the absence of modern-day electronics, such an installation must have been viewed with wonder and awe.
We come to the King's Drawing Room, where "courtiers would have come in search of power and patronage". The Drawing Room was the focal point of social life and only privileged guests would be invited here. Adjacent is the Council Chamber, which, for all its plainness, is where the great political issues of state were discussed and decisions made.
The King's Gallery is virtually unchanged since King George I had the original gallery transformed in 1725. It served to display some of the royal paintings and other works of art. William Kent was responsible for many of the new artistic fittings. Being south facing as well as the longest and largest of the King's State Rooms, the Gallery proved ideal for exercise. Above the central marble fireplace is a wind dial, which still works today, and enabled the King to see where his navy was heading and when his posts would be coming.
Anyone who was anyone in Georgian London and who wished to visit the king, would have climbed this staircase. This would have instilled a sense of awe in those seeking to have an audience with his majesty. By 1724, William Kent had replaced Christopher Wren's wooden panelling with these lively paintings with characters from George I's court. Kent was influenced by the Roman architecture he saw on a visit to the "Eternal City", and so placed these characters in the setting of a Roman building.
The State Apartments at Kensington Palace are rather bereft of furniture. It is officially said that this reflected the requirement of servants and courtiers to remain standing - probably not so good for the health of the said servants and courtiers. However, it appears that a lot of the furniture may have been removed, giving the State Apartments more the feel of an art gallery. Rooms in other country houses are normally filled with a lot of furniture to indicate daily life and to provide additional artistic interest for the visitors. It could be that, at Kensington Palace, such rooms for "everyday living" were in other parts of the Palace.
By the end of the 19th Century, Kensington Palace had fallen into a state of disrepair and its demolition was considered. Queen Victoria was determined to save the place of her birth and also the place where she learnt that she would become Queen, her official titles being (1837-1901) Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and (1876-1901) Empress of India.
In 1897 she arranged for Parliament to fund the restoration of Kensington Palace, which was subsequently divided into two sections. The west section became private accommodation for various members of the Royalty. The east section, with the State Apartments, was opened to the public in 1899. This dual function of Kensington Palace has survived to this day.
Of course, I dedicate this web page to all you who visit it. However, in this case, I have some very special people in mind, as you will see.
My parents. For many years, my parents and I lived close to Kensington Gardens, which we often used to visit. The Gardens were a welcome green space in the Capital. It is therefore natural that I should wish to dedicate this page to my parents who, in my tender years, showed me a great deal of Kensington Gardens and of the Palace. It is from my parents that I developed an appreciation of history, of art and of nature. The Gardens and the Palace were some of the places where I was able to develop this appreciation.
A very special lady. I also dedicate this page to a very special lady who was a long-standing friend, of over half a century, of my parents. She also has an appreciation of art and history and made notable contributions to the conservation projects in the Palace.
Here we bring together some reference sources. History and artistic aspects will, no doubt, be important areas of interest. Of course, you the reader will also wish to know where Kensington Palace is situated. Now, have you also thought about the effort than goes into making this web page? Well, I've also listed some "Production Tools".
Note that this list of references and attributions is by no means complete or comprehensive! It has been compiled on a "best efforts" basis", but I hope that you will nonetheless find it useful!