Buckingham Palace opens its doors
August 10, 1995 - For the third year running, the doors of the Ambassador’s Entrance into Buckingham Palace will swing open, allowing the first of this summer’s expected 400,000 visitors through to marvel at the glorious state rooms with their sumptuous works of art.
Queen Elizabeth agreed to open the palace in August and September for five years as a way of funding the £40 million restoration of another royal residence, Windsor Castle, which was badly damaged in a fire in November 1992. She herself will not be in residence, taking her final cruise aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia before it is sold.
Commissioned in 1702 by the Duke of Buckingham, the pleasant brick-built house was bought by King George III in 1762 as a private home for himself and his 18 year old wife, Charlotte.
The 600 room mansion now occupying the site was commissioned in 1825 by King George IV who asked the leading architect of his day, John Nash, to design ‘a palace fit for a King’. Nash’s plan followed the original layout of Buckingham House, on three sides of a square, with a marble arch forming an ornamental gatehouse. The result contains some of the finest late Georgian and early Victorian interiors still in existence, with some particularly fine, very ornate ceilings. George IV was an avid collector of paintings, furniture and porcelain and acquired many of the finest treasures in the royal collections.
The palace became the official royal residence on the accession of Queen Victoria who added the east front in 1847 to create the present four-sided palace around an internal courtyard. Marble Arch, now redundant, was moved to its present site at the northeast corner of Hyde Park in 1850.
Visitors will progress through the courtyard to the Grand Entrance and from there up the Grand Staircase and into the Guard Room, ante-chamber to the first of the major state rooms. The Green Drawing Room is hung with green brocade and its Regency furniture is upholstered in silk of the same colour. There are some fine examples of Sevres porcelain, of which the palace boasts one of the finest collections in the world.
Next is the Throne Room, 60 feet long, housing the thrones used by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at her coronation in 1953. The room was the setting for the wedding pictures of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and The Duke and Duchess of York. Then it’s on to the glass-roofed Picture Gallery where art lovers will see some of the finest paintings of the collection, which includes works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Hals, Claude, Cuyp and Van Dyck. The collection is vast – of 7,000 works of art, only 100 or so will be seen on the tour.
Through the Silk Tapestry Room is the State Dining Room, hung in rich crimson silk damask and dominated by a portrait of George IV, who looks down on a mahogany table eight feet wide which can be extended to 70 feet long to seat 60 guests.
The Blue and White Drawing Rooms overlooking London’s largest private garden sit either side of the bow-fronted, domed-ceilinged Music Room in which Victoria and Albert would perform duets for their guests, on one occasion accompanied on the piano by Mendelssohn. The room, containing two of the finest chandeliers in the palace, is now the setting for royal Christenings. A dramatic feature of the White Drawing Room is a mirror which swings open to reveal the Royal Family at state occasions.
Returning to the ground floor visitors pass through the Marble Hall with its many Victorian statues before leaving the palace by the Bow Room, conveniently passing a ‘tasteful’ souvenir shop before exiting the grounds.
All advance tickets for the tour until 1996 were sold out within a week of the announcement that the palace was to be opened to the public.