After just over 4 weeks of travelling around Europe and 1 week at home to recover, it is back to normal for us. We have had the best time of time, visiting family and friends, most of which we have not seen since we moved to Canada some 5 years ago. We explored some well-known places and some new ones; we climbed many stairs for a good view; walked for miles and miles around cities and towns; and enjoyed a lot of good local fare.
I had originally planned to blog during our holiday, but, as it turned out, I just didn’t have enough time – I was just too busy enjoying myself – so excuse my absence on my blog. I shall try to make up for it over the next few months by sharing some of my favourite places, photos and experiences.
Today I want to turn to the big Smog – London. I love London for lots of different reasons, but the main one is all the history that can be found in every street and around every corner. Now, everyone will have their own favourite landmarks, one of mine is Buckingham Palace – I just love palaces!
Buckingham Palace stands on marshy ground, which originally belonged to King Edward the Confessor and it supported a small village called Eye Cross. After the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror bequeathed it to the monks of Westminster Abbey. 500 years later, in 1531, King Henry VIII reclaimed it for the Royals.
The palace contains 775 rooms, incl. 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms, 1,514 doors, 760 windows, which are cleaned every 6 weeks, over 40,000 light bulbs, own chapel, post office, swimming pool, staff cafeteria, doctor’s surgery, cinema, more than 350 clocks and watches (one of the largest collections of working clocks in the world). It is 108 meters long across the front, 120 meters deep, and 24 meters high.
Over 800 members of staff are based at the palace; doing everything from housekeeping to horticulture, catering to correspondence, as well as employing a fendersmith, clockmaker and flagman.
The gardens at the palace cover around 40 acres, include a helicopter landing area, a lake and a tennis court. It is home to 30 different species of bird and more than 350 different wild flowers, some extremely rare.
It is the official residence of The Queen, as well as her office as Head of State, but St. James’s Palace down the road is the ceremonial Royal residence.
The palace has its own postcode, SW1A 1AA, the House of Commons is similar at SW1A 0AA.
The palace stands on the original site of a mulberry garden, which was planted by King James I (r. 1603-1625) to rear silkworms. He unfortunately, chose the wrong kind of mulberry bush, and silk production never took off in Britain.
Buckingham palace was built by John Sheffield; he was the 3rd Early of Mulgrave and Marquess of Normandy and created Duke of Buckingham in 1703, at which point he decided that he needed a grand London home.
He sold it in 1761 to King George III for the princely sum of £21,000 (£3 million in today’s money), who bought it for his wife, Queen Charlotte as a comfortable family home close to St. James’s Palace. It became known as the Queen’s House and 14 of their 15 children were born there.
Architect John Nash transformed the house into a palace for King George IV in the 1820s. However, it was still not the official residence of the monarch. This changed with Queen Victoria, who moved there in 1837 and made it her official residence.
The current white (or not so white anymore) Portland stone façade is not original. It arrived in 1913, as the original soft French stone had decayed due to pollution. Apparently the transformation from grimy black to brilliant white surprised the locals.
During WWII bombs found the palace as a target nine times and occasionally King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later known as the Queen Mum) narrowly escaped being killed. Thankfully only one person died at the palace throughout WWII, Police Constable Steve Robertson, who was on duty at the palace on 8 March 1941. He was killed by flying debris, when the north side of the palace was bombed. A plague to his memory was erected in the garden.
The front of the palace we all know so well, was not part of the original design. It was added in the 1840s to provide extra space for the ever-growing family of Queen Victoria. Up until then Marble Arch had graced the entrance to the palace, and was consequently moved to its present site near Speaker’s Corner in 1851.
Aside from the balcony in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and the balcony at St. Peters in Vatican City, the Buckingham Palace balcony is probably the best know balcony in the world. The first appearance on this architectural feature took place in 1851, when Queen Victoria stepped onto it during celebrations for the opening of the Great Exhibition. The custom of an RAF fly-past was introduced by King George VI.
Only one monarch can lay claim to being born and having died at the palace – Edward VII who was born in 1841 and died in 1910. William IV was also born at the palace and the present Queen gave birth to Princes Charles and Andrew at Buckingham Palace. In the age of mass media, royal births and deaths are still proclaimed to the public by being attached to the palace railings, as well as being announced on the Royal website.
I mentioned earlier that a flagman is employed at the palace. It is his job to ensure that the correct flag flies above Buckingham Palace. When the Queen is in residence, the Royal Standard is flown, if she is out, the Union Flag flies instead. On the day of our visit The Queen was unfortunately out.
Everyone is aware of the Changing of the Guards ceremony that takes place daily in the summer on the forecourt of the palace, but one daily ritual most people to do not see is the “dragging” of the gravel on said forecourt. It is cleaned and combed daily, using mechanical equipment, and two further inspections during the day ensure that no rubbish or dirt has found its way onto the gravel.
Buckingham Palace has always drawn the crowds, whether it was to celebrate the end of WWII, the present Queen’s wedding, or even the latest wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. For the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 over one million people crowded into the area in front of the Palace and down the Mall. It is a place for celebrating all things British and on such occasions makes you proud to be British.
On the day we visited they were getting ready for the Tour de France, which this year came to the UK.
Visiting heads of state get placed into the Belgian suite, which is on the ground floor of the North facing garden front; named Belgian suite after Prince Albert’s uncle Leopold I, who was the first King of the Belgians.
Hundreds of historic figures, and these days celebrities, have visited the monarch in this building. These included a seven-year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (at the time it was still Buckingham House), Felix Mendelssohn, Johann Strauss the Younger, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, among the US Presidents were Woodrow Wilson and JF Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, who wore a loin cloth and sandals to tea with King George V, Neil Armstrong, Laurence Olivier and of course, Nelson Mandela.
More than 50,000 people visit the palace each year as guests at banquets, lunches, dinners, receptions and the famous garden parties. The large kitchen is able to serve as many as 600 people at one sit-down meal together (quite a feat!). Since 1993, the State Rooms of the palace are now open to the public in the months of August and September, while The Queen and her family are at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. This was originally done to pay for the repair of the burned Windsor Castle (here is my previous post, which mentions this). I am yet to visit the inside of Buck House, as the palace is known locally, but I hope to be able to rectify this sometime in the future.
One curious tale I came across involves the secret tunnels that run underneath the streets of London, of which one connects Clarence House to Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament.
The Queen Mum once explored these lower levels with her husband King George VI and in the basement they found a man whom neither of them had ever met before. He was not employed by the palace, but professed to be a fried of a friend, who had been living there for some time. The Queen Mum recalled he was “a Geordie” and “very courteous”. Could you imagine the security scare this would cause these days?
Whenever we walk to the palace I am always amazed at all the great ornamental work that is on display everywhere around it. A great example are these gates that lead into Green Park.
Even the lanterns on top of the gates and around that area look fabulous.
And another example is this side gate to Buckingham Palace.
So, if you are planning to visit London, this is a must see landmark, whether you like the Royals or not, it is an impressive looking building and is as British as can be.