Kensington Palace (1): The History

Posted: August 26, 2016 in History, London, UK
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When William and Mary arrived in England in 1689 to take the throne they purchased Nottingham House in the village of Kensington as a home. They commissioned improvements which were overseen by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. These included additional accommodation, a new entrance and the Queens Gallery. The King and Queen moved in just before Christmas 1689. The palace was damaged by fire in 1691 but repairs were made and over the following years the Kings staircase and the King’s gallery was added.

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Queen Anne succeeded to the throne in 1702. She lived at other London Palaces (Whitehall, St James’,Windsor and Hampton Court) and used Kensington for parties and other recreational activities. She had work done on the palace gardens including the Orangery, which was built in 1704-5.

The Orangery

The Orangery

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George I came to the throne in 1714 and held a celebration bonfire party at Kensington. However a survey of 1716 revealed that the property was in a poor state. King George set plans for restoration including the inclusion of the privy chamber, the cupola room and the withdrawing room replacing parts of the original house. However the extent of these works meant that for much of his reign he was unable to use the palace as it was being re-built.

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His son, George II (from 1727),by contrast, made Kensington his principal residence, living here for 4-6 months each year. However after Queen Caroline died in 1737 one wing of the house was left unused. His son, George III chose not to use Kensington at all. However, Edward Duke of York was granted apartments in the palace and set about completing some repairs. It was at Kensington that his daughter Victoria was born in 1819 and was baptised in the Cupola room. The Duke died when his daughter was only 9 months old but the Duchess and her daughter continued to live in the apartments. It was here on the early morning of 20th June 1837, that Princess Victoria was awakened to be informed she was now Queen Victoria. The Queen and her mother moved to Buckingham Palace and Kensington was again left unused apart from some rooms which were used for the storage of furniture and paintings.

Queen Victoria statue at the entrance to Kensington Palace

Queen Victoria statue at the entrance to Kensington Palace

 

There were a number of ideas proposed for the palace ranging from demolition (vetoed by Queen Victoria) to its use as a gallery or museum. In 1897, parliament was persuaded to pay for repairs providing the state apartments were opened to the public. In 1911 the London Museum opened in the Palace buildings, although 3 years later this relocated to Lancaster House. From 1914-1923 the state appointments were closed to the public. The palace was damaged during the second world war and finally reopened in 1949 following repairs. The following year the London Museum returned to the Palace, where it remained until 1976 when it was amalgamated with London Guildhall Museum.

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There are still private apartments in the palace which are used by members of the Royal family. The most famous being Diana, Princess of Wales who lived here between 1981 and 1997 and her son, Prince William and his family who have lived here since 2013.

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