Within the gardens of several royal residences and former royal residences are small buildings which give us a unique insight into the character and personality of Queen Victoria. Many of them testify to her love of working and taking refreshment outdoors and whilst they are mostly not open to the public, the buildings themselves are creations of charm which shed a personal light on the monarch and give us a rare window into her daily routine. Her ‘Garden Cottage’ which still exists at Balmoral, was somewhere where the Queen would breakfast, read newspapers, attend to correspondence and write her journal. At Osborne House, a square alcove on the Upper Terrace became a favourite place for the Queen to sit, read and write as well as take breakfast outdoors. In addition, there was also a Summerhouse at Osborne where the Queen would have tea served. This Summerhouse still exists and is close to what remains of the eighteenth-century kitchen garden. At the royal retreat of Frogmore in Windsor Great Park, Queen Victoria would breakfast or read in the ‘Gothic Ruin’ which had been designed by the architect James Wyatt, together with George III’s daughter Princess Elizabeth. Breakfasting outdoors seems to have been a habit encouraged in the Queen’s childhood, which she took to doing with her mother the Duchess of Kent, during the period in which they lived at Kensington Palace.
This Summerhouse still exists and is close to what remains of the eighteenth-century kitchen garden. At the royal retreat of Frogmore in Windsor Great Park, Queen Victoria would breakfast or read in the ‘Gothic Ruin’ which had been designed by the architect James Wyatt, together with George III’s daughter Princess Elizabeth. Breakfasting outdoors seems to have been a habit encouraged in the Queen’s childhood, which she took to doing with her mother the Duchess of Kent, during the period in which they lived at Kensington Palace.
The gardens at Frogmore were particularly special to Queen Victoria. Often she would erect a tent under the trees near Frogmore House in which to work, describing the grounds as having a restorative effect on her nerves, with the natural beauty that the estate afforded. The fact that the gardens also were the setting for the Royal Mausoleum where Prince Albert was buried, as well as the mausoleum of her mother the Duchess of Kent, meant that they also came to represent for her a very sentimental type of significance. She also used the grounds as a place for creativity, in which to paint or sketch; a watercolour she painted poignantly depicts the dome of the Royal Mausoleum, as seen from her window at Windsor Castle. In using the gardens as a place for both work and recreation, the Queen would have been following the earlier examples of Queen Charlotte, who used the estate as a retreat for among other activities, ‘botanizing’, painting and reading, accompanied by her daughters, the Princesses.
One such other building at Frogmore which has come to be associated with Queen Victoria is the beautiful brick and tiled building known as her Tea House. This charming little house is located close to Frogmore House and opposite a granite fountain which the Queen had placed at Frogmore in memory of her ghillie John Brown, in 1883. The Queen would have a tent put up in the summer near to the Tea House and work. A photograph survives of the Queen in her pony carriage at Frogmore, with her granddaughters, Princesses Victoria and Elizabeth of Hesse, attended to by John Brown and one of her personal servants. Queen Victoria even painted the Tea House herself as a work of art in pencil and watercolour in 1872. It was not the only building she added to the gardens, however. An Indian Kiosk which had been presented to her was erected in the grounds at the end of the Indian mutiny.
The Tea House consists of two identical rooms connected by means of a loggia. It is much overgrown with wisteria. The building dates from around 1870 and could possibly be the work of the Gothic revival architect Samuel Sanders Teulon. The Tea House furnishings included a Brussels carpet with flowers, ivy patterned wallpaper and a set of shelves which showed views of castles in the area around Coburg, including that of Schloss Rosenau, where Prince Albert was born.
It is pleasing to note that among the current chinaware ranges produced by the Royal Collection, there is a teacup and saucer named for Queen Victoria. Combining the Queen’s cypher in mauve and pink against a floral background, it is a creation that in its charm, could also remind us of this Tea House at Windsor. The Tea House has never been opened to the public but can be viewed from the outside whenever the House and Gardens at Frogmore are opened on certain days in June and August.