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Once a royal residence: White Lodge, Richmond

White Lodge is a former royal residence, situated deep within Richmond Park. But its location can momentarily confuse. Richmond Palace was, of course, one of the most important palaces of the Tudor dynasty and is consequently far better known; although the building was not within Richmond Park itself, nor even adjacent to it, being roughly a mile away.

Richmond Palace was rebuilt by Henry VII on the site of the old royal palace and manor of Sheen, once embellished by Edward III, where Richard II’s beloved queen, Anne of Bohemia, died in 1394 and later rebuilt by Henry V. Today, a walk around Richmond itself requires a perambulatory imagination, to conjure up what was from what is no longer, something reinforced by the Gate House of the former Richmond Palace, which welcomes the historically curious visitor, into a courtyard that no longer exists, with a (much altered) Wardrobe Building. Imagination is all the more necessary because it is from contemporaneous accounts and descriptions of the Tudor court that we can best re-imagine this palace. This is a location heavily imprinted with royal history; Henry VII died at Richmond Palace, as did his granddaughter, Elizabeth I – who had particularly favoured Richmond during as a winter residence during Christmas and Shrovetide – in 1603.

White Lodge is, therefore, unusual in that it dates from a later period, within what is still designated a Royal Park, once a favourite royal hunting ground, particularly during the Tudor period. It still contains fallow and red deer, reminiscent of those herds that once stocked the park to nourish an enduring, royal pleasure.

The need for White Lodge’s construction stretched back to Richmond Park’s enduring need to satisfy this royal blood sport. It was initially intended as a hunting lodge for George II, whose erstwhile mistress, Henrietta Howard would build her own retreat in the late 1720s on the banks of the Thames at Marble Hill, in nearby Twickenham. A watercolour exists in the Royal Collection of the later White Lodge, showing stag under a tree, a pleasant blending of the area’s royal, passing centuries.

Work on the neo-classical Palladian building began in around 1727 on what was first known as ‘Stone Lodge’ and later, ‘New Lodge’ (Richmond Libraries’ Local Studies Collection, White Lodge, Richmond Park, Pg 1). George II’s consort, Queen Caroline appears to have been fond of New Lodge; there, she and George had enjoyed a period of welcome idyll at their own Richmond Lodge as Prince and Princess of Wales, in the gardens of which, Caroline constructed her Hermitage folly (Matthew Dennison, The First Iron Lady, Pg 189, 2017). Caroline’s youngest daughter, Princess Amelia, became Ranger of Richmond Park in 1751, a post which she held for ten years. Lady Mary Coke recorded in her diary that George III and Queen Charlotte were ‘always at the White Lodge on a Sunday…’ (Ibid, Pg 1) which could also be explained by the nearness of Kew. The ownership of White Lodge passed to George III’s eleventh child and fourth daughter, Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, who appears to have used it as an alternative to Bagshot after the death of her husband, Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester. She, however, died at Gloucester House, having survived (fortunately for us) into the age of early photography, in 1857.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed at White Lodge from 16-17 May 1858. This was the year that their eldest son, the Prince of Wales moved there, in the words of his father, Prince Albert, to the confidential advisor to the Coburg family, Baron Stockmar: ‘to take up his residence at the White Lodge in Richmond Park, so as to prepare for a military examination’ (Ibid, Pg 2). The Prince of Wales was appointed three young men who occupied a rolling rota of a post roughly corresponding to that of equerry, along with two tutors, Mr Gibbs and Mr Tarvor. It was hoped that the Prince would there be better able to apply himself to his studies. During this time, Queen Victoria picked up her paintbrush, to record a view from White Lodge made in the garden, through an archway of foliage, as well as the view from her sitting room window.

Following the death of Queen Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent on 16 March 1861, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert returned to White Lodge to stay some two months later, whilst the Queen was still in the very early stages of raw, terrible grief. The Queen and Prince Albert took their family to White Lodge from 1-15 May 1861; during this time, the Queen walked and drove out with the royal children in Richmond Park.

White Lodge became the home of the Duke of Teck and Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck and their family in 1869. It would remain so for nearly thirty years, becoming a residence strongly associated with the childhood of Princess Mary of Teck, later Queen Mary. One photograph exists as an example in the Royal Collection, showing Princess Mary of Teck, in the conservatory at White Lodge, in 1890. Princess Mary was taught ballet lessons at White Lodge in the 1870s by Marie Taglioni; anticipating the Lodge’s later use by about eighty years. Princess Mary, following her marriage to George, Duke of York in 1893, gave birth to Prince Edward of York, the future Edward VIII at White Lodge on 23 June 1894. His christening at the Lodge was the occasion for the famous photograph by W & D Downey, of the four generations, showing Queen Victoria holding the baby, the Prince of Wales and the baby’s father, the Duke of York, a unique event recording three living, royal male heirs.

The christening took place at five o’clock in the Green Drawing Room at White Lodge on 16 July; one of his godfathers present was the Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia, the future Tsar Nicholas II, who was visiting Queen Victoria at the time. He had visited White Lodge to congratulate the Duke and Duchess of York two days after the baby prince’s birth. The Tsarevich and the Duke of York were first cousins; their mothers, Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia and Queen Alexandra, were sisters. Tsarevich Nicholas recalled in his diary: ‘The infant son of Georgie and May was christened at White Lodge in the presence of the whole family. Granny [Queen Victoria, his future grandmother-in-law, through his engagement to the Queen’s granddaughter, Princess Alix of Hesse in April 1894] gave him seven names. I was among the godfathers… then we had tea in a marquee in the garden. Four generations had their photograph taken together…” (Andrei Maylunas & Sergei Mironenko, A Lifelong Passion, Pg 79, 1997). The christening was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson.

The Duchess of Teck died at White Lodge in 1897, the Duke of Teck likewise, in 1900.

The next Duke and Duchess of York, the future George VI and Queen Elizabeth, came to live at White Lodge for a time, at the behest of Queen Mary (Richmond Libraries’ Local Studies Collection, Pg 2). Due to the popularity of Richmond Park, however, there was little privacy for the couple, and they gave up the property, after which it was granted to Viscount Lee of Fareham in 1927.

The Sadler’s Wells Ballet School has been permanently housed at White Lodge since 1955.  It assumed royal patronage and became the Royal Ballet School, now internationally recognised as one of the world’s leading schools for ballet. It formerly housed a museum, which closed in 2015; White Lodge is not open to the public.

There were well over one hundred peg dolls (including a ballerina) which were made by the future Queen Victoria when she was an isolated young princess at Kensington Palace; she also had a book of paper dolls painted either by herself or her governess, Baroness Lehzen.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018
About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian and writer, specializing in Queen Victoria's family, Russian royalty and the Habsburgs. An independent scholar of royal studies, she has studied historic British and European royalty for nearly twenty years, speaking on the subject for both TV and BBC radio.