Built of 775 rooms and housing no less than 78 bathrooms and 1,514 doors, it’s little wonder that Buckingham Palace has become a world famous architectural and cultural landmark. Present-day Buckingham Palace – with its more than 40,000 light bulbs and protection guards so iconic they have their own emoji – has come a long way from its modest beginnings in 1703.
Originally commissioned as a large townhouse for the Duke of Buckingham, the house was acquired by the crown in 1761 when King George III purchased it as a private residence for Queen Charlotte. The palace then took on a more official role as the London residence of the British monarch when Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837.
With millions of tourists descending on London every year, it’s safe to say that the number of people who have viewed and toured Buckingham Palace is far greater than most buildings on earth. But how much do we really know about the palace known as The Queen’s ‘office’? With stories carried in every beam, brick and baluster we’re investigating some of the iconic building’s better-kept secret.
- John Sheffield may have been Duke of Buckingham but that didn’t mean he could be trusted with a chequebook. Notorious for not paying his debts Sheffield nearly lost his life when architect William Winde – desperate to collect overdue funds for Buckingham House’s design and construction – took the Duke up to the roof and threatened to shove him off the edge unless he paid that instant. The Duke duly paid.
- When King George IV inherited Buckingham House from his parents (King George III and Queen Charlotte) he was determined to morph it into magnificence. With an eye for fabulous décor, George IV enlisted the help of neoclassical architect John Nash to supersize the structure. Parliament agreed to pay the £150,000 needed but by the time the king died in 1830 costs had spiralled to what amounts to nearly £1 billion in modern currency.
- The palace Queen Victoria inherited in 1837 was in dire need of repair. The kitchen’s faced floods of sewage, lamp gas had dangerously built up and the building was constantly cold due to poor ventilation. The design flaws were soon seen to, however, by a team led by Prince Albert, who also oversaw major additions to the palace such as the iconic balcony.
- The palace has played host to all number of beasts. In the age of King Henry VIII (who used the land for hunting) deer roamed wild and King James introduced a zoo which ensuing royals added to over the centuries. Queen Charlotte became the proud owner of eight elephants and a zebra and Queen Victoria was notorious for taking a turn around the grounds on the back of P. T. Barnum’s famous elephant, Jumbo.
- The River Tyburn runs silently beneath the present-day palace. Once a salmon-packed waterway, the river now winds underground from Marylebone to Vauxhall, passing under royal feet on the way. The Tyburn Angling Society have spent recent years rallying to bring the waterway aboveground…but as it would mean knocking down Buckingham Palace it seems an unlikely outcome.
- Tales of unexpected visitors at Buckingham Palace are not new (we’ve all heard about the time The Queen woke up to find a stranger on the end of her bed!) but here’s one you probably haven’t heard. Years ago, while the current Queen’s mother and father – King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – were taking a quiet stroll through the lower levels of the palace they came across a total stranger. The shifty character purported to be ‘a friend of a friend’ but it soon became clear he had been living there for a while with no one the wiser!