Kew Palace: Wikis


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Kew Palace following the completion of restoration work in 2006.

Kew Palace is a British Royal Palace in Kew Gardens, Kew on the banks of the Thames up river from London. There have been at least four Palaces at Kew, and three have been known as Kew Palace, the first building may not have been known as Kew as no records survive other than the words of another courtier. One survives and is open to visitors. It is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown. [1]


The First Kew Palace

Not much is known of this building except that Queen Elizabeth I gave this building to Robert Dudley, her childhood friend and court favourite. A letter from another of Elizabeth's courtiers suggests this to have been Dudley's main home near London, it's possible it might have also been called Leicester House.

The Second Kew Palace

The old palace was built in 1631 by Samuel Fortrey.

The building formerly belonged to the Capel family, and by marriage became the property of Samuel Molyneux, Esq., secretary to George II.

Frederick, Prince of Wales took a long lease of the house, which he made his frequent residence; and here, too, occasionally resided his favourite poet, James Thomson, author of "The Seasons." In 1738, another poet, Alexander Pope, gave Prince Frederick a dog, with the following verse inscribed on its collar:

I am His Highness' dog at Kew.
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?[2]

The house contained some good pictures, among which were a set of Canaletto's works; the celebrated picture of the Florence gallery, by Zoffany, (who resided in the neighbourhood). The pleasure-grounds, which contained 120 acres (0.49 km2), were laid out by Sir William Chambers, one of the greatest masters of ornamental English gardening.

The Third Kew Palace

George III's Kew Palace.

This second structure was designed in part by King George III, and otherwise by James Wyatt. Commenced in 1802, it was a gothic "castellated palace" which attracted little praise, being considered too namby pamby for a patron of his standing. After the King’s confinement at Windsor, Queen Charlotte declined to occupy the new building. It was demolished during the reign of her son George IV in 1828.

Innumerable are the instances of princes having sought to perpetuate their memories by the building of palaces, from the Domus Aurea, or golden house of Nero, to the comparatively puny structures of our own times. As specimens of modern magnificence and substantial comfort, the latter class of edifices may be admirable; but we are bound to acknowledge, that in boldness and splendour of design, they cannot assimilate to the labours of antiquity, much of whose stupendous character is to this day preserved in many series of interesting ruins:—

Whilst in the progress of the long decay,
Thrones sink to dust, and nations pass away.

As a record of this degeneracy, near the western corner of Kew Green stands the palace, commenced for George III, under the direction of the late James Wyatt, Esq. The north front possesses an air of solemn, sullen grandeur; but it very ill accords with the taste and science generally displayed by its nominal architect.

To quote the words of a contemporary, "this Anglo-Teutonic, castellated, gothized structure must be considered as an abortive production, at once illustrative of bad taste and defective judgment. From the small size of the windows and the diminutive proportion of its turrets, it would seem to possess

"Windows that exclude the light,
And passages that lead to nothing."

Upon the unhappy seclusion of the royal architect, the works were suspended, and it remained unfinished. Censure and abuse have, however, always been abundantly lavished on its architecture, whether it be the result of royal caprice or of professional study; but the taste of either party deserves to be taxed with its demerits.

A drawing of New Kew Palace, by William Westall, 1823.

The northern front was intended to be appropriated to the use of domestics; the whole building is rendered nearly indestructible by fire, by means of cast-iron joists and rafters, &c., certainly in this case an unnecessary precaution, since the whole pile is shortly to be pulled down. The foundation, too, is in a bog close to the Thames, and the principal object in its view is the dirty town of Brentford, on the opposite side of the river; a selection, it would seem, of family taste, for George II. is known to have often said, when riding through Brentford, "I do like this place, it's so like Yarmany."

Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840), in "A Morning's Walk from London to Kew," (1817) characterized the new palace as "the Bastile palace, from its resemblance to that building, so obnoxious to freedom and freemen. On a former occasion," says he, "I have viewed its interior, and I am at a loss to conceive the motive for preferring an external form, which rendered it impracticable to construct within it more than a series of large closets, boudoirs, and rooms like oratories." The latter part of this censure is judiciously correct; but the epithet "bastile" is perhaps too harsh for some ears.

The premature fate of Kew Palace render it at this moment an object of public curiosity; while the annexed engraving may serve to identify its site, when posterity

"Asks where the fabric stood."

The Fourth Kew Palace

The building now known as Kew Palace in 1735, originally known as the "Dutch House" because of its Dutch gables.[3]

The building today known as Kew Palace and opposite the old palace, was originally a mansion of moderate proportions known as the Dutch House. It was taken on a long lease by George III from the descendants of Sir Richard Levett, a powerful merchant and the former Lord Mayor of the City of London, who had purchased it from the grandson of the original owner, a Dutch merchant who had built the house in 1663.[3][4]

Originally from Sussex, the Levett family (whose name derives from the village of Livet in Normandy) retained ownership of the house, as well as other lands in the Kew complex, until October 13, 1781, when the Dutch House was purchased by King George III from the Levett family for £20,000.[5][6] But members of the Royal Family had occupied the house as early as 1734, when they leased the house from the Levett heirs.[7] (A map of 1771 delineated the land between the Dutch House and the river as belonging to barrister Levett Blackborne, Lincoln's Inn barrister and grandson of Sir Richard Levett.)[8] Indeed a musical portrait of the cello-playing Frederick, Prince of Wales (son of George II) and his sisters, part of the National Portrait Gallery collection in London, painted oil on canvas by Philip Mercier and dated 1733, uses the house as its plein-air backdrop.[9] In 1735 the architect William Kent produced a grandiose plan for a large Palladian palace at Kew, very much in the style of Stowe but this was never executed.

A musical portrait of Frederick, Prince of Wales and his sisters by Philip Mercier, dated 1733, uses the house as its plein-air backdrop

George III's residency of the Dutch House was originally intended to be brief, a temporary residence while his new castellated palace in the Gothic style (described above) was built - at first the Royal Family resided at Richmond Lodge but as the family became larger it became necessary to take over other properties on Kew Green, which included the Dutch House.

The new palace was intended to be "a late Georgian Nonsuch".[3] However the new palace was far from complete in 1810 when the King's insanity forced him to retire from public life. The new palace's style was not to the taste of his successor the profligate George, the Prince Regent. In 1828 parliament having studied the accounts ordered the shell to be demolished, and such fixture and fitting as had been installed to be used elsewhere in royal residences.[3] The staircase was in fact later used at Buckingham Palace.[3]

George III's wife, Queen Charlotte died at the Dutch House on November 17, 1818. On ascending the throne in 1837 Queen Victoria gave most of Kew Gardens to the nation, retaining only a small summer house once belonging to Queen Charlotte for her own use. Known as "Queen's Cottage" Queen Victoria seldom visited it and to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 1887 she presented this also to the country.

Restoration of Kew Palace

rear view of palace from gardens.

This third building survives today. It is located in Kew Gardens and despite its name it is the size of a manor house. Kew Palace was used to hold a dinner hosted by Charles, Prince of Wales to celebrate the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II on April 21, 2006. A few days later it reopened as a visitor attraction, following a ten year closure for restoration.

The restoration not only included physical restoration to the building, but also weaving of period draperies and other fabric décor carried out by master weaver Ian Dale of Scotland. An external lift shaft was added on the west wing for disabled access, in the place of a tower which housed three floors of lavatories.

The Palace was featured in the BBC documentary series Tales from the Palaces.


External links

Coordinates: 51°29′02″N 00°17′42″W / 51.48389°N 0.295°W / 51.48389; -0.295



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