15 Unbelievable Facts About Buckingham Palace!
Today, Buckingham Palace is one of the most famous residences in the world, being the official residence of the British monarch. This got me thinking, what are some interesting facts about Buckingham Palace you need to know?! Whilst Buckingham Palace is most famous for being the official residence of the queen, it is also an […]
Today, Buckingham Palace is one of the most famous residences in the world, being the official residence of the British monarch. This got me thinking, what are some interesting facts about Buckingham Palace you need to know?!
Whilst Buckingham Palace is most famous for being the official residence of the queen, it is also an office building, having almost 1000 staff members. Each year, it also attracts millions of tourists from around the world.
If you time your visit right, you may even be able to get a guided tour around the palace too!
15. The First Inhabitant Wasn’t Royalty
In 1698, British poet and politician, John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, would acquire the land that Buckingham Palace now stands on. Sheffield’s intention was to build a large townhouse on the land…
To that end, the duke would bring in famed British architect, William Winde, to design a three-story townhouse, which he called Buckingham House.
This would serve as his official residence whilst in London (as opposed to his country estate, Normanby Hall in Lincolnshire).
Construction of Buckingham House would commence later that year, before being completed in 1703. The duke would move in immediately, remaining there for much of his life.
Following the duke’s death in February 1721, all of the duke’s possessions, including Buckingham House, would pass to his eldest son, Edmund, who would similar split his time between Normanby Hall and Buckingham House.
14. A Royal Purchase
However, Edmund died in 1735, leaving no wife or children. Luckily, however, his father had sired an illegitimate son, Charles Herbert Sheffield, who managed to inherit much of his half-brothers properties, including Buckingham House.
Yet, Charles had no real need for the huge townhouse his father had constructed. As a result, he began trying to sell the property to the wealthiest politicians of the day, all to no success.
In 1762, Charles managed to find a buyer: King George III, who was looking for a property to give to his wife, Queen Charlotte. King George would pay Charles £21,000 (roughly £4.5 million today) for the house.
Queen Charlotte would renovate and extend much of the house to her liking. She would move in 13 years later, in 1775, staying there until her death in 1818. As a result, Buckingham House would be known as The Queen’s House.
13. How Big?!
When the Duke of Buckingham and Normanby built Buckingham House, it was already incredibly large. Queen Charlotte expand the house considerably, as would her granddaughter, Queen Victoria upon becoming queen.
As a result, the modern-day Buckingham Palace is huge, to say the least. In fact, it’s not just “big”, Buckingham Palace is one of the largest privately-owned residences in the entire, and was the largest for quite some time!
In total, the palace grounds span an impressive 39 acres, or about the same size as a medium-sized farm. The physical palace itself, measures at an impressive 108 m (354 ft 4 in) long, 120 m (393 9 in) deep and 24 m (78 ft 9 in) high.
Inside the palace, there are a total of 775 rooms, 188 of which are staff bedrooms, 92 of which are offices, 52 of which are royal guest rooms, 19 of which are state rooms and 78 of which, are bathrooms!
According to former employees of the palace, there’s even a running joke among royals and staff: when they enter a room they’ve never been in before, they say “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the inside of this room before!”
12. The Girl Guide Company?
Prior to 1938, the future Queen Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret lived relatively secluded lives. Yes, they were in the spotlight, but this was only during official times of joy or mourning.
However, this all changed in 1938, when Edward VII abdicated the throne. This in turn, led to Elizabeth and Margaret’s father, George VI, ascending to the throne and becoming king.
At the time, Elizabeth was still quite young, being only 12 at the time. Her sister, Margaret, was only eight at the time. Their new royal status made it hard for the girls to make friends, which made them quite lonely.
In an effort to change this, the palace ordered the creation of a new Girls Guide (the UK equivalent of the Girl Scouts) company on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. This would give the princesses new friends who were their age!
Most of these girls were from similar aristocratic backgrounds (mostly the daughters of dukes, earls and barons) as well as the daughters of the palace staff.
11. It’s Not Owned by The Queen (Technically)
Buckingham Palace is famous for being the residence of the current British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Despite being arguably the palace’s most famous inhabitant, Queen Elizabeth doesn’t actually own the palace.
At least, not really.
No, it isn’t owned by the government, either. Instead, it’s owned by the Crown Estates trust, which in itself, is owned by the queen, so technically, she (kind of) does own the palace, just not on paper…
By being owned by the Crown Estates trust, the palace is technically maintained by the government, rather than by the crown itself, and is therefore paid for, by the taxpayer (much to some people’s dismay!)
Surprisingly, Buckingham Palace is the only one of the Queen’s main properties (including Sandringham, Balmoral and Windsor Castle), that the crown doesn’t directly own.
10. Underground Tunnels
Although it has never been officially confirmed (mostly for national security reasons), there is a lot of evidence to suggest that there is a network of underground tunnels under Buckingham Palace.
For the most part, these tunnels are from a bygone era. Some were installed during the reign of Queen Victoria as water pipes, whilst others were purposefully built by Queen Victoria as escape routes, in the event of a revolution.
Many more were reportedly added by her grandson, George V, and great-grandson, George VI, during WWI and the interwar period, in case the palace was ever compromised.
However, most of these have apparently been bricked up since the 1970’s. The only ones that are still active, link most of London’s major government buildings together, including Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Whitehall!
9. Largest Private Art Collection in The World
Since the reign of Henry VIII, the royal families of Europe have been collecting art. Over time, much of this art has ended up in the hands of the British royal family, who have acquired the world’s largest private art collection.
This collection is known as the Royal Collection, and consists of roughly 7,000 paintings and another 500,000 other art pieces. In terms of market value, this collection is at least worth £10 billion, if not far more due to their present owners!
As one of the largest buildings in the country, Buckingham Palace has miles upon miles of wall that needs to be decorated. So why not use the art?
Whilst the collection is spread out between 13 royal residences and a handful of museums, much of it is on display in the palace. Mostly, these are the paintings of sentimental value to the monarch, mostly paintings of her forbearers.
A portion of the less sentimental artworks are on display to the public, within the palace itself, this is in the Queen’s Gallery.
8. The Coin Collection
One of the earliest royal traditions has been the bequeathing of the first newly-minted coin or note, to the sovereign. Following this, the second is given to the Prince/Princess of Wales, and so on.
During her long reign, Queen Elizabeth has seen not only Britain’s money, but also the money of much of the Commonwealth change considerably. And she receives the first new coin or note each time.
Thanks to this, she has amassed one of the largest coin collections in the world. Whilst the majority of her collection is stored either in Windsor Castle or the royal family’s bank of choice, Coutts & Co., some is kept in the palace.
Mostly, these are the few coins and notes that the Queen finds have a sentimental value for her. Among these coin are, allegedly, is a 1965 commemorative crown coin (25p) to commemorate the death of Sir Winston Churchill…
7. How Many Clocks?!
Before the intention of cell phones, where clocks came as a standard, the world used to run on time thanks to clocks. As one of the busiest households in the country, it is imperative that everything in the palace, runs on time.
To this end, the palace has over 350 clocks of varying sizes and designs scattered throughout the palace, which ensure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.
However, most of these clocks are literally centuries old. As such, they need to be wound up once a week, in order to ensure that they’re telling the correct time.
As a result, the palace employs two horological conservators to wind up all 350 clocks each week!
Even with the invention of newer clocks, that don’t need to be wound up each week, it looks unlikely that the palace will replace their 350 antique clocks anytime soon…
6. The Furniture Collection
However, it’s not just coins, art and clocks that the palace collects. It is also home to one of the largest “collections” of antique furniture in the world!
For the most part, this hasn’t been done specifically. It’s simply due to the fact that Buckingham Palace is huge, and has almost 1,000 rooms that require tables or chairs for official purposes.
As such, literally thousands of tables, chairs, stools, desks and beds have been built over the last 300 years to be used in the palace. Many more were brought from other royal residences across the country too…
Despite many of the furniture in the palace being well over a century old, many of them are still used. With that being said, many staff have brought in their own modern furniture for their own private residences/offices, in recent years.
5. It Was Bombed During WWII
During WWII, the capital of England, London, suffered through nine months of relentless bombing by the Germans, often known as The Blitz. In these nine months, almost all of London had been leveled.
Early on in The Blitz, much of the king’s valuables and national treasures had been moved out of the palace, and placed in the more secure Windsor Castle, alongside the king’s daughters, Princess Margaret and the future Queen Elizabeth.
Ironically, the Germans had managed to bomb everywhere around Buckingham Palace, except the palace itself! For almost all of the Blitz, the palace remained unscathed, with only minor damage to the palace grounds.
However, in the final days of The Blitz, a few German bombers got lucky, damaging large portions of the palace’s gardens, as well as the palace itself!
Whilst there was no loss of life, the damage was valued at several million pounds (at the time).
4. State of Disrepair
In many ways, The Blitz had been a blessing in disguise. Queen Victoria had renovated much of Buckingham Palace in the mid-19th century, with very little work being done over the next two hundred years or so.
As a result, much like 10 Downing Street, the palace had fallen into varying states of disrepair. Whilst this was unnoticeable in most parts of the palace, in certain areas, it was painfully clear.
Following the Blitz, however, much of London would be rebuilt, including Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street. This reconstruction would deal not only with the Blitz-induced damage but also almost two centuries of neglect…
Since then, the Royal household has ensured that Buckingham Palace has been well maintained, with regular work being carried out whilst the Queen is at Sandringham or Balmoral (and when it’s not open to the public!)
3. The Royal Amenities
As the official residence and office of Britain’s head of state, Buckingham Palace has a number of amenities that rival those of a five star hotel! Chiefly, these amenities have been installed to help the royals whilst performing their duties.
For most of recent history, these amenities have been somewhat of a secret. However, in recent years, the royal household has opened up about many of these amenities, with the aim of becoming transparent with the public.
In doing so, they have revealed that, among other things, Buckingham Palace has its own chapel, post office and fully-operational doctor’s surgery (fit with an emergency operating table too!)
With that being said, these are pretty standard. Buckingham Palace’s more eccentric amenities also include a movie theater, ATM and even an indoor swimming pool!
All of these amenities can be used by anyone in the royal household…
2. The Origins of The Royal Guard
If you’ve ever been to, or seen, Buckingham Palace, you’ll probably have noticed the Queen’s Guard. These are the men in red uniforms with the bearskin hats, that you’ve probably seen the funny YouTube videos of.
The origin of the Queen’s Guard can be traced back to antiquity. After all, since there have been people with power, there have been those who have wanted to take that power away, often through killing those with the power.
With that being said, the modern Queen’s Guard dates back to 1660, during the reign of Charles II. Here, he had to personally supply his royal guards with everything they needed, including food and clothes.
To that end, he employed the use of red dye for their clothing, not because it was menacing, but because it was extremely cheap. This saved him a fortune, and is a tradition that continues to this day.
In regards to the guard’s famous hats, they were actually taken from Napoleon’s Imperial Guard during the Napoleonic Wars. After the Grenadier Guard (an active regiment) defeated the Imperial Guard, they took their hats as a trophy!
This too, is a tradition that has continued since then!
1. Not as Secure as You’d Think…
Whilst we’re on the topic of security, we should probably address the numerous security slipups that the palace has had. Chances are that most of these slipups don’t make national news, but when they do, it dominates the news cycle!
Between 1838 and 1841, a local London teenager, called Edward Jones, broke into the palace at least three times. Here, he mostly harmless, only stealing some food, the queen’s underwear, before sitting on the throne!
Finding this too easy, he broke into Windsor Castle, where he was caught and sent to Australia, where he’d die in 1893.
More recently, a London man called Michael Fagan broke into the palace on two occasions. The first time, he drank a bottle of wine, whilst on the second time, he creeped into the queen’s bedroom, and sat and talked to her!
However, in recent years, security has been increased monumentally. As such, the chances of you breaking into the palace and chatting with Queen Elizabeth are quite slim!
Which are your favorite facts about Buckingham Palace? Tell me in the comments!
Featured image courtesy of Diamond Geezer via Flickr.