Windsor Castle. After two unsuccessful attempts to visit Windsor Castle I finally managed to get to visit the castle last week. The first time I had booked on line and unfortunately I became ill the morning of the visit, the second time we actually got to Windsor along with the rest of the world so it seemed. The queues were ... enormous and stretched right down into the town. Last week I did not tempt fate again or book on line so we just turned up. The queue to go in took approximately 45 minutes to get to the ticket office and stretched back along the road.
A little background information.
Windsor Castle is one of the oldest inhabited castles in Europe and you cannot fail to notice it if you are driving along the M4 motorway or taking off from Heathrow airport with the frequent planes flying right over the top of it. This is the preferred home of the Queen and you may be lucky enough to see her driving around Windsor on her way to the Castle.
The castle was built in the 11th Century by William the Conqueror as part of the defences around London to protect the river Thames and the outskirts of London against invasion. Most of the defence castles were built along the same lines with an outer fortified wall and an inner tower built on a motte (mound) which was a man made hill surrounded by a bailey which was a fenced in yard. In total the area covers approximately 13 acres within the castle walls. The castle is built on top of a hill 30 meters above the river Thames and basically consists of three parts, the lower, middle and upper wards. The lower ward acts like an initial defence and contains a thick outer wall which acts as the initial defence. The middle ward contains the castle keep known as the round tower which can be seen for miles around. It is built on an elevated mound surrounded by a moat. The moat had been dug out and the chalk used to raise the hill even higher to fifty metres. The round tower is built on top of the manmade hill and not only affords fantastic views which stretches for miles around but acts as a last means of defence for the inhabitants. Much of the castle was built of wood but over the centuries it was fortified and built of stone. The upper ward contains the state and living quarters of the monarch.
The lower ward.
The lower ward contains a large inner courtyard and King Henry VIII gate is where you exit the castle following your visit. It is here where the beautiful church of St. George is situated. Many members of the Royal Family have been interred there. It is also the mother church of the Knights of the Garter a service is held here every year led by the Queen who leads the knights from the upper ward of the castle down to St. Georges chapel for the service of thanksgiving. There is also accommodation which is still used today to house some of the poor knights a lesser order of chivalry who maintain the order of St. George and step in for the Knights of the Garter. At the lower end are chapter houses for the clergy of St. George and the oldest part of the castle is found here including the curfew tower which forms part of the outer defence wall.
The middle ward.
As previously stated the middle ward contains the castle keep. It was originally a wooden building which offered a final line of defence for the king. Over the years it was rebuilt and a stone building was erected. It was again added to in the latter part of the 19th century and the height extended. It currently houses many of the Royal archives.
The upper ward.
The upper ward is where the Royal residence is found and consists of a large quadrangle surrounded by the state rooms on one side and the private apartments on the other including the accommodation of the Royal family. Many state occasions are held here especially when the Queen is hosting visits by heads of states of other countries. St. George's hall is usually where state banquets are held for foreign heads of state.
The outer parklands.
The grounds of Windsor castle are quite extensive and stretch out for miles around. It includes the long walk, a tree lined avenue that stretches for 3 miles, many small cottages inhabited by castle employees. There are a couple of farms and Frogmore house another Royal residence. There is also the burial place of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert Frogmore Mausoleum at Frogmore which is only open to the public on a couple of occasions a year however this year restoration work is taking place.
I would first advise you to make sure you are wearing comfortable and sturdy shoes as there is quite a lot of walking to do. After buying our ticket from the ticket office we entered the grounds of the castle approaching King Henry tower and the closed off gate to the Quadrangle. On the way to reach this there is the Jubilee garden where there is a small bandstand and nice little garden which was presented to the Queen on her golden Jubilee.
There are some nice views of the accommodation on the outer walls of the lower ward of the castle and of course the towering round tower. Looking through the gated entrance you can see into the Quadrangle which is closed off to the public. At the nearest end to the gate there is a bronze statue of King Charles II on horseback dating from the 1600's. The quadrangle is quite large and contains a lawned area in the middle. The covered main entrance to the castles state apartments looks quite grand and imposing. Visitors would alight from their vehicles under cover of the archway and the procession they were travelling in would drive off around the perimeter of the courtyard.
I could picture the disastrous fire that struck Windsor castle back in 1992 and see the lawn covered with fire hoses and precious pieces of art work as flames and smoke bellowed fifty foot out of the roof of the state apartments. It was fortunate that so many items were removed just the day before and some of the remaining articles were able to be removed by the staff, soldiers and others including Prince Andrew who happened to be at the castle at the time doing some research in the library. Although much of the State apartments were involved in the fire 80% of the castle was actually damage involving 100 rooms. It has now thankfully been restored.
We walked along the internal road past the garrison buildings and arms storage rooms below the round tower to reach a large square area in front of it. Looking over the wall of the moat it has been transformed into a floral garden with rose shrubs and other flower beds. The mound is covered in grass and shrubs up to the beginning of the stone walls of the round tower. The round tower looks very majestic and proud. At certain times of the year you are able to take a tour of the round tower up onto its roof but apparently it is not advisable if you suffer from claustrophobia or have a fear of heights. It was closed while we were there.
We then continued across the courtyard through an archway leading onto the North terrace overlooking the town below and the River Thames. We then went to the entrance to the State rooms. There was a separate queue for Queen Marys Dolls house which was very long indeed. I suggested we went in the state apartments first and could come out later to see the doll's house.
Prior to mounting the grand staircase we entered the undercroft where there is a large vaulted room currently displaying art painted by different members of the Royal family going back to Queen Victoria's reign. There are watercolours by both her and her husband Prince Albert and also some from Prince Philip and Prince Charles. There are many pieces of works here so expect to spend at least half an hour here.
The Grand staircase.
Entering through the main entrance up the grand staircase it certainly was beautiful and one sight that would leave you quite in awe and impressed. The public enter through this doorway from the North side whereas visiting heads of state enter from the Main entrance on the south side in the quadrangle. On either side of the staircase there were two mounted horses of knights in armour. High above your head the ceiling had glass which made the stairway quite light plus the wood was of light oak which also made it look quite welcoming. The first room you enter is the arms room and as the name suggests there are various weapons fixed in patterns around the walls including swords, muskets, knives and other ancient looking pistols. There are also two small sedans on display that belonged to Queen Charlotte. She employed four men that were at her beck and call to take her to wherever she needed to go in the Sedan. They had been sold off after her death but Queen Victoria bought them again and they are preserved here for everyone to see.
The Waterloo Chamber.
The next room we entered was the Waterloo chamber which is absolutely stunning. It was originally a courtyard but by adding a roof it was transformed into a very large hall and made into a beautiful dining room. The walls are covered with wood halfway up the walls and paintings dotted around this great chamber. The upper area is decked out in gold leaf that looks almost like damask wall paper and the roofing is supported by carved wood. It is a stunning room. The carpet on the floor was made by prisoners in Agra Jail for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. It is the largest seamless carpet in the world and weighs 2 tons. Thankfully it was rescued during the fire but it took 50 men to lift it. The centerpiece of the room is the dining table which can seat 60 people. It also doubles up as the table used for banquets in St. Georges hall and once extended can seat 160 people. The Queen has lunch here with the Knights of the Garter following the Service in St. Georges Chapel.
The Kings private quarters.
You then enter the Kings apartment which consists of five rooms. Including
* The Anti-throne room.
* The king's drawing room.
* The king's bedchamber
* The king's dressing room
* The king's closet.
Each of these rooms are very ornately decorated and only the most important people would have been allowed access and being granted an audience with the King in these apartments.
The drawing room is decorated with an olive green damask wall paper and the custom started by Queen Victoria was to have the name after an artist whose paintings were on display. This room has been called the Rubens room.
The bedchamber furnished with King Charles II's four poster bed. The walls are covered in crimson damask paper and a large oil painting over the fire place. The plaster ceiling is really quite ornately decorated with a circular centre piece showing an ornate cross with a crown from which hangs a crystal chandelier. Off this room is a tiny closet room which is where it is believed the King actually slept rather than in this room.The king's Dressing room as far as I can remember appeared nicely decorated but was rather dark in appearance. I cannot recall much about this room.
The Queens apartments.
Moving on to the Queens apartment which includes -
* The Queens drawing room
* The kings dining room
* The Queens ballroom
* The Queens audience Chamber
* The Queens Presence Chamber
* The Queens guard Chamber
The Queens drawing room is quite formal looking with red and gold damask wall paper. The ceiling is plastered and decorated with gold leaf. It was covered with old masters at one time and was called the picture gallery but these have been moved around to make it more formal looking. It then leads on to the Kings dining room which could be accessed by both the King and Queen. This room looks quite formal and imposing with a lot of panelling and a dark mural ceiling. In the canter of the room is a marble fire place over which there is a very ornately wooden carved decoration that is food orientated. The room is currently empty except for some small crockery units and a red carpet.
The Queens Ballroom is quite a large oblong shaped room with air force blue damask and silver paper. There is a solid silver table which is on one side of the room. Apparently there used to be six of them but often with Silver it was melted down and sold when times were hard. On the walls are paintings of five of Charles II children. There are two massive crystal chandeliers equally spaced down the centre of the room.
Surprisingly for me the Queens Audience chamber was very dark although looks quite a formal room there was a very dark ceiling with a mural depicting Queen Catherine Braganza in a chariot. To me at a certain angle in two of her paintings she has the appearance of having a five O'clock shadow. This room leads onto the Queens Presence chamber which was essentially used as a waiting room for her visitors. You leave the Queens apartment via the Queens Guard room where soldiers would be stationed to stop anyone attempting to enter the Queens Quarters.
St. Georges Hall.
The largest room in the Castle is St. Georges Hall. Most of the interior work had been completely burned during the fire which started just off the hall at the opposite end in a small anti-chamber after an arc lamp had been inadvertently left on. The fire raced through the castle at a rate of speed. The whole roof of St. Georges hall succumbed to the intense heat from the fire finally collapsing. Much of the wood panelling burnt away leaving but a shell. Around the room are shields of the Knights of the Garter. Each person had his name etched on the wood panelling with his name and a family coat of arms above it. There are some blank shields on display that represent those that have been shamed and their order has been removed from them.
The Queen holds magnificent banquets here when a visiting head of state visits the country. The table that is used is the table from the Waterloo room which extends to seat 160 people. It takes an army of people to lay the table which is so big that staff actually walk up and down the table wearing special covers over their feet ensuring everything is in place right down to measuring with rulers spaces between the plates, cutlery and glassware especially when you consider there may be several courses and several types of wine for the meal. Not only this there will be grand floral displays and much table decorations gold or silverware, candelabras and condiment sets.
At the far end of the hall there is a knight on horseback wearing a suit of armour. It was his role to ride into the palace of Westminster and three times throw down a gauntlet to anyone who challenged the New King and his authority. It is over the entrance to the Lantern Lobby where the fire started. This room was originally the private chapel of Queen Victoria but after the fire it has been transformed into the Lantern room. It is quite beautiful with a central marble design in the centre of what looks like an Octagonal room. It is made from English marble and the centre Red Cross is made from marble from the Duke of Devonshire's estate in Derbyshire.
The Semi State apartments.
After visiting these rooms you are led into the spectacular semi state apartments created for George IV. Although the rooms were damaged during the fire most of the furniture had already been removed as they were going to rewire the apartments. They consist of
* The green Drawing room.
* The Crimson Drawing room.
* The state dining room.
* The Octagonal dining room
* The China corridor
* The Grand reception room
* The Garter throne room.
These rooms are really ornately decorated with rich colours, gilt and gold leaf after all they are built to impress foreign dignitaries and visiting heads of state. The Green Drawing room is quite large and contains lots of beautiful chairs and little coffee tables. It is quite useful to be able to sit in smaller groups in this room whilst entertaining. The walls and furniture are inlaid with Green damask whilst the frames are covered in gold. Unfortunately the beautiful carpet that was designed for this room and was displayed during the Great exhibition in 1851 was damaged by the water from the fire. It is in such a delicate state now that you are not permitted to walk on it and during our visit some of it was rolled up to prevent you walking on it.
The next room you come into is the Crimson Drawing room which suffered terrible damage during the fire. The roof burnt and so did the floor. The roof was a steel roof which buckled forcing the potential collapse of the walls. It has been completely rebuilt and furnished as it originally was. There is a black marble fireplace in the centre of the room which survived the fire but the chandelier was completely ruined. Either side of the fire place are paintings of The Queen mother and the Queens father. The ceilings are gilt covered with a central chandelier. It is a very regal looking room.
The state dining room is where the queen entertains guests and friends who either have lunch here or for those lucky enough to stay the night will have dinner here. The room was completely destroyed in the fire but has been restored to its former glory after studying original photos and paintings of the room. The dining table looks quite formal although less so than when an official banquet takes place in St. Georges hall. The table seats around about 22 people.
The Octagon dining room is used as a small private dining room by close members of the Royal Family when they are in residence.
After the state dining room you walk along a long corridor called the China corridor where dinner services are set out in glass cabinets. The largest dinner service you can see is called the Manchester service which is a turquoise colour. There are different sets of Sevres porcelain around the room.
You now enter the Grand reception room which is very large and is really ornate and ostentatious with crimson drapes chandelier's gold ceilings and walls with inlaid tapestries hanging from the walls. At the end of the room is a very large green Malachite urn which was given to Tsar Nicholas I from Russia in 1939. This room was badly damaged in the fire and so was the urn that needed lengthy restoration. The parquet flooring largely survived the fire and those pieces that were singed were turned over and it looks fine.
The final room you enter before retracing your steps through the opposite end of the Waterloo Chamber is the Garter Throne Room.
The Garter Throne room.
It is in this room where the Queen creates the Knights of the Garter. This room is a long oblong room which has a picture of the Queen over the fireplace. It has a deep Navy blue carpet on the floor and there is a row of chairs along the centre of the room with stools along the sides of the room.. At the head of the room is a throne that was presented to Queen Victoria which is made completely of Ivory.
After visiting this room you come out into the Waterloo chamber but at the opposite end and then back down the stairs to the north terrace.
Queen Marys Dolls House.
The Queue for this had gone down quite considerably by time we came out. This is a special exhibition of a dolls house made for Queen Mary. It was not supposed to be played with as a dolls house but is more ornamental. It is supposed to have replicated a fine house somewhere in London. It is quite large and everything is made in miniature and they are actually working pieces for example the house has its own electricity supply, it has running water and even the toilets which are miniature flush too. Many items of furniture were either made by the original manufacturers or by specialist companies. The library is full of miniature books which are the printed inside. There are chandeliers, glasses, suitcases, rugs and carpets all copies of some of the things that are in the palaces. The wine cellars with miniature bottles of wine actually do contain wine and spirits too and all the trolleys work.
What is very clever is that underneath the house there is a draw which when pulled out reveals formal gardens and cars all scaled down to appear life like but in miniature form. The house was never meant to be played with but it was presented to Queen Mary who had it exhibited at different events to help raise money for her charities.
The outside of the building actually lifts up revealing the different rooms around the house. It is approximately 3 feet high. I think this little house would be any little girls dream house.
St. Georges Chapel Windsor.
St. Georges Chapel can be found in the lower ward of the castle. It is the chapel of the Knights of the Garter which is a personal gift of chivalry bestowed to people from the Monarch. It is an order steeped in history going back to 1348 and was founded by Richard III as one of two royal colleges. Members meet formally twice a year at Easter and at the end of June in the Garter room of Windsor castle. New members are created in the Throne room of the Garter room. They then follow in procession through the grounds of Windsor castle to the chapel to attend a service headed by the Monarch. It has been known by several names. Originally it was St. Edward the confessor chapel then the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Edward the Confessor and St. George the Martyr.. The services had been suspended in the 1805 and only started again in 1948 to mark its 600th anniversary of its founding.
There are approximately 26 Knights in the order of the Garter plus more that are known as poor knights who stand in for those unable to attend. Each member is allocated a seat in the choir where their name is placed on the rear of the seat. Their shield is displayed above the choir. When a member of the order of the Garter dies the vacancy is filled with a new member appointed from a list drawn up from the members of the garter. If any member becomes a disgraced member they are stripped of the order and their shield is torn down which is unceremoniously kicked out of the church until it reaches the outer moat of the castle where it would have been kicked out and left in a ditch. This has not happened since the 1700's
St. Georges Chapel.
The chapel contains the remains of many of the Monarchs and members of the Royal family of the United Kingdom. Most recently the Internment of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margarets ashes were also interred in the small side chapel of King George VI the Queens Father.
Entering the chapel through the main entrance for the public you are immediately standing in the south side aisle of the church. The inside appears quite bright due to the high ceiling of the building and all the stain glass windows of portraits of Popes, Kings and princes around the sides of the chapel dating from around the 1500's. There are large pillars stretching up to the vaulted ceiling that fans out giving a beautiful honeycombed visual effect. There are colourful bosses that hide the joints of heraldic shields, portcullis, flowers and dragons. To enter the choir it has a magnificent stone entrance which the Knights enter to reach their stalls. There is a covered oriel stall to the left of the altar built by Henry VIII so that his Queen Catherine of Aragon could observe the ceremony without being seen. The effect is simply stunning. From the walls above the choir hang heraldic flags covered with coats of arms adding to the visual appeal of the great nave.
There are several side chapels dedicated to members of the Royal family some are quite grand but the majority of the internments are inside the Royal vault. I expected to see grand sarcophagi in memory of the Kings and Queens of England but was surprised to see that they are really quite simple tombs. There are a few that are what I expected and they include the tomb of King George V and Queen Mary of Teck. Marble statues of them lying down as if asleep are on the top. I wrongly assumed most of the tombs would look like this. I was very surprised to see a simple plain black slab in the middle of the floor of the choir announcing the burial vault of Henry VIII and Jayne Seymour. It also contains the remains of Charles I who was executed and brought to the Chapel for internment plus an infant child of Queen Anne.
There is a very grand chapel as you are making your way out of St. Georges which contains the tomb of the youngest son of Queen Victoria the Duke of Clarence, her favourite son. Originally it was built by King Henry VII as his final resting place but instead he was buried at Westminster Abbey. It was handed over to Cardinal Wolsey and known as Wolsey's Tomb house. However when Prince Albert died Queen Victoria had it converted into a chapel dedicated to her husband hence its name. The reason it has been closed fenced off from the public apparently is due to tourists scratching their names over the memorials which is unbelievably irreverent especially in a place of worship. What is it with these numbskulls it is mindless vandalism to do such a thing have they no respect at all?
Queen Victoria and her husband are buried in their own mausoleum nearby at Frogmore. Controversially more recently the funerals took place of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at St. Georges chapel although they are not buried in the chapel they are buried in the private Royal burial ground at Frogmore.
St. Georges is not all about death and burials it has also hosted marriages of members of the Royal family. Many of Queen Victoria's children were married here and more recently minor members of the Royal family have been married here too. Prince Charles had his marriage blessed here following the civil marriage to Camilla Duchess of Cornwall.
Outside of the chapel in the lower ward there are chapter houses where members of the clergy live and in the curfew tower is a peal of 8 bells which are rung prior to or after services. A special wooden frame was constructed within the tower to house the bells which cause a significant amount of movement when they are being rung.
Services are conducted every day at the chapel so it is best to check when they are happening. You will not be able to enter the chapel when one of the services is taking place unless of course you are there to worship.
Adult Ticket £17.75
Student or OAP £16.15
Under 17 £10.60
Under 5 free.
It may seem expensive for a visit but you can return as many times as you like over the next year as long as you get the reverse of your entry ticket stamped by one of the guards inside the castle plus you need to take proof of identity with you on your return such as a driving license, bank card or passport.
There are some toilets around the grounds of the castle and also a couple of souvenir shops selling quite expensive items. There is a cafeteria near the Round tower selling expensively priced ice creams, tea, coffee and snacks.
If you are interested in history or like walking around palaces then this is the tour for you. Expect to spend at least four hours or more here. You are also given a portable audio device to take around with you and simply press the number on the key pad to give explanations of the various sights around the castle. The room guards are particularly helpful in answering additional questions you may have and will always offer clear explanations.
Overall what did I think?
I absolutely loved my day at the Castle despite it being one of the hottest days of the year and very tiring for the amount of walking you have to do and hardly anywhere you can just sit and catch your breath. It was very crowded but not so much as to mar the visit and a lot of people visiting on tourist buses are usually confined by time limits so tend to rush around a bit. I will definitely return perhaps during the winter months when I would hope to find fewer tourists but as it is such a popular venue I am sure there are always going to be many people visiting. I would have loved to have seen much more of the castle but you are only permitted into the state apartments and state rooms. The grounds and Frogmore will require another days visit. I was disappointed that we were unable to stand in the middle of the Quadrangle. My other disappointment of course was that you are not allowed to take any pictures anywhere inside the castle at all but only in the grounds. A fantastic day out!
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National Seal Sanctuary (Helston)
Myself and my partner visited the Cornish Seal Sanctuary last week as part of our 5-day camping holiday down in Cornwall. We were staying in Helston so this was thankfully just 5 minutes away. Finding the sanctuary was not hard thanks to my sat nav, but without one you simply follow the instructions to go along the A roads, then the ... Sanctuary is sign posted with brown signs.
When turning down the road to find the Sanctuary, it seems unusual because it just looks like a road full of houses and doesn't look like the kind of place to have a tourist attraction, but it is here! The car park is quite large and can accommodate a number of vehicles - we arrived 15 minutes prior to it opening and got a great space under some shade.
The weather that day was pretty hot, around 30 degrees. This made the experience more enjoyable than if it had been raining, but it did get very hot whilst standing in one place for too long. One of the feeding presentations was actually delayed because a lady with type 2 Diabetes felt weak and required a sugary drink (they hadn't come out with anything to drink, in 30 degree heat with Type 2 Diabetes - this is asking for trouble!)
Before going, if you are staying somewhere local it is worth finding a tourist information place to get a leaflet about the Sanctuary or a book containing lots of local attractions as this will give you discount off the ticket prices. I had a "Save £4 on all adults" ticket but then just happened to have gone to Penzance the day before and when parking, my ticket had a "50% off entry" ticket which was the best deal - prices for the tickets when I went were £14.50 each, so this got the two of us in for £14.50.
When paying you get asked the usual question of whether or not you want a souvenir guide book - we said no!
After paying and entering, there is a 5-10 minute walk along an unmade road before you actually get to the area where the animals are. There is a train available that takes groups of people to and from the entrance to the animals for the elderly, unable, families with young children or the just plain lazy!
We walked and it is quite a nice short walk up a small steady incline with some good views. When you get to the animal area itself, there is a small place to stop where you can buy drinks and snacks and sit down and have a rest.
Next to this there is the hospital for the seals - a few people were here disappointed they couldn't see anything, however we weren't because it means there are none poorly enough to warrant being in there!
The feeding times and talks were at 11am so we spent the first hour exploring the rest of the Sanctuary. There is a small farmyard animal area with some horses, sheep and goats which is quite nice, all the animals are named and their full history is on display on signs attached to their fences.
After this we went through a nice group of trees and wild flowers/grass where a bird feeder was located, this joined up to a field where there is a large play area for children with plenty to do and to keep them occupied!
Otters were next which is another walk of around 5-10 minutes; again this was quite picturesque, especially on a nice day such as this! Upon arriving the Otters were quite difficult to find because they were sleeping together under some branches. There are signs that inform you they are most active during feeding time which was 12.30pm and 3.00pm.
There are a wonderful collection of Penguins up near the seals that were quite friendly. They were all out and basking on the rocks next to their water so were visible right next to the windows. There are 3 viewing areas for the Penguins - one under water down some steps, another on regular ground level through the windows and a third one up some steps looking over the whole area - this gave us the best view. One of the Penguins chased a butterfly, this was funny!
After all of this it was nearly time for the Seal feed and talk so we went to visit their pools; there are some wonderful seals here with many different types on show. The talk at 11am started on the furthest pool and then made its way from left to right so there wasn't far to walk in between talks.
The information provided by staff was excellent and you get a real personal history of a lot of the seals giving you a real understanding of why many of them have to be kept at the Sanctuary and not released into the wild. One Seal was 42 years old and believed to be the oldest in the world! Many of them have real individual personalities.
Watch out for the Seagulls too - they know the feeding times and managed to get several fish from the Seals! There is even a Seagull with one leg who they named Eileen, leg bitten off by an angry seal fighting for the food!
The 3 talks and feeds lasted around an hour and were the highlight of the day.
After this we had to head off - a lot of things to squeeze in to 5 days so we drove down to visit Trebah garden which was a phenomenal experience! A quick visit to the gift shop on the way out - this had lots of nice local things but we didn't spend any money.
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Osborne House (Isle of Wight)
Osborne House Isle of Wight. (English Heritage.) Osborne house was the private holiday home of Queen Victoria and her family. It is at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight with superb views over the Solent and is managed and maintained by English Heritage. It was here that Queen Victoria died away from the formality of court life ... in London. For her and her consort, Prince Albert it was a retreat where they could go with their children to relax in relative peace and quiet in beautiful surroundings.
The house was built between 1845 and finally finished in 1851 being designed by Prince Albert and a London architect John Cubitt who also designed the front of Buckingham Palace,. The house was designed taking the form of an Italian Palace or villa. Originally on the site there was another three storied house which was demolished and the new house built for the couple and their family of 9 children. The old house was quickly razed to the ground and the new house as we see it today was built. A further wing was added in 1890-1891. In order to fund this Queen Victoria hated Brighton Pavilion which she sold off to Brighton council so some of the money she raised from the sale went towards buying the house and grounds at Osborne.
When Queen Victoria died in 1901 she left instructions in her will that Osborne House be kept by the Royal family but no one wanted it due to its isolation and King Edward VII gave the house to the nation with the exception of the upper floors which were to be accessible only by Members of the Royal family as a museum piece. All the rooms were kept exactly as they were when Queen Victoria was alive. Today the upper rooms are open to the public and are still set out as they were over 100 years ago.
Visiting Osborne house.
The visit to Osborne house follows a set route which takes you through the lower ground floor drawing rooms and dining rooms. You are also treated to the privy room where Queen Victoria would meet her privy councillors. When you reach the centre of the house you follow the route upstairs to the upper floors. The stair case is quite a challenge if you had mobility problems however there is a lift to take people up to the private appartments and rooms. Reaching the top floor of the house you come into the nursery which is quite formal but looks really nice. Although some of the décor is modern imitation it is based on how the place was from photos of the day. In the centre of the nursery is a table with several chairs around a small table where some of Queen Victorias nine children were able to play and learn. The next room contains the sleeping nursery with several little cots all lined up next to one another. There is also a larger bed for one of the nurse maids who would have watched over the children overnight. There is also a room where the governess would sleep so she was always on hand to tend for the children. The children would be brought down two at a time so that the Queen and the Prince could play with them.
After visiting the nursery you come down to the middle floor via a grand staircase which is right in the centre of the house to the living quarters of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria. Passing through dressing rooms and bathrooms and the bedrooms finally arriving in Queen Victoria's bedroom where she died. The room is quite morbid and dark and not bright and cheerful as you would expect. There are numerous pieces of art around the walls and the main feature is her bed. Above the left hand pillow is a picture of Prince Albert. Beside the bed are two chairs on one sat Prince Edward and the other her grandson Emperor Wilhelm II who were present at the time of her death. The private sitting rooms of Queen Victoria were laid out with mementos and photos of her children and grandchildren. It was here that the Queen would sit with Prince Albert reading papers and signing state papers. They worked well together. With advancement of age and increasing mobility problems a small lift was installed so that Queen Victoria could go up to her apartment as she was unable to mount the stairs.
Returning down the stairs to the ground floor you are directed to the table dresser quarters in the basement of the house. There are a couple of rooms in the basement where the table dressers would organise the dining table for the meals that day. There would be a list of diners in a book and then seating plans would be recorded, they would choose which dining set to use and which silver. Beside the table dressers room is a small antechamber holding the household silver including urns vases and sliver cutlery. Flower arrangements would be set down here then taken up to the dining room and placed on the tables.
Most of the ground floor is taken up with grand formal state rooms where court and state occasions were held and although the ground floor state rooms were quite large and formal there is still a homely feel to the rooms. There are many unusual pieces of art dotted around the rooms some pieces of porcelain are really fine, delicate and intricately designed. For example there are two large vases on the mantel piece they have hundreds of very tiny flowers on all over them. It must have taken months to make these exquisite pieces. There are also displays of china and silver wear and curios from that time.
Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India in 1877 by her then Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. She took an interest in many things from India including having a man servant Abdul Karin of whom she was very fond. He was despised by her family and the Royal household they got rid of him soon after she died sending him back to India along with the other Indian servants. She learnt to speak Hindi being taught by him and learnt how to write in Urdu. A grand banqueting room was transformed and called the Durbar room which designed in the Indian style. The room is magnificent and there is much white plaster work typical of the décor of some Indian palace rooms.Many gifts for her Golden and Diamond jubilee from India furnish this room including large vases, urns, paintings and other grand gifts. These rooms are very grand and are magnificent as one would expect of a Royal residence including formal drawing rooms and the Queens dining room. Along the corridors leading to the Durbar room are paintings and portraits of different Indians including paintings of villagers going about their daily work routines.
The upper floors were private and more homely accommodation where the family had their private quarters including a wing where the children lived, a nursery where the children stayed until they were six years old before moving into their own room. The Queen had her own bedroom and dressing rooms here and a private sitting room where she spent most of her life following her husband's death. She went into mourning following his death and was renowned for spending the rest of her life pining for her husband. Once her husband had died she mostly dressed in black lace with her small white bonnet and a mini coronet which was the fashion of the time as an outward expression of widowhood. Above the Durbar room the wing eventually became the private quarters of Princess Beatrice and her family, the Queens youngest daughter.
The house is filled with paintings and drawings not only by appointed artists of the day but also by the Royal family themselves alongside gifts presented to the Queen. Queen Victoria loved to paint and would often be found sitting in the grounds painting with watercolours some of which are on display at Osborne. A special arbour was built for the Queen to nestle in to paint by water colour. She would ride down to the arbour in a carriage where she alighted and spent many hours in peace and quiet overlooking the Solent. There are several arbours dotted around the grounds of Osborne.
The grounds were also designed and planted by Prince Albert who took a great interest in planting trees and laying out the formal gardens. Directly in front of the house are formal terraces laid out in the French style of boxed hedges and symmetrical flower beds. There are fountains on the parterre and at the beginning of the long walk down to the seashore. Along one part of the garden walls are laurel which was planted and has been used in every royal wedding bouquet. The grounds are quite extensive and stretch right down to the shore and the Solent. The queen had a private beach here which has only recently been opened to the public in the last couple of years. It was here that the queen bathed for the first time. A special bathing machine was made for the Queen. Inside the cart like structure which was on wheels she was able to change into her bathing costume. Once she had done so the cart was wheeled into the sea pulled by servants. On the front of the bathing machine was a canopy where a cover would have been hung so that the Queen could walk down the steps into the water without being seen by anyone. Recently the bathing machine has been restored and is stationed at the beach area next to the café.
It took us about half an hour to amble down from the house to the shoreline. Fortunately it was downhill and incredibly hot passing fields and forests. We caught a free lift back to the house in the little coach that drives down to the beach and back. Many of the trees were planted by Prince Albert. He would mark out the spot where he thought the tree should go then returned to the house where he would climb the stairs to one of the towers to check out the markers. Sometimes the children would accompany him to plant a tree but Queen Victoria quipped that they thought they were helping but were in fact hindering the planting of the trees!
Swiss Chalet, museum and Fort.
Within the grounds there is also a Swiss chalet which Prince Albert had built for the Royal Children. Beside the Chalet are 9 neatly laid out vegetable beds, one for each of the children who were encouraged to tend to and plant their own vegetables they were able to then sell their vegetables to their father at the going market rate giving them a valuable lesson in commerce and trade. There is also a free mini bus to take you to the Swiss chalet. It would take about 15 minutes to walk to the Swiss Chalet. Beside the little gardens is a store where there were nine little wheelbarrows with the names of the children printed on them the garden implements were also stored here.
Behind the Swiss Chalet is another similar building although less grand housing curiosities collected from around the world. There were stuffed animals and many different types of precious and semi-precious stones. There were clothes from the two Rumanian orphan boys the Queen took under her wing and paid for them to be schooled and later joined the Royal Navy. Behind this little mini museum is a small fort that was built for the children to play war games with small canons placed around the fort.
Overall I really enjoyed my visit to Osborne house and could have spent much longer there had we had the time but we had a busy schedule ahead of us. Although we were there for about four and a half hours to really do it justice I would have loved to have spent at least another two or three hours there. After visiting other Royal residences I think that this house is probably one of the best. It is really quite homely and the grounds are superb. The Queen and Prince Albert certainly left their mark on the house and it really is an exquisitely furnished residence and I am pleased that it is open to the public. I have waited a couple of years to get to visit the house as in the past I just have not had the time to visit so I am more than happy to have finally got there and no doubt I will return one day to visit. English Heritage are doing a splendid job of maintaining the building and grounds just as it were in the days when the Queen and her family lived here. I would definitely recommend a visit to Osborne house it is simply beautiful. It is possible to stay at Osborne house in the cricket pavilion which has been converted into a small cottage. Details are available from English Heritage. Rentals are available for 3,4 or 7 days. This allows you access to the grounds outside opening times.
During the summer months
10:00 to 18:00
Winter months October to March
10:00 to 17:00
You should check with English heritage on the dates you wish to visit in case the house is closed.
English Heritage members admitted free.
You are given a small leaflet that contains a map of the grounds and where the most interesting places are. You have free reign to walk around the beautiful grounds. There is also a guide book available for £4.99 which is full of photos and details about the house. It is well worth investing in one of these.
Toilets are available at various places throughout the grounds.
There is a shop at the entrance to the grounds selling tickets, English Heritage membership, souvenirs, books, potted jams, chutneys, wines and flowers. There is also a small shop selling ice cream and tea down by the shore line on the beach. There is also a terrace restaurant just off the terrace although we did not eat here the menu looked quite enticing but it was far too hot that day plus we were time restricted.
There is a large car park. I would advise getting there as early as possible before the coaches turn up. We practically had the place to ourselves until the coach loads turned up then it was just crazy with the amount of people visiting. Fortunately they are on whistle stop visits so are quite quick going in and out.
My main disappointment was that you were not allowed to take photos inside the house. You can take as many as you like outside in the grounds however. I really enjoyed my visit to Osborne house and anyone with an interest in the big houses in the UK would enjoy this too.
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