The surprising architecture of Buckingham Palace

Every year, millions of people from across the globe visit Buckingham Palace. A further 50,000 guests are entertained in its grounds and staterooms, where various events are held.

Furthermore, during the summer months, around half a million tourists get to see inside the palace and, if they choose to do so, tour part of the gardens. Many of those visitors are there to admire the architecture of this beautiful building as well as find out more about how the Royal Family lives.

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The history of Buckingham Palace

Before we share some of these interesting facts about this majestic building, it will probably be helpful for us to tell you a little about the history of the palace.

How the palace got its name

It was James I who was the first Royal to build on the site. He had a mulberry plantation set up there and buildings were set up to cater for the rearing of silkworms. There was already a large house on the site, which was owned by John Sheffield, who later became the Duke of Buckingham. That is where the palace got its name.

The house that became a palace

That house was demolished and a new one built in its place. In 1761, George III acquired the still relatively new house and his wife Queen Charlotte moved in. It was George IV that had the architect John Nash enlarge the house and turn it into a palace.

He took the interesting step of laying the building in a U shape and created the grand forecourt and the ceremonial processional approach. It was widely regarded as a masterpiece.

The palace’s wine vault was created

The wine vaults of today’s palace are located within the part of that building that was built during the 1760s. That may seem odd, but is not nearly as unusual as what nearly happened to the original house, that was later transformed into the Monarch’s place of residence.

Buckingham Palace nearly becomes a museum

At one stage, it was one of the front-runners for becoming the site of the British Museum. The only reason that did not come to pass was that it was considered to be too expensive.

The modern palace emerges

Later, Lord Duncannon and Edward Blore extended the East facade at both ends and created a new entrance-way on the south side. They also finished off the staterooms.

Queen Victoria’s new wing

The famous balcony was not created until Queen Victoria’s reign. She needed more space to entertain, so the open side of Nash’s U-shaped building was enclosed by a new wing, which created the fully enclosed forecourt you see today.

From that point on, the structure of the building did not change greatly. The famous gates went up during 1911. In 1913, the Mall side of the palace was reworked by Sir Aston Webb. He designed the new principal façade to be the backdrop for the Victoria Memorial statue. This is when the now famous balcony was added.

Recent additions

Since then, the only significant structural change was made when Queen Elizabeth II had The Queen’s Gallery built on the site of the former Private Chapel, which was bombed during WWII. It was expanded in 2002, which was the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year.

As you can see, the palace was created in what can only be described as a piecemeal way. However, that is probably why it is such an interesting building. It has many quirks and holds its fair share of architectural secrets. Here are some of our favourites, along with a few startling facts and figures.

Buckingham Palace is huge

If you have ever seen the palace, no doubt you were stunned by the size. From the outside, it looks huge, and indeed, it is. The elegant building measures 120 by 24 meters and is 24 metres high, which is why there are also nine lifts.

In total, Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms. There are 19 staterooms, 53 bedrooms for the Royal family and their guests, 188 staff bedrooms and 92 offices. There are an astonishing 78 bathrooms and the basement runs the full length and width of the building. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of doors – 1,500 to be precise.

The river under the palace

It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that the River Tyburn runs under the palace. This ancient river is enclosed in a tunnel that runs through a channel from Marylebone to Vauxhall Bridge. It is thought that the palace stretch runs under the front courtyard and beneath the south wing.

Interestingly, the Tyburn Angling Society is currently campaigning for the river to be uncovered along its entire length. That would mean demolishing part of Buckingham Palace.

The palace’s fabled underground station

Despite the rumours, the palace does not have its own underground station. For decades, there has been speculation that one was built to enable the Royal Family to escape to Heathrow airport quickly in the case of an emergency.

However, this is actually quite unlikely, given the fact that the same journey could easily be made by helicopter in just a few minutes.

The Palace’s unique helipad

In fact, since 1953, helicopters have been landing and taking off from the palace. Up until 2000, the lawn was used for this purpose. Then, an official helipad was built.

However, it is not a traditional round disc of concrete, as that was considered to be too unsightly for the Royal Gardens. Instead, a layer of matting was laid underneath the grass to create an area that was firm and even enough for a helicopter to safely land upon.

The real tunnels of Buckingham Palace

However, that does not mean there are no tunnels. In all likelihood, there are ways for people to move between the palace and Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament and possibly Clarence house too.

Doggy heaven

It is rumoured that the Queen’s beloved Corgis have access all area passes. They literally have the run of the entire building, so nowhere is off limits to them.

This reminds us that the palace has to fulfil many functions. It is a family home, a venue for important and interesting events, a tourist attraction and a special place where the world’s leaders can be entertained in style. Really, the fact that it has a few architectural quirks should not come as a big surprise.

Posted by Mark
January 30, 2019
Features

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