House to palace
George IV transformed Buckingham House to a palace. Queen Charlotte died in 1818 and her mentally unstable husband George III in 1820. Immediately, their son, the spendthrift King George IV, decided to enlarge Buckingham House to use in conjunction with St. James's Palace as had his father, but by 1826 he had decided to convert the house to a fully equipped royal palace. He commissioned John Nash to create this vision. The palace which arose surrounded three sides of a large quadrangle, with the former Buckingham House at its centre. The new work was faced in Bath stone, with exquisite detailing in the French neoclassical style. This is the palace much as it is today, but without the great east front, facing The Mall, which now encloses the quadrangle. On the future site of the present east front, between the two projecting wings, was a colossal triumphal arch of Racaccione marble, modelled on the Arch of Constantine in Rome. This arch, which had cost £34,450 to erect, served as the state entrance. George IV had intended it to be crowned by a bronze equestrian statue of himself, but he died before its completion, and when Parliament reluctantly paid the bill for it, they decided to erect it in Trafalgar Square. The interiors of the palace were to be of unparalleled splendour. George IV was advised on the interior design by Sir Charles Long, who advocated the widespread use of brightly coloured scagliola and blue and pink lapis, with sculptured plaster panels set in the ceilings. George IV died in 1830, and the colourful and heavily gilded present state and semi-state rooms were not completed until the reign of King William IV, a man of simpler tastes, and his wife, Queen Adelaide.
King William IV's guidance and practicality ensured the final completion of the palace. While his and Queen Adelaide's gilded monogram decorates many rooms, they never lived there. By the time of the death of George IV, the escalating cost of the still unfinished palace was causing concern in both Parliament and the press. William IV dismissed Nash as architect and employed Edward Blore, who suited admirably the more restrained tastes of the new king. A less idealistic but more businesslike architect than Nash, he retained Nash's completed work and completed the palace in a similar, if more solid and less picturesque, vein. Though the new King and Queen held receptions and courts in the state rooms, they never lived in the palace, preferring to remain at Clarence House, the more modest London mansion they had commissioned to be built before their succession. The final cost to the nation of rebuilding Buckingham Palace was in excess of £719,000. It is interesting to note that when the Houses of Parliament burnt down in 1834, the King offered the incomplete palace to the nation as a replacement seat of government, an offer which suggests the new King was rather less taken with the ornate palace than his late brother. The offer was declined and the old Palace of Westminster rebuilt.
Many of the smaller reception rooms were furnished at this time, as they still are, in the Chinese regency style, as many of the fireplaces, decorations, and furniture were brought from the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and from Carlton House, the palaces of George IV, following his death.
Queen Victoria, the first sovereign to reside at Buckingham Palace, moved into the newly completed palace at the age of 18. Buckingham Palace finally became the principal Royal residence in 1837 on the accession of Queen Victoria. While the state rooms were a riot of gilt and colour, the necessities of the new palace were somewhat less luxurious. It was reported the chimneys smoked so much that the fires had to be allowed to die, and consequently the court shivered in icy magnificence. Ventilation was so bad that the interior smelled, and when a decision was taken to install gas lamps there was a serious worry about the build up of gas on the lower floors. It was also said that the staff were lax and lazy and the palace was dirty. Following the Queen's marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, her husband concerned himself with a reorganization of the household offices and staff, and the design faults of the palace. The problems were attended to and the builders finally left the palace in 1840.
The Palace in 1842, before Blore's block of 1847 enclosed the quadrangle, and Marble Arch served as the principal entrance to the palace precincts. The large wing facing east towards The Mall (today the 'public face' of Buckingham Palace) was constructed after the marriage of Queen Victoria. By 1847, the couple had found the palace too small for court life and their growing family, and as a result the new wing, designed by William IV's architect Edward Blore, was built, enclosing the quadrangle which is the centre of the palace. This new wing contains the balcony from which the Royal Family acknowledge the crowds on momentous occasions. The ballroom wing and a further suite of state rooms were also built in this period, designed by Nash's student Sir James Pennethorne.
Before the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria was known to love music and dancing, and the great musicians of the day were commanded to play at Buckingham Palace. Felix Mendelssohn is known to have played there on three occasions. Johann Strauss II and his orchestra played there when in England. Strauss' 'Alice Polka' was first performed at the palace in 1849 in honour of the Queen's daughter Princess Alice. During this era Buckingham Palace was frequently the scene of lavish costume balls, in addition to the routine royal ceremonies, investitures and presentations.
Queen Victoria had Marble Arch, the former state entrance to the palace, moved to its present position near Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. Following the death of Prince Albert in 1861, the Queen withdrew from public life and left Buckingham Palace to live at Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle, and Osborne House. For many years the palace was seldom used, and even neglected. Eventually mounting negative public opinion forced the widowed queen to return to London, though even then she preferred to live elsewhere whenever possible. Court functions continued to be held at Windsor Castle rather than at the palace, presided over by the sombre Queen habitually dressed in mourning black.
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