In 1702-5 the architect William Winde built Buckingham House for John Sheffield, the first Duke of Buckingham and Normanby. It fronted the Mall and it had St James’s Park one side and its own extensive gardens behind it right up to Hyde Park. The property was ultimately inherited by the Duke’s illegitimate son, Sir Charles Sheffield. In 1762 he sold it to George III.
In 1775 the Queen was given a life interest in it, in return for her giving Somerset House, which she owned, to the Royal Academy of Arts. Buckingham House then became known as the Queen’s House.
It was intended as a family home, rather than a formal palace, and in fact all King George III’s children were born there. But extensions had to be constructed to house George III’s growing art collection and the house increasingly held the status of a palace.
George IV inherited the house on the death of his parents. At the time he lived in Carlton House (near the end of Lower Regent Street) which he decided was not grand enough to. In 1819 he persuaded Parliament to pay to replace Buckingham House with a new palace. He insisted that his favourite architect, John Nash, should be appointed to design it and oversee its construction.
The Government intended that the existing house should be retained with a front addition. But Nash’s plans were for an entirely new and lavish house and the costs soon exceeded the budget. George IV died before it has completed.
Despite the huge expenditure, it was something of a disaster. Nash was already in his 70s when he took on the project and he was simultaneously supervising the building of Regent’s Park and Regent Street. Nothing worked. Nash had forgotten to provide for sinks for the chambermaids’ bedrooms. The standard of construction was extremely poor. Nash was dismissed in 1830. Edward Blore was brought in to complete the work.
Nash’s plan was for there to be buildings on three sides of a court. The court was to be open at the front, facing the Mall. If the design had been kept what we would see from the Victoria Memorial would be a building like a horseshoe with the prongs towards us, and with Marble Arch in the centre of the opening. In 1847 Edward Blore added the east front which is what we see as Buckingham Palace today. Marble Arch was taken down and rebuilt in its present site near Hyde Park Corner.
George IV never lived in the palace and nor did his brother William IV. But Queen Victoria moved into the new palace and liked it. So did her successors Edward VII and George V. Edward VIII thought it was too stuffy, but George VI shared his father’s liking for the Palace. Presumably the present Queen likes it too.
The Palace has 600 rooms. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh only have 12 rooms for themselves, overlooking Green Park.
The palace gardens cover 45 acres up to Hyde Park Corner and were landscaped by W T Aiton. There is still a mulberry tree planted by James I. The Queen’s summer garden parties are held here. They can hold up to 8,000 people.
When the Queen is at home her personal flag flies on the mast on the roof. The Brigade of Guards mounts sentry duty in the forecourt of the Palace. The ceremony of Changing the Guard takes place there several times a week.