Victoria’s revamp of unloved Buckingham Palace to feature in summer opening
The story of how Queen Victoria turned Buckingham Palace from an unloved royal residence into the centre of social, cultural and official life will be told during its annual summer opening.
Victoria renovated the unused palace, adding the famous balcony and the grand ballroom, which she and Prince Albert used to stage magnificent themed costume balls.
The special display is being held to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Victoria’s birth.
A waltz danced at a ball staged to mark the end of the Crimean War and the ballroom’s original decorative scheme will be recreated as part of the exhibition.
A Victorian illusion technique, known as Pepper’s Ghost, and projections around the room will enable visitors to imagine the ballroom as Victoria and Albert would have known it.
Victoria became monarch when she was only 18 in 1837 and moved into Buckingham Palace just three weeks later.
But the building, converted by architect John Nash, had been left empty for seven years after the death of Victoria’s uncle, George IV.
It was incomplete and many of the rooms were undecorated and unfurnished.
George IV’s successor, William IV, preferred to live at Clarence House during his short reign and never occupied the Palace.
Victoria’s ministers advised her to stay at Kensington Palace, her childhood home, until Buckingham Palace could be brought up to a suitable standard, but Victoria wanted to move immediately and begin her new life.
Her marriage to Prince Albert brought nine children over the years – eight of whom were born at Buckingham Palace – and the expanding family needed more space.
In 1845, Victoria wrote a letter to the prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, concerning “the urgent necessity of doing something to Buckingham Palace” and “the total want of accommodation for our growing little family”.
She was granted funds to extend the residence, and the East Wing was added to the front, enclosing the previous open, horseshoe-shaped courtyard and introducing the famous central balcony, used by generation after generation of royals since.
A new ballroom was added to the State Rooms because the other rooms were too small for Victoria’s plans for a season of elaborate balls and concerts.
Writer John Ruskin had witnessed the problems with the Palace’s other rooms for entertaining, describing an occasion at Court as “the most awkward crush, with the ruins of ladies’ dresses, torn lace and fallen flowers”.
In May 1856, the ballroom was inaugurated, followed soon afterwards by a ball to mark the end of the Crimean War and to honour the returning soldiers.
Victoria wrote in her journal about the evening: “Albert, even, who generally dislikes State Balls, enjoyed it, and I could have stayed up till 4, I am sure.”
A watercolour by Louis Haghe, which is the only surviving record of the ballroom’s original Italian Renaissance-inspired decoration devised by Albert’s artistic mentor, Ludwig Gruner, will also be on show.
During their time together at the Palace, Victoria and Albert held three grand themed costume balls which were celebrations of British history and a showcase for the country’s textile industry.
Guests were encouraged to commission elaborate costumes to give work to the Spitalfield silk weavers, whose business was in sharp decline.
The Stuart Ball of July 13 1851 had as its theme the Restoration period, with guests dressed in the style of Charles II’s court.
Queen Victoria’s costume for the Stuart Ball, designed by the artist Eugene Lami, has a bodice and full skirt of grey moire trimmed with gold lace and an underskirt of gold and silver brocade.
Among the portraits on display will be a painting by Thomas Sully of Victoria soon after she moved into the Palace.
The young Queen is shown wearing the Diamond Diadem made for George IV.
The Royal Collection said: “This year’s Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace will tell the story of how the young monarch turned an unloved royal residence into the centre of the social, cultural and official life of the country.”
It added: “Visitors will learn how Victoria made Buckingham Palace what it remains today – the headquarters of the monarchy, a rallying point for national celebrations and a family home.”
Victoria was born on May 24 1819, and is the nation’s second-longest reigning monarch, after being overtaken by Elizabeth II in 2015.
Queen Victoria’s Palace is part of a visit to the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, and is open from July 20 to September 29 2019.