Essential Architecture-  United Kingdom

Osborne House

architect

Prince Albert designed the house himself. The builder was Thomas Cubitt, the London architect and builder whose company also built the main façade of Buckingham Palace.

location

Osborne House is a former royal residence in East Cowes, Isle of Wight, England.

date

1845-51

style

Italianate

construction

Stone

type

Palace
 

  Osborne House from the south lawn, in 1910.
Osborne House and its grounds are now open to the public.

History
The house was built between 1845 and 1851 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. An earlier, smaller house on the site was demolished.

The architecture of the building is based on palaces of the Italian Renaissance, complete with two pseudo-campanile towers.

The house consisted of the original square wing known as 'The Pavilion', which contained the principal and royal apartments. The 'main wing', containing the household accommodation and council and audience chambers, was added later. The final addition to the house was the 'Durbar Wing' built between 1890 and 1891. No single, large room was in the original building, and so a grand chamber was included in the new wing. On the ground floor was the Durbar room, a large hall decorated in the Indian style by Indian craftsmen brought to England especially for the task. This was used as a grand formal room and ballroom. The second floor was for the sole use of Princess Beatrice and her family. Beatrice was the Queen's youngest daughter, who remained permanently at her side.

Osborne House at the time of its constructionThe house was always the favourite of Victoria, who spent many summer months there. It became the nearest thing to a family home her children were to know. The grounds include a 'Swiss Cottage' complete with rooms built on miniature scale for use by the Queen's children. The children also had their own adjoining garden.

Following Albert's death in 1861, it continued as one of her favourite homes. As a widow, Victoria always spent Christmas at Osborne. Marconi later transmitted some of the first radio messages to Victoria at Osborne to keep her abreast of the state of health of her son Edward, when he was seriously ill at Sandringham.

Following Queen Victoria's death at Osborne in 1901, her son and successor Edward donated the house to the nation. He (and the Royal Family with the exception of Princess Beatrice who retained a house on the estate) saw Osborne as something of an inaccessible white elephant. The new King also had his own rural retreat at Sandringham House, and he also preferred to spend his leisure time shooting or racing rather than in seclusion on a small island.

Admirers of the building included the Queen's grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II (in whose arms she died there) and also, ironically, Adolf Hitler, who, being under the impression that the house could become one of his post-war retreats, gave orders that the Osborne Estate should not be bombed during World War II.

Naval College

In 1903, part of the estate became a junior officer training college for the Royal Navy known as the Royal Naval College, Osborne. Initial training began at the age of 13, and further studies were continued at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. The College closed in 1921, with the last students leaving on 9 April 1921[1]. Former students included Queen Victoria's great-grandsons, the future Edward VIII and George VI, and their younger brother George, Duke of Kent. Among other well-known alumni of the college was Jack Llewelyn-Davies, one of the five Llewelyn-Davies brothers (George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nico) who inspired Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. Jack described his five years at Osborne as horrendous—his brothers all went to Eton. The case of George Archer-Shee from 1908 onwards, who was expelled from Osborne after being falsely accused of stealing a 5-shilling postal order, inspired the play The Winslow Boy.

Following the closure of the naval college, the building operated as a museum, with a wing set aside until the late 1990s for retired officers of the British Armed Services. Known as King Edward VII Retirement Home for Officers, this later included convalescents from military and civil service backgrounds.

Osborne today
Immediately following the death of Queen Victoria, the royal apartments on the upper floors of the pavilion wing were turned into a private museum for the sole use of the royal family. They remained completely as she had left them. Part of the ground floor was opened to the public early in the 20th century, and in 1954 Victoria's bedroom and private apartments could be seen by the public for the first time, followed by the nurseries in 1989. Today the house has been substantially restored to its former splendour as the summer palace of the Queen Empress.

English Heritage
The house is now owned by English Heritage and is open to the public from spring through to autumn. The former Naval College's cricket pavilion was converted into a holiday cottage in 2004 and can be booked by members of the public.

Notes
^ The Times, 2 February 1921.
 

links

 
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