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Renovations to Buckingham Palace have been planned for some years and in the last 24 months they have been moving along. Some 385 million Sterling Pounds are being spent to upgrade the wiring and plumbing and do many more infrastructure repairs. Not much has been done since the 1950’s and given the age of the building it was time before an accident happened.

What I did not know was how much the building changed over the course of the last 260 years. Originally Buckingham House was a country house on the outskirts of London and did not have the look nor the shape we see today. It was also not used as a Residence for the Sovereign until Victoria became Queen in 1837 and moved in.

George III bought Buckingham House in 1761 for his wife Queen Charlotte to use as a comfortable family home close to St James’s Palace, where many court functions were held. Buckingham House became known as the Queen’s House, and 14 of George III’s 15 children were born there. 

George IV, on his accession in 1820, decided to reconstruct the house into a pied-à-terre, using it for the same purpose as his father George III. 

As work progressed, and as late as the end of 1826, The King had a change of heart. With the assistance of his architect, John Nash, he set about transforming the house into a palace. Parliament agreed to a budget of £150,000, but the King pressed for £450,000 as a more realistic figure.Nash retained the main block but doubled its size by adding a new suite of rooms on the garden side facing west. Faced with mellow Bath stone, the external style reflected the French neo-classical influence favoured by George IV. 

The remodelled rooms are the State and semi-State Rooms, which remain virtually unchanged since Nash’s time.

The north and south wings of Buckingham House were demolished and rebuilt on a larger scale with a triumphal arch – the Marble Arch – as the centrepiece of an enlarged courtyard, to commemorate the British victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo.

By 1829 the costs had escalated to nearly half a million pounds. Nash’s extravagance cost him his job, and on the death of George IV in 1830, his younger brother William IV took on Edward Blore to finish the work. The King never moved into the Palace. Indeed, when the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834, the King offered the Palace as a new home for Parliament, but the offer was declined.

Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to take up residence in July 1837 and in June 1838 she was the first British sovereign to leave from Buckingham Palace for a Coronation. Her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 soon showed up the Palace’s shortcomings. 

A serious problem for the newly married couple was the absence of any nurseries and too few bedrooms for visitors. The only solution was to move the Marble Arch – it now stands at the north-east corner of Hyde Park – and build a fourth wing, thereby creating a quadrangle. The cost of the new wing was largely covered by the sale of George IV’s Royal Pavilion at Brighton. 

Blore added an attic floor to the main block of the Palace and decorated it externally with marble friezes originally intended for Nash’s Marble Arch. The work was completed in 1847. By the turn of the century the soft French stone used in Blore’s East Front was showing signs of deterioration, largely due to London’s notorious soot, and required replacing. 

In 1913 the decision was taken to reface the façade. Sir Aston Webb, with a number of large public buildings to his credit, was commissioned to create a new design. Webb chose Portland Stone, which took 12 months to prepare before building work could begin. When work did start it took 13 weeks to complete the refacing, a process that included removing the old stonework.

The present forecourt of the Palace, where Changing the Guard takes place, was formed in 1911, as part of the Victoria Memorial scheme.

The gates and railings were also completed in 1911; the North-Centre Gate is now the everyday entrance to the Palace, whilst the Central Gate is used for State occasions and the departure of the guard after Changing the Guard. The work was completed just before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Here are some images of the Palace as it evolved to today’s look.

Buckingham House in 1760
Buckingham Palace with Marble Arch standing in front as the main gate to the U shaped palace, C. 1840.

Buckingham Palace under Queen Victoria with the new front facade closing the courtyard and Marble arch has been moved to its current location down the avenue. Around 1850.
Buckingham Palace today with the gates built with the refacing of the new stone in 1913 at the same period the Victoria Memorial Monument in front of the Palace was also built. The money was collected by public subscription.

Today the palace is the central administrative centre of the Monarchy and is used for State functions but rarely used as a residence. The offices of those who support the day-to-day activities and duties of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh and their immediate family, such as the Private Secretary’s Office and the Privy Purse and Treasurer’s Office are located at Buckingham Palace. The Palace has 775 rooms. These include 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices and 78 bathrooms.

During the renovation period, the rooms have to be emptied of their furniture, carpets, paintings and all objects. This requires a lot of attention given how rare and unique the furnishings and works of art are. The electrical work cannot be intrusive given the age of the building and original decorations and plaster work.