Located in the heart of London’s Hyde Park sits Kensington Palace which has been a royal residence since the 17th century.
The Palace was originally called ‘Nottingham House’– a two-storey Jacobean mansion built by Sir George Coppin in 1605- in what was then the village of Kensington.
In 1619 the then King William and Queen Mary bought the mansion for £20.000 (approx 4 million today) and engaged Sir Christopher Wren– the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral, to expand Nottingham House into a ‘Proper Palace’- the royal court moved there before Christmas in 1689, and for the next seventy years, Kensington Palace was the favoured residence of British monarchs.
Queen Victoria was born and Christened at Kensington Palace in 1819 and lived here until 1837.
By the end of the 19th century, the State Rooms were severely neglected and calls were made for the palace to be demolished, but Queen Victoria declared that “while she lived, the palace in which she was born should not be destroyed.” In 1897, Parliament was persuaded to pay for the restoration which was completed two years later.
The State Rooms were opened to the public on the Queen’s birthday, 24 May 1899. This began the palace’s dual role as a private home to royalty and a public museum.
In 2010 the Palace State Rooms underwent a two-year, £12 million renovation, The re-opening of the palace occurred in time for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012.
The grounds of the palace were also renovated with enhancements including two new public gardens to the south and east of the palace that connect the property to Kensington Gardens, and removing railings, fences, and shrubs that had undermined royal garden designer Charles Bridgeman’s original landscaping.
Princess Margaret and her husband, the Earl of Snowdon moved into the palace in the 1960s, and Prince Charles moved there with Princess Diana after they were married, and it is here she brought up her sons William and Harry after her divorce. Diana continued to live at ‘KP’ as she called it, until her sad death in 1997.
Many of Diana’s dresses are on display in the “Fashion Rules Restyled” exhibition where you can also see past dresses of the Queen and Princess Margaret.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge– Apartment 1A
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, first moved to Kensington Palace in 2013 and now reside in apartment 1A- the former home of Princess Margaret. They have spent over 4.5 million pounds of their own private money remodelling the apartment which was a Wedding gift from HM Queen Elizabeth.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle – Nottingham Cottage
Prince Harry moved out of his apartment in Clarence House in 2012 to Kensington Palace. He now lives in Nottingham Cottage– William & Catherine’s old home- with fiancée Meghan Markle who moved into the two-bed cottage in November 2017, shortly after the Prince proposed. It is rumoured that Prince Harry and Meghan will soon be moving to an apartment in Kensington Palace next door to William and Catherine.
Other prominent royal residents include: Prince and Princess Michael of Kent: Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, (Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin), Prince Richard Duke of Gloucester (cousin to the Queen) and Princess Eugenie.
Kensington Gardens began life as a King’s playground; for over 100 years, the gardens were part of Hyde Park and hosted Henry VIII’s huge deer chase. When King William and Queen Mary established the palace in 1689, they began to create a separate park.
After Anne became Queen in 1702, an English-style garden was created and The Orangery was added in 1704- an elaborate greenhouse built in the style of an elegant palace to protect Anne’s citrus trees from the harsh frosts of winter. The Orangery is now a public restaurant.
From 1728, Queen Caroline began to transform the 242 acres of Kensington Gardens into the park we know today. She created the Serpentine boating lake and the recreational lake –The Long Water, as well as The Broad Walk and Round Pond. These are now in Kensington Gardens and looked after by The Royal Parks.
The Sunken Garden is terraced with paving and ornamental flower beds, surrounding an ornamental pond with fountains formed from re-used 18th century water cisterns retrieved from the palace.
The Garden was planted in 1908, during the reign of Edward VII, transforming part of the gardens previously occupied by potting sheds into a tranquil ornamental garden of classical proportions. It was modelled on a similar garden at Hampton Court Palace.
Today, the garden continues the tradition of rotational flower displays in the spring and summer.
In the spring, tulips, wallflowers and pansies bloom, while in the summer months a vast array of geraniums, cannas, begonias and many more, provide the vivid colour. The vibrant colours and exotic planting are on display from April to October when the garden is looking its best.
Kensington Palace is open daily except 24 – 26 December. Summer (01 March – 31 October)