Fort Belvedere, Surrey
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Fort Belvedere is a Grade II* listedcountry house on Shrubs Hill in Windsor Great Park, England, very near Sunningdale, Berkshire, but actually over the border in the borough of Runnymede in Surrey. It is a former royal residence - from 1750 to 1976 - and is best known for being the home of King Edward VIII. It is the location where Edward VIII signed the abdication document in 1936. The property remains in the ownership of the Crown, and is currently occupied by private tenants, Canadian businessman Galen Weston and his wife Hilary Weston.
Fort Belvedere was built 1750-1755, for Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, younger son of King George II and Queen Caroline. It was, at first, merely a folly. It was used as a summer-house, and seven counties could be seen, as now, from the top of the flagstaff tower. The triangular turreted structure was set amidst a dense plantation of trees and overlooked Virginia Water, a man-made body of water constructed by Thomas and Paul Sandby at the behest of the Duke.
Sir Jeffrey Wyattville, who was responsible, under King George IV, for the rebuilding of Windsor Castle, enlarged the house in 1828 for use as a hunting lodge. Additions included an octagon room in the north-east side, in which the King regularly had dinner.
The new work included the extension of the military appearance of the house, though it never had any military significance. A set of 31 guns, cast 1729-1749 by the first master founder at the Royal Foundry, later the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, were used to fire salutes until 1907, often for Queen Victoria, who was a frequent visitor. The Bombardier entrusted with the care of the guns lived in Bombardier’s Cottage, connected to the main house by an archway.
Later the property was used by a variety of royals or their servants. In 1911, the old building was converted into a residence, and was used by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. The fort has 7 bedrooms.
The ruins in the grounds can be seen from the shore of Virginia Water and are part of an ancient temple brought from Leptis Magna near Tripoli. The ruins are located between the south shore and Blacknest Road close to the junction with the A30 London Road and Wentworth Drive.
King Edward VIII
In 1929, the building became vacant, and was given to Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, by his father, King George V. This became the Prince's chief residence and was used extensively by him for entertaining and as a country retreat. When he became king in 1936, Edward continued to use the fort, even though he now had a much wider choice of residences to live in.
During his occupancy, extensive renovation of the interior was carried out. Interior decorator Herman Schrijver, who had decorated the home of the Prince's future wife, Wallis Simpson, worked on the fort's interiors in 1935.
The fort became the setting of the abdication crisis in 1936, when Edward abdicated the throne following the British and Dominion governments' opposition to his marriage to Simpson. Edward held his final meetings with British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and signed the Instrument of Abdication, witnessed by his brothers, at the fort.
It was the desire and intention of the now Duke of Windsor to return to the fort to live with his wife. However. while his successor, his brother, George VI, was comfortable with the Duke of Windsor maintaining residency, the government and establishment of the day was not keen to allow the popular Duke to return.
The fort was used extensively for the filming of the ITV series Edward and Mrs Simpson in 1977.
During World War II, the fort was used by the Office of the Commissioners of Crown Lands, having been evacuated from their central London offices. After the war, the house remained empty. Gerald Lascelles was the tenant between 1956 and 1975, on a 99 year lease, and restored the gardens, adding a swimming pool and tennis court. In 1976, the Emir of Dubai moved in. More recently the house has been home to Galen Weston and his wife, Hilary.
The Crown Estate Commissioners remain the owners of the freehold, as the property is still part of the Great Park.
- "Selfridges boss Galen Weston strengthens his fort". Daily Telegraph.
- Derek Patmore, Private History, Jonathan Cape, 1960, page 246