Kew Palace is a British royal palace in Kew Gardens on the banks of the Thames up river from London. There have been at least three palaces at Kew, and two have been known as Kew Palace; the first building may not have been known as Kew as no records survive other than the words of another courtier. One palace survives and is open to visitors. Grade I listed, it is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown.
The first Kew Palace
Not much is known of this building except that Queen Elizabeth I gave it to Robert Dudley, her childhood friend and court favourite. A letter from another of Elizabeth's courtiers suggests this to have been Dudley's main home near London; it may also have been called Leicester House.
The second Kew Palace
The so-called 'Old Palace', sometimes referred to as the Dutch House, was built in 1631 by Samuel Fortrey, the father of author Samuel Fortrey.
The building formerly belonged to the Smith family, and by marriage became the property of Samuel Molyneux, Esq., secretary to George II.
Frederick, Prince of Wales took a long lease of the house, which he made his frequent residence; and here, too, occasionally resided his favourite poet, James Thomson, author of "The Seasons." In 1738, another poet, Alexander Pope, gave Prince Frederick a dog, with the following verse inscribed on its collar:
- I am His Highness' dog at Kew.
- Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
The house contained some good pictures, among which were a set of Canaletto's works; the celebrated picture of the Florence gallery, by Zoffany, (who resided in the neighbourhood). The pleasure-grounds, which contained 120 acres (0.49 km2), were laid out by Sir William Chambers, one of the greatest masters of ornamental English gardening.
The building was taken on a long lease by George III from the descendants of Sir Richard Levett, a powerful merchant and the former Lord Mayor of the City of London, who had purchased it from the grandson of Samuel Fortrey.
Originally from Sussex, the Levett family (whose name derives from the village of Livet in Normandy) retained ownership of the house, as well as other lands in the Kew complex, until 13 October 1781, when the Dutch House was purchased by King George III from the Levett family for £20,000. But members of the Royal Family had occupied the house as early as 1734, when they leased the house from the Levett heirs. (A map of 1771 delineated the land between the Dutch House and the river as belonging to barrister Levett Blackborne, Lincoln's Inn barrister and grandson of Sir Richard Levett.) Indeed a musical portrait of the cello-playing Frederick, Prince of Wales (son of George II) and his sisters, part of the National Portrait Gallery collection in London, painted oil on canvas by Philip Mercier and dated 1733, uses the house as its plein-air backdrop. In 1735 the architect William Kent produced a grandiose plan for a large Palladian palace at Kew, very much in the style of Stowe but this was never executed.
George III's residency of the Dutch House was originally intended to be brief, a temporary residence while his new castellated palace in the Gothic style (described below) was built - at first the Royal Family resided at Richmond Lodge but as the family became larger it became necessary to take over other properties on Kew Green, which included the Dutch House.
George III's wife, Queen Charlotte died at the Dutch House on 17 November 1818. On ascending the throne in 1837 Queen Victoria gave most of Kew Gardens to the nation, retaining for her own use only a small summer house once belonging to Queen Charlotte. This is known as "Queen's Cottage" but Queen Victoria seldom visited it and to mark her Golden Jubilee in 1887 she presented this also to the country.
The third Kew Palace
This third structure was designed in part by King George III, and otherwise by James Wyatt. The new palace was intended to be "a late Georgian Nonsuch". Commenced in 1802, it was a gothic "castellated palace" which attracted little praise, being considered too silly for a patron of his standing. The new palace's style was not to the taste of his successor the profligate George, the Prince Regent. In 1828 Parliament, having studied the accounts, ordered the shell to be demolished, and such fixtures and fittings as had been installed to be used elsewhere in royal residences. The staircase was later used at Buckingham Palace. After the King’s confinement at Windsor, Queen Charlotte declined to occupy the new building. It was demolished during the reign of her son George IV in 1828.
Innumerable are the instances of princes having sought to perpetuate their memories by the building of palaces, from the Domus Aurea, or golden house of Nero, to the comparatively puny structures of our own times. As specimens of modern magnificence and substantial comfort, the latter class of edifices may be admirable; but we are bound to acknowledge, that in boldness and splendour of design, they cannot assimilate to the labours of antiquity, much of whose stupendous character is to this day preserved in many series of interesting ruins:—
- Whilst in the progress of the long decay,
- Thrones sink to dust, and nations pass away.
As a record of this degeneracy, near the western corner of Kew Green stands the palace, commenced for George III, under the direction of the late James Wyatt, Esq. The north front possesses an air of solemn, sullen grandeur; but it very ill accords with the taste and science generally displayed by its nominal architect.
To quote the words of a contemporary, "this Anglo-Teutonic, castellated, gothized structure must be considered as an abortive production, at once illustrative of bad taste and defective judgment. From the small size of the windows and the diminutive proportion of its turrets, it would seem to possess
- "Windows that exclude the light,
- And passages that lead to nothing."
Upon the unhappy seclusion of the royal architect, the works were suspended, and it remained unfinished. Censure and abuse have, however, always been abundantly lavished on its architecture, whether it be the result of royal caprice or of professional study; but the taste of either party deserves to be taxed with its demerits.
The northern front was intended to be appropriated to the use of domestics; the whole building is rendered nearly indestructible by fire, by means of cast-iron joists and rafters, &c., certainly in this case an unnecessary precaution, since the whole pile is shortly to be pulled down. The foundation, too, is in a bog close to the Thames, and the principal object in its view is the dirty town of Brentford, on the opposite side of the river; a selection, it would seem, of family taste, for George II. is known to have often said, when riding through Brentford, "I do like this place, it's so like Yarmany."
Sir Richard Phillips (1767–1840), in "A Morning's Walk from London to Kew," (1817) characterised the new palace as "the Bastile palace, from its resemblance to that building, so obnoxious to freedom and freemen. On a former occasion," says he, "I have viewed its interior, and I am at a loss to conceive the motive for preferring an external form, which rendered it impracticable to construct within it more than a series of large closets, boudoirs, and rooms like oratories." The latter part of this censure is judiciously correct; but the epithet "bastile" is perhaps too harsh for some ears.
The premature fate of Kew Palace render it at this moment an object of public curiosity; while the annexed engraving may serve to identify its site, when posterity
- "Asks where the fabric stood."
Restoration of Kew Palace
This second building survives today, and is a renowned example of the so-called Artisan Mannerist style of brick-building, reflecting the incorporation in a "free" manner of features of Classical architecture adapted to the qualities and contraints of brick as a material. It is located in Kew Gardens and despite its name it is the size of a manor house. Kew Palace was used to hold a dinner hosted by Charles, Prince of Wales to celebrate the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II on 21 April 2006. A few days later it reopened as a visitor attraction, following a ten-year closure for restoration.
The restoration not only included physical restoration to the building, but also weaving of period draperies and other fabric décor carried out by master weaver Ian Dale of Scotland. An external lift shaft was added on the west wing for disabled access, in the place of a tower which housed three floors of lavatories.
The Palace was featured in the BBC TV documentary series Tales from the Palaces.
- "Kew Palace". List entry. English Heritage. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- "Who We Are". Historic Royal Palaces. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
- Hastings, Max (15 December 2003). "Poetic dog licence". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 February 2013.
- Williams, Neville (2006). Royal Homes. London: Lutterworth Press. p. 107. ISBN 0-7188-0803-7.
- Mark Noble, James Granger, Sir Richard Levett, in A Biographical History of England, 1806
- The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Historical and Descriptive, William Jackson Bean, 1908
- The Home Counties Magazine: Devoted to the Topography of London, Middlesex, Essex, Herts, Bucks, Berks, Surrey and Kent, W. Paley Baildon (ed.), Vol. X, Reynell & Son, London, 1908
- Moonan, Wendy (2 July 2004). "Antiques: A Regal Dollhouse Fit for a Princess". New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Levett Blackborne, Kew, British History Online
- "Philip Mercier (1691-1760), Portrait painter". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 21 April 2007.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kew Palace.|
- Official site
- The Project Gutenberg eBook, The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Vol. 10, Issue 275, 29 September 1827, by Various
- Flickr images tagged Kew Palace
- Sir Richard Levett
- Kew Palace, British History Online