Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the British monarch in London, England. The Palace is a setting for state occasions and royal entertaining, a base for many officially visiting Heads of State, and a major tourist attraction. It has been a rallying point for the British people at times of national rejoicing, crisis or grief. “Buckingham Palace”, “Buck House” or simply “The Palace” commonly refers to the source of press statements issued by the offices of the Royal Household.
Originally known as Buckingham House, the building forming the core of today’s palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 and acquired by King George III in 1762 as a private residence. It was enlarged over the next 75 years, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, forming three wings around a central courtyard. Buckingham Palace finally became the official royal palace of the British monarch on the accession of
Queen Victoria in 1837. The last major structural additions were made in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the large east wing facing The Mall was added, and the former State entrance, Marble Arch, was removed to its present position near Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. The east front was refaced in Portland stone in 1913 as a backdrop to the Victoria Memorial, creating the present-day public face of Buckingham Palace, including the famous balcony.
The Palace contains 77,000 squared meters of floorspace (828,818 squared feet). The principal rooms of the Palace are contained on the piano nobile behind the west-facing garden facade at the rear of the Palace. The centre of this ornate suite of State Rooms is the Music Room, its large bow the dominant feature of the facade. Flanking the Music Room are the Blue and the White Drawing rooms. At the centre of the suite, serving as a corridor to link the state rooms, is the Picture Gallery, which is top lit and 55 yards (50 m) long. The Gallery is hung with works by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens, and Vermeer, among many others. Other rooms leading from the Picture Gallery are the famous Throne Room and the Green Drawing Room. The Green Drawing room serves as a huge anteroom to the Throne Room, and is part of the ceremonial route to the Throne from the Guard Room at the top of the Grand Staircase. The Guard Room contains a white marble statue of Prince Albert, in Roman costume set in a tribune lined with tapestries. These very formal rooms are used only for ceremonial and official entertaining. Directly underneath the State Apartments is a suite of slightly less grand rooms known as the semi-state apartments. Opening from the marble hall, these rooms are used for less-formal entertaining, such as luncheon parties and private audiences. Some of the rooms are named and decorated for particular visitors, such as the ‘1844 Room’, which was decorated in that year for the State visit of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. At the centre of this suite is the Bow Room, through which thousands of guests pass annually to the Queen’s Garden Parties in the Gardens beyond. The Queen uses privately a smaller suite of rooms in the North wing.
At the back of the Palace, large and park-like, is the Garden. Here the Queen hosts her annual garden parties each summer, but since June 2002, she has invited the public into the Garden on numerous occasions. For example, for Queen’s Golden Jubilee (2002) and her 80th birthday (2006). More than 50,000 people visit the palace each year as guests to banquets, lunches, dinners, receptions and the royal garden parties.
The State Ballroom is the largest room at Buckingham Palace. It was added by Queen Victoria and is used for ceremonies such as state banquets. During the current reign court ceremony has undergone a radical change, and entry to the palace is no longer the prerogative of just the upper class. There has been a progressive relaxation of the dress code governing formal court uniform and dress. In previous reigns, men not wearing military uniform wore knee breeches of an 18th-century design. Women’s evening dress included obligatory trains and tiaras and/or feathers in their hair. After World War I, when Queen Mary wished to follow fashion by raising her skirts a few inches from the ground, she requested a Lady-in-Waiting to shorten her own skirt first to gauge the King’s reaction. King George V was horrified and Queen Mary’s hemline remained unfashionably low. And King George VI and Queen Elizabeth allowed daytime skirts to rise. Today there is no official dress code. Most men invited to Buckingham Palace in the daytime choose to wear service uniform or morning coats, and in the evening, depending on the formality of the occasion, black tie or white tie. If the occasion is ‘white tie’ then women, if they possess one, wear a tiara. Security Guards march out of Buckingham Palace at the end of the daily.
The famous armed sentries on guard on the Palace forecourt are commonly thought to be ceremonial, but they have always had a security role. The Palace also contains its own police station, and the Royal Family have their own protection officers at all times. The Foot Guards battalion at Wellington Barracks is only 300 yards (275 m) away. The units at Chelsea Barracks (Foot Guards) and Hyde Park Barracks (Household Cavalry) are both three-quarters of a mile away (1.2km).The sights around Crowds walk down the Mall towards the Palace and the Victoria Memorial. The flags interspersed with the Union Flag indicate a Norwegian State Visit in progress. Adjacent to the Palace is the Royal Mews, also designed by Nash, where the royal carriages, including the Gold State Coach, are housed. Also housed in the Mews are the carriage horses used in royal ceremonial processions. The Mall, a ceremonial approach route to the Palace, was designed by Sir Aston Webb and completed in 1911 as part of a grand memorial to Queen Victoria. It extends from Admiralty Arch, up around the Victoria Memorial to the Palace forecourt. The reddish colour of the Mall’s tarmac recalls the red carpet of former times. This route is used by the cavalcades and motorcades of all visiting heads of state, and by the Royal Family on state occasions such as the annual State Opening of Parliament as well as Trooping the Colour each year.