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Buckingham Palace, home to Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family, serves as the centerpiece of the monarchy and a venue for many functions. The massive structure is often the focal point for celebrations and commemorations.
On our girls’ trip to the UK in 2017, we stopped by for a visit. We discovered when we arrived in London that Buckingham Palace was open to the public, since the Queen was not in residence. Unfortunately, no tour times remained available.
However, we enjoyed walking around outside the black iron gates and snapping photos. I’ve since learned fun facts about this palatial residence.
Check out these 10 things you may not know about Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace Background
The palace didn’t begin life as one. In fact, a village once occupied the spot. Edward the Confessor owned that plot of land and the village. Henry VIII claimed the land for the Crown in 1531. In the 1600s James I intended to raise silkworms there. He planted mulberry trees on the property, however he planted the wrong variety of trees and his plans failed.
John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckingham, built Buckingham House on the land so that he had a place to stay during his visits to London. In 1820 the house received a palatial makeover by architect John Nash. Buckingham fired him for going way over budget!
George III paid 21,000 pounds for the palace in 1761, as a gift for his wife, Queen Charlotte. She birthed all but one of their 15 children there. However, Queen Victoria first named it as her official residence when she moved there after her coronation in 1837.
10 Things You May Not Know About Buckingham Palace
A Sneaky Visitor
Teenager Edward Jones, known as “the Boy Jones”, sneaked into the palace multiple times during Victoria’s reign. He stole food and the Queen’s underwear…naughty boy…and boasted about sitting on the throne.
Eventually authorities caught him and sent him to Brazil. After he escaped and returned to London, they imprisoned him on a ship for six years and then packed him off to Australia. Jones died there on Boxing Day, 1893.
It’s a Palace, It’s a City
While the Royal Family calls Buckingham Palace home, many other people live there as well. Over 800 staff members dwell within the palace. With a post office, pool, police station, cinema and health clinic, Buckingham behaves as a town more than a palace. It even has its own zip code.
One of the residential staff members, a clock maker, maintains over 350 clocks and watches. Two horological conservators wind the clocks up every week.
The Largest Room
In the palace, the largest room is the Grand Ballroom. It measures 36.6 meters long, 18 meters wide and 13.5 meters high. A party celebrating the end of the Crimean War in 1856 marked the first event held in the grand ballroom.
When electricity came to Buckingham Palace in 1883, the ballroom received illumination first. It took four years to wire the entire structure. Now over 40,000 light bulbs shine bright in the palace.
So Many Windows and Rooms
Buckingham Palace features 775 rooms tucked within 77,000 square meters of floor space. The palace’s 760 windows get washed every six weeks.
Of the rooms, there are 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, 78 bathrooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms and 19 state rooms.
The Royal Family famously uses the balcony, located on the East Front, to greet large crowds that congregate outside the palace. Queen Victoria first stepped onto the balcony, making a public appearance in 1851. What a tradition she started!
Is the Queen Home?
When the Queen’s royal standard flag flies above the palace, the Queen is in residence. When the Union Jack billows in the wind, this signals that the Queen is elsewhere. She typically spends summers in her castle in Scotland.
The Union Jack indicated the Queen’s absence when we visited.
Why Do the Guards Wear Red?
The iconic red uniforms that the guards wear were chosen intentionally. When first created, red for the uniforms proved one of the cheapest dyes to manufacture. Concerning military strategy, red is the most difficult color to distinguish from a distance. The enemy experienced difficulty identifying the number of soldiers present.
King Henry VII made the Royal Body Guard a permanent fixture of the Royal Family over 500 years ago.
A series of secret tunnels runs beneath Buckingham Palace. When King George VI and the Queen Mother explored the tunnels, they discovered a man from Newcastle living in them.
In 1905 the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts received their most important commission to date…building the wrought iron fence that surrounds the palace and the beautiful gates.
Those gates do more than create a barrier. They tell a story.
On the gate is the Royal Coat of Arms, featuring a crowned Lion symbolizing England and a Unicorn symbolizing Scotland. Diagonally opposite each other on the shield, three walking lions represent England, from the reign of King Richard I. The harp symbolizes Ireland and the upright, or rampart, lion stands for Scotland.
At the bottom of the crest St. George battles the dragon, a mythical nod to King George V.
Queen Elizabeth II hosts at least three parties every year at London’s royal residence. Forget fine dining. Guests consume about 20,000 sandwiches at each of these parties, typically held in July.
First US President to Visit
On the way to a Paris conference, President Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Edith Wilson visited the UK in December 1918. King George V threw a banquet in their honor at Buckingham Palace, beginning a long tradition of entertaining US heads of state at the royal residence.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter infamously broke protocol by giving The Queen Mother an unexpected kiss on the lips!
Where to Find Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is located between Green Park and St James’s Park in Central London. This iconic structure doesn’t have an actual street address. Rather, it’s located at the juncture of two processional roads, Constitution Hill and The Mall.
The nearest London Underground stations are Victoria, Hyde Park Corner and St James’s Park.
We took the underground and walked across Hyde Park to reach the palace and then visited nearby Piccadilly Square afterward.
Although sad that we couldn’t go inside, we enjoyed seeing Buckingham Palace. It’s a landmark checked off my list of “must sees”.
Besides, I feel like I’ve seen inside the palace, thanks to the series, The Crown! Another fun fact…The Crown never actually filmed inside Buckingham Palace. Instead they recreated the palace in several estates throughout England.
Perhaps on my next trip to London I’ll get a tour.
Have you visited Buckingham Palace?
Check out other Tales from England:
Daring Escapes from the Tower of London
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