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Kew Palace

Kew Palace

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,[1] it is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown.[2]


  • The first Kew Palace 1
  • The second Kew Palace 2
  • The third Kew Palace 3
  • Restoration of Kew Palace 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

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?[3]

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 now known as Kew Palace in 1735, originally known as the "Dutch House" because of its Dutch gables.[4]

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.[4][5]

Originally from National Portrait Gallery collection in London, painted oil on canvas by Philip Mercier and dated 1733, uses the house as its plein-air backdrop.[10] 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.

A musical portrait of Frederick, Prince of Wales and his sisters by Philip Mercier, dated 1733, uses the house as its plein-air backdrop

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

George III's Kew Palace.

This third structure was designed in part by King George III, and otherwise by 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 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.

A drawing of New Kew Palace, by William Westall, 1823.

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 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

Rear view of Kew Palace from its gardens

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.

Main entrance to the Kew Palace pictured on the sunny day at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens on 9th April 2015 in London, England


  1. ^  
  2. ^ "Who We Are".  
  3. ^  
  4. ^ a b c d e Williams, Neville (2006). Royal Homes. London:  
  5. ^ Mark Noble, James Granger, , 1806A Biographical History of EnglandSir Richard Levett, in
  6. ^ The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Historical and Descriptive, William Jackson Bean, 1908
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ Moonan, Wendy (2 July 2004). "Antiques: A Regal Dollhouse Fit for a Princess".  
  9. ^ Levett Blackborne, Kew, British History Online
  10. ^ "Philip Mercier (1691-1760), Portrait painter".  

External links

  • Official site
  • , Vol. 10, Issue 275, 29 September 1827, by VariousThe Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and InstructionThe Project Gutenberg eBook,
  • Flickr images tagged Kew Palace
  • Sir Richard Levett
  • British History OnlineKew Palace,
  • キュー宮殿 – Kew Palace (Japanese)

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