For nearly two centuries, Clarence House has been home to senior members of the British royal family. Nowadays, the house is known as the London home of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, but the residence has a fascinating history of its own, and has undergone many a reinvention over the years.
Here, what you should know about Clarence House.
It was built between 1825 and 1827.
The residence was designed by John Nash next to St. James’s Palace as a home for King George III’s son—then Prince William Henry, Duke of Clarence, soon to be King William IV—in the 19th century. The three-story stuccoed mansion was luxurious, to be sure, but far less resplendent than Nash’s work on Buckingham Palace.
Clarence House has been home to several royals and their families.
King William IV would continue living in Clarence House even after ascending the throne. After his death in 1837, his sister Princess Augusta moved in, until her death just three years later.
In 1841, Queen Victoria‘s mother, the Duchess of Kent, settled into the royal residence; she’d call it home until passing away in the 1860s. A few years after that, Victoria’s second son, Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, moved in. Like some before him, Alfred renovated parts of the house. Notably, he’d employ the firm Waller & Sons to reorient the building to the south, and have a Russian Orthodox chapel installed for his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna (the latter was dismantled following Maria’s death). Then, in 1901, Queen Victoria’s third son and his wife, Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn and Louise, Duchess of Connaught, moved in after ordering some redecorations of their own.
Following the Duke’s death in 1942, amid World War II, Clarence House was made available to the War Organization of the British Red Cross and Order of St. John of Jerusalem.
The house’s next royal resident would be Queen Elizabeth herself, then still a Princess, and her husband Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The couple moved in after their marriage in 1947, and had the building modernized with more up-to-date electrical, heat, and hot water systems. However, with some wartime rationing and restrictions still in place, the renovations were modest—as were the aesthetic updates, overseen by Philip.
After the Queen’s accession in 1952, she and her family moved into Buckingham Palace; the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret took over Clarence House in turn. The Queen Mother oversaw renovations and redecorations of her own, many of which have remained.
“Today it still honors the taste of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother—in the Morning Room in particular, I think—where you can see her Chelsea porcelain and her painting collections,” Kathryn Jones, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts for Royal Collection Trust, told Google Arts and Culture.
Today, it’s Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall’s primary home.
The royal couple use Clarence House as both a private residence and as the offices for their Royal Household. Although they have multiple homes in Great Britain, Clarence House is the real home base.
Over the years, they’ve added their own touches to the building, some with the help of interior designer Robert Kime. “The major change has been in The Dining Room which has the unusual and striking bronze coving to the ceiling,” Jones said. “The other thing that always strikes you when you are inside the house is how much the garden is present—many of the rooms look out into the garden and there is a sense of it almost like an extra room to the house.”
The residence can be visited by the public—both in-person and virtually.
Every year, Clarence House opens to visitors in August, offering guided tours of five rooms on the ground floor. (Of course, due to the coronavirus, tours have been called off for August 2020.)
Royal watchers worldwide can also tour the residence digitally, thanks to a virtual tour hosted by Google Arts and Culture.
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