Originally known as Buckingham House, the building which forms the core of today’s palace was a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703 on a site which had been in private ownership for at least 150 years.
It was subsequently acquired by King George III in 1761 as a private residence for Queen Charlotte and was known as “The Queen’s House”. During the 19th century it was enlarged, principally by architects John Nash and Edward Blore, who formed 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. In 1531, Henry VIII acquired the Hospital of St James (later St. James’s Palace) from Eton College, and in 1536 he took the Manor of Ebury from Westminster Abbey.
These transfers brought the site of Buckingham Palace back into royal hands for the first time since William the Conqueror had given it away almost 500 years earlier.
Remodeling of the structure began in 1762. After his accession to the throne in 1820, George IV continued the renovation with the idea in mind of a small, comfortable home. While the work was in progress, in 1826, the King decided to modify the house into a palace with the help of his architect John Nash.
Some furnishings were transferred from Carlton House, and others had been bought in France after the French Revolution. The external façade was designed keeping in mind the French neo-classical influence preferred by George IV.
The cost of the renovations grew dramatically and by 1829, the extravagance of Nash’s designs resulted in his removal as architect. While the state rooms were a riot of gilt and colour, the necessities of the new palace were somewhat less luxurious.
For one thing, it was reported the chimneys smoked so much that the fires had to be allowed to die down, and consequently the court shivered in icy magnificence. Ventilation was so bad that the interior smelled, and when a decision was taken to install gas lamps, there was a serious worry about the build-up of gas on the lower floors.
It was also said that the staff were lax and lazy and the palace was dirty. Following the Queen’s marriage in 1840, her husband, Prince Albert, concerned himself with a reorganization of the household offices and staff, and with the design faults of the palace.
Many of the pieces of furniture and works of art in these rooms were bought or made for Carlton House (George IV’s London base when he was Prince of Wales), which was demolished in 1827.
Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to take up residence in July 1837, just three weeks after her accession, and in June 1838 she was the first British sovereign to leave from Buckingham Palace for a Coronation. Her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840 soon showed up the Palace’s shortcomings.
In 1913 the decision was taken to reface the façade. Sir Aston Webb, with a number of large public buildings to his credit, was commissioned to create a new design. Webb chose Portland Stone, which took 12 months to prepare before building work could begin. When work did start it took 13 weeks to complete the refacing, a process that included removing the old stonework.