7 memorable moments in the history of Buckingham Palace
The London residence of Britain's sovereigns since 1837 and today the working headquarters of the monarchy, Buckingham Palace is one of Britain's most popular tourist attractions. Here we look back at seven notable moments in the palace's near 180-year history
1703: Building begins at Buckingham Palace
The palace was originally built in 1703 as Buckingham House, a London home for the 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, John Sheffield. It became a royal residence when King George III purchased it in 1761 as a comfortable family home for his wife, Queen Charlotte. Fourteen of George and Charlotte’s 15 children were born there.
Buckingham House underwent a palatial transformation in the 1820s, when King George IV employed architect John Nash to give it a royal renovation. Queen Victoria was the first monarch to adopt Buckingham Palace as her official residence, moving there in 1837, within a year of becoming queen. She oversaw the last major construction work at the palace, adding the front wing in the 1840s to give her large family extra space.
In 1883 electricity was installed in the ballroom, the largest room in the palace. Over the following four years electricity was installed throughout the palace, which now uses more than 40,000 lightbulbs.
1851: Queen Victoria makes the first public appearance on the balcony
The Buckingham Palace balcony is now iconic, having hosted several notable royal appearances over the years.
Queen Victoria made the first recorded royal appearance on the balcony in 1851, when she greeted the public during celebrations for the opening of the Great Exhibition, a groundbreaking showcase of international manufacturing, masterminded by Prince Albert.
Appearances on the balcony are now a popular part of royal events. In 2002 Queen Elizabeth II waved to crowds from the balcony as more than a million people flocked to Buckingham Palace to celebrate her Golden Jubilee. More than 200 million viewers around the world watched the evening’s ‘Party at the Palace’ concert on television.
At their wedding in 2011, Prince William and Kate Middleton also appeared on the famous balcony. The newlyweds shared a kiss, much to the delight of the crowds.
Catherine Middleton and Prince William kiss on the balcony at Buckingham Palace following their wedding at Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
1841 and 1910: Edward VII is born and dies at Buckingham Palace
Edward VII is the only monarch to have been born and died at Buckingham Palace.
Following the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on 10 February 1840, their second child [and eldest son], Edward was born at the palace on 9 November 1841. Known to his family as ‘Bertie’, Edward spent much of his childhood at the palace with his eight siblings.
In 1902 Edward underwent major surgery at Buckingham Palace. Close to death from appendicitis, he was successfully operated on in a room overlooking the garden. Later that year [following his recovery] he was crowned at Westminster Abbey after nearly 60 years as heir to the throne.
After years of excessive cigar and cigarette consumption, in 1910 Edward contracted a severe case of bronchitis. He died at Buckingham Palace on 6 May 1910 following a series of heart attacks, and was succeeded by his son King George V.
Following a royal birth or death, a notice was attached to the railings of Buckingham Palace to alert members of the public. Even today, this traditional custom is upheld.
King Edward VII, who was born and died at Buckingham Palace. (Photo by Ernest H. Mills/Getty Images)
1914: Suffragettes march on the palace
On 22 May 1914, Buckingham Palace found itself in the middle of the fight for women’s voting rights, as 20,000 suffragettes marched on the palace. Led by Emmeline Pankhurst, the women began processing towards the palace from Grosvenor Gardens, declaring their intention to deliver a petition to the king.
The protest attracted sensationalist and unsympathetic press coverage. The Daily Mirror carried the headline “Mrs Pankhurst arrested at the gates of Buckingham Palace in trying to present a petition to the King”, surrounded by photographs of clashes between the protestors and police. It described “distressing scenes” in which a “body of militant suffragettes” led by Pankhurst “endeavoured to carry out their impossible scheme”, evading police and making it to the gates of the palace.
The Telegraph, meanwhile, described a “serious fracas between the wild women and the police, in which the militants delivered a brief but furious attack on the constables”.
When she reached the palace gates, Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested. The Telegraph suggested she “was able to offer little or no resistance, but shouting out that she had got to the palace gates, she was carried bodily by a chief inspector to a private motor which the police had in waiting”. Following her arrest, Pankhurst was taken to Holloway Prison.
Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested outside Buckingham Palace in May 1914. (Photo by Jimmy Sime/Getty Images)
1937: The Buckingham Palace Guide Company is formed
In 1937, the 11-year-old Princess Elizabeth [now Queen Elizabeth II] enrolled to be a Girl Guide. Her younger sister Princess Margaret, who was seven years old, also signed up as a Brownie.
The Girl Guide Association had been formed in 1910 by Agnes Baden Powell, as an alternative girl’s organisation to scouting. As it was believed that the princesses should live as normal lives as possible, they were enrolled to join the popular organisation by their aunt, Princess Mary.
The 1st Buckingham Palace Company was then formed, which included some 20 Guides and 14 Brownies, made up of children of royal household members and Buckingham Palace employees. A summerhouse in the palace garden became the Guides’ headquarters, with the princesses reportedly cooking on campfires, pitching tents and earning badges like any other Guides.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War the summerhouse headquarters was closed down due to the bomb threat and moved to the more rural setting of Windsor Castle. In 1952 Queen Elizabeth and her mother became joint patrons of the Girl Guides.
Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II, right) and her younger sister Princess Margaret dressed as guides in 1943. They are watching the flight of a carrier pigeon they have just released, carrying a message to Chief Guide Lady Olave Baden-Powell. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1940s: The palace is bombed
The royal family remained at Buckingham Palace throughout the Second World War, despite Foreign Office advice to leave Britain. Queen Elizabeth [later the Queen Mother] declared: “The children will not leave unless I do. I shall not leave unless their father does, and the king will not leave the country in any circumstances, whatever”.
However, the decision to remain in Britain placed the royal family in significant danger – the palace received nine direct bomb hits during the course of the war and on 8 March 1941 PC Steve Robertson, a policeman on duty at the Palace, was killed by flying debris when a bomb hit.
In a letter to her mother-in-law, Queen Mary, the queen recalled one particularly difficult night of bombing at the palace in 1940, when the palace chapel was destroyed. In it she recounts how she was “battling” to remove an eyelash from the king's eye when they heard the “unmistakable whirr-whirr of a German plane” and then the “scream of a bomb”. She recalled how “it all happened so quickly that we had only time to look foolishly at each other when the scream hurtled past us and exploded with a tremendous crash in the quadrangle”.
Despite the palace bombings, the royal family remained defiant. “I am glad we have been bombed”, Queen Elizabeth declared in September 1940, “Now we can look the East End in the eye”.
1945: VE day celebrations
When peace was finally declared in Europe on 8 May 1945, Buckingham Palace became a focal point for VE Day celebrations. Winston Churchill appeared with the king, queen and the two royal princesses on the palace’s balcony before huge crowds. Throughout the course of the day the royal family made a total of eight appearances on the balcony to wave to those celebrating below.
During their father’s final balcony appearance of the day the princesses Margaret and Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) secretly joined the cheering crowd below. Elizabeth later recalled: “We stood outside and shouted, ‘We want the king’… I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life”.
King George VI also delivered a radio address to his nation, played on loud speakers in Trafalgar Square. He praised Britons’ resilience and honoured those who had lost their lives. “Let us remember those who will not come back” he declared, “let us remember the men in all the services, and the women in all the services, who have laid down their lives. We have come to the end of our tribulation and they are not with us at the moment of our rejoicing”.