Buckingham Palace with the [[Union Flagprojected onto it for Christmas Eve 2003]]
Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the British monarch. Originally Buckingham House, it was built for John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Normanby, in 1703, and was purchased from his descendant Sir Charles Sheffield in 1762 by King George III. This comparatively new royal residence has subsequently been substantially rebuilt, extended and refurbished. In 1826 King George IV commissioned John Nash to remodel the palace; however, the heavily gilded present interiors were not completed until the reign of William IV and his wife Queen Adelaide, though the King never lived there. Many of the smaller reception rooms are furnished in the Chinese regency style, this is because many of the fireplaces, decorations and furniture were brought from the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, and Carlton House the palaces of George IV following his death.
It finally became the principal Royal residence in 1837 on the accession of Queen Victoria. The large wing facing east towards The Mall (today the 'public face' of Buckingham Palace) was constructed after the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. By 1847 the couple had found the palace too small for court life and their growing family. As a result the new wing, designed by Edward Blore, was built. This enclosed the quadrangle which is the centre of the palace. This new wing contains the balcony from which the Royal Family acknowledge the crowds on momentous occasions. The ball room wing was also built at the same. time, and Marble Arch, the former state entrance to the palace, was moved to its present position at Hyde Park Corner
The last major building work was during the reign of King George V when, in 1912, Sir Aston Webb re-designed the principal Victorian facade to resemble in part Giacomo Leoni's Lyme Park in Cheshire. This new refaced principal facade (of Portland stone) was designed to be the back drop to the Victoria Memorial (a large memorial statue of Queen Victoria placed outside the main gates.
Following the last major extension in 1847, the palace (as it does today) consisted of 19 state rooms, 52 principal bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms. While this may seem large, compared with the Tsar's palaces in St. Petersburg and Tsarskoe Selo, or the Papal Palace in Rome it is comparatively small.
The principal rooms of the palace are contained on the piano nobile behind the, west facing, garden facade at the rear of the palace. The centre of this magnificent suite of state rooms is the music room, its large bow being the dominant feature of the facade. Flanking the music room are the blue and the white drawing rooms. At the centre of the suite, serving as a coridor to link the state rooms, is the immense picture gallery, the gallery is top lit and 155 yards (50m) long. The gallery is hung with works by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens and among many other Vermeer. Other rooms leading from the picture gallery are the throne room and the green drawing room. The green drawing room serves as a huge anti room to the throne room, and is part of the ceremonial route to the throne from the guard room at the top of the grand staircase. These rooms are only used for ceremonial and official entertaining.
Directly underneath the state apartments are a suite of, slightly less grand, rooms known as the semi-state apartments, opening off from the marble hall these rooms some of which were decorated in 1844 for the State visit of the French Emperor and Empress, are used for less formal entertaining such as luncheon parties and private audiences. At the centre of this suite is the Bow Room, through which thousands of guests pass annually to the Queen's garden parties in the gardens beyond. The Queen uses privately a smaller suite of rooms in the north wing.
In addition to being the week-day home of HM Queen Elizabeth II, the palace is the working place of 450 people. Every year some 50,000 people are entertained at garden parties, receptions, audiences, and banquets. Buckingham Palace is also the venue for the daily ceremony of the Changing of the Guard, a major tourist attraction.
The opening of the palace state rooms to the public was a huge change to tradition in the 1990s. The money raised in entry fees was originally used towards the rebuilding of Windsor Castle after the fire which destroyed many of its state rooms. Contrary to popular belief the Palace is not the private property of The Queen, Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace and their art collections belong to the nation.
The approach road to the palace, known as The Mall, forms part of the state ceremonial route to the palace, beginning at Admiralty Arch. At the rear of the palace lie Buckingham Palace Gardens and the Royal Mews.