Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Osborne House; the Isle of Wight,

When Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, were looking for a private country home for their growing family, they found Osborne house on the Isle of Wight. The Queen already knew the island, and the growing railway network meant that it could be easily reached from London. 
Osborne is situated near the north-east coast of the island, between Cowes and Ryde. It was then a three-storied brick and stone house, built in the late 18th century. Victoria and Albert visited the house in 1844 were delighted with its setting. Victoria bought the estate from her Privy Purse for £28,000, and Albert threw himself into rebuilding the house in Italian style and extending the estate by purchasing neighbouring farms. Every year the family spent as much time as possible.
   The result of Albert's labours is a magnificent spectacle.

The terrace is laid out in formal Italian style. 

It looks out north-east, down a broad walk to the sea, with Portsmouth visible on the far side of the Solent.

Inside, the house has been restored and repainted much as it was. The widowed Queen preserved Albert's dressing and writing room absolutely unchanged; even to the extent of having hot water brought there every morning! But Albert's collection of Italian Renaissance art is now in the National Gallery and other museums, and most of the paintings on display are of the 19th century. I was particularly amused by this vast allegorical fresco on the main staircase: "Neptune Resigning the Empire of the Seas to Britannia"

Facing it is a near-lifesize statue of Albert as a classical warrior: a birthday present from the Queen.

Some distance away in the grounds is the Swiss Cottage, which Albert built for the royal children in 1854.
 Here they were given garden-plots to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables with their own hands. There are also miniature fortifications, where Bertie (the future King Edward VII) could play at soldiers. Nowadays the house is a museum, housing the family's collections of natural history and of fascinating folk-art from all over the Empire.

After Albert's premature death in 1861 Victoria and her children continued to spend much of their time at Osborne. The Queen spent many years in virtual seclusion, where her closest confidant appeared to be her Scottish ghillie, John Brown. Towards the end of her life she became fascinated with all things Indian: she retained two Indian personal servants, and the Durbar wing was built in the 1890s.
   The Durbar Room has a ceiling of moulded plaster, cast from moulds constructed by an Indian craftsman, Bhai Ram Singh, under the direction of Lockwood Kipling, the father of Rudyard. Ram Singh also designed the doorknobs and the chairs.

The corridor to the Durbar Room features portraits of Indian princes and ladies in full regalia.

Queen Victoria died at Osborne in January 1901. In anticipation of her death, many of her family had assembled there, including her grandson, the Kaiser William II of Germany. But the new King, Edward VII, had no use for the house, and it was used as a convalescent home for army officers. In 1954 it was opened to the public, and in 1986 was taken over and run by English Heritage (from whose excellent guidebook most of this information has been taken).

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