Architecture of Buckingham Palace

Originally a town house, Buckingham Palace is now one of the most famous buildings in Britain, if not the world.

Article By: Francesca Burke
Last Update: July 2019

Early History

The site of Buckingham Palace has a long history. It has been owned by Edward the Confessor, William the Conqueror, and the monks of Westminster Abbey. In 1531 Henry VIII took it back from the monks, but in the 17th century James I sold off parts of the site. Sir William Blake possibly erected the first house, around 1624, and its next owner, Lord Goring, extended and developed it. Eventually, however, George III regained the freehold and then the first Duke of Buckingham acquired the lease.

Building the Palace

Architect William Winde designed the three-floored house that forms the core of today’s palace for the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham’s son sold it to George III in 1761 for £21,000. It was intended as a residence for George’s wife Queen Charlotte, as St James’s Palace was the official royal residence, but the name ‘Buckingham Palace’ began to circulate. George IV continued with renovations, transforming the house into a palace with the help of architect John Nash. The external facade was designed in keeping with the French neo-classical style, but Nash’s plans were too expensive so he was fired and replaced by Edward Blore, whose designs were similar to Nash’s but plainer (and cheaper!).

Queen Victoria’s Renovation

Queen Victoria took up Buckingham Palace as her royal residence in 1837. Although the rooms were beautifully designed, the palace needed serious renovation – the chimneys smoked so much that fires couldn’t be lit, and ventilation was so bad that gas was built up. Prince Albert oversaw renovations but the palace soon became too small for their growing family so Edward Blore designed a new wing, built by Thomas Cubitt. Blore and Cubitt’s editions included the East Front, now known as the ‘public face’ of the palace, which contains the balcony from which the Royal Family greet spectators on special occasions. Many of the rooms in the East Wing are made up with furniture from the Brighton Pavilion, which was decorated in oriental style. Pieces taken from the Pavilion include an ornate chimneypiece decorated with dragons, an antique Chinese clock and, bizarrely, wallpaper!

Sir James Pennethorne designed further state rooms. After Prince Albert’s death in 1861, Queen Victoria left Buckingham Palace to live elsewhere, and the palace fell into disuse once again.

Buckingham Palace illustration, 1710

Buckingham Palace Today

When Edward VII became king in 1901, he redecorated the Palace in the gold-and-cream Belle époque design, which remains today. The last major renovation was during George V’s reign; in 1913 Sir Aston Webb redesigned Blore’s East Front in Portland stone, and that is the facade we all recognise. The park-like garden and lake make up the largest private garden in London. In World War II, the Palace was bombed 9 times and restored by John Mawlem & Co. It was designated a Garde I listed building in 1970.

In total, Buckingham Palace measures 108m by 120m, containing 77,000m2 floorspace (smaller than the Louvre and Forbidden City!). There are 775 rooms, including a post office, doctor’s surgery, swimming pool, jeweler’s workshop and cinema. The palace has a variety of styles, including Gothic-influenced cross-over vaulting in one corridor and saucer domes in another, plus the Chinese-inspired Centre Room.

Want to visit Buckingham Palace? The State Rooms are open to visitors during summer. Find out more here!

Aston Webb East Front Buckingham Palace

Webb’s redesigned East Front, from Wikipedia

Buckingham Palace East Front

The Palace today. From Wikipedia

We hope this explains Buckingham Palace’s spectacular architectural history. Have any questions? Leave a comment!

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