Osborne House

Osborne House

Osborne House, a favorite residence of Queen Victoria, near East Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, S England. The queen died there in 1901. The state apartments are open to the public.
Osborne House is a former royal residence in East Cowes, Isle of Wight, England.


The original Osborne House

Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert bought Osborne House on the Isle of Wight in October 1845. They were searching for a home away from the stresses of court life. Queen Victoria had spent two holidays on the Isle of Wight as a young girl. The setting of the existing three storey Georgian house appealed to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; in particular, the views of the Solent reminded Albert of the Bay of Naples in Italy. It soon became obvious that it was too small for their needs. Pulling down the house and building anew was deemed to be the appropriate course of action.

The new Osborne House

The new Osborne House was built in the style of the Italian Renaissance complete with two pseudo campanile towers between 1845 and 1851. Prince Albert designed the house himself in conjunction with builder Thomas Cubitt the London architect and builder whose company also built the main façade of Buckingham Palace. The sale of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton paid for much of the new house's furnishings.

The house consisted of the original square wing known as 'The Pavilion', which contained the principal and royal apartments. The apartments contain reminders of Victoria's dynastic links with the other European royal families. The Billiard Room houses a massive porcelain vase, which was a gift of the Russian Tsar. The grandeur of the Billiard Room, Queen's Dining Room and the Drawing Room on the ground floor forms a marked contrast with the much more homely and unassuming decor of the royal apartments on the first floor. These rooms contain the Prince's Dressing Room, the Queen's Sitting Room, The Queen's Bedroom and the children's nurseries, were intended for private, domestic use, and were therefore as comfortable as possible. Both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were determined to bring up their children in as natural and loving environment as their situation allowed so that as a consequence the royal children visited their parents' bedrooms when other children of a similar status lived in a far more detached manner.

The 'main wing', containing the household accommodation and council and audience chambers, was added later. The final addition to the house was a wing built between 1890 and 1891. It contains on the ground floor the famous Durbar Room which is named after an anglicised version of the Hindi word darbar. This word means court. The Durbar Room was built for state functions and decorated by Bhai Ram Singh in an elaborate and intricate style, with a carpet from Agra. It now contains the gifts Queen Victoria received on her Golden and Diamond Jubilees. These include engraved silver and copper vases, Indian armour and even a model of an Indian palace. The first floor of the new wing was for the sole use of Princess Beatrice and her family. Beatrice was the Queen's youngest daughter, who remained permanently at her side.

The Indian associations of Osborne House also include its housing a collection of paintings of Indian persons and scenes, painted at Queen Victoria's request by Rudolf Swoboda. There are both depictions of Indians resident or visiting Britain in the 19th Century and scenes painted in India itself when the painter went there for the purpose ().

Osborne House became the nearest thing to a family home Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's children were to know.

Swiss Cottage

The grounds include a 'Swiss Cottage'. The cottage was dismantled and brought piece by piece from Switzerland to Osborne where it was reassembled. It was Queen Victoria's gift to her children on her birthday in 1854. The royal children were encouraged to garden. Each child was given a rectangular plot in which to grow fruit, vegetables and flowers. They would then sell their produce to their father. Prince Albert used this as a way to teach the basics of economics. The children also learned to cook in the Swiss Cottage, which was equipped with a fully functioning kitchen. Both parents saw this kind of education as a way of keeping their children's feet firmly on the ground in spite of their royal status. While the children were cooking below in the kitchens, Queen Victoria would enjoy the simplicity of the Swiss Cottage to catch up on her personal correspondence.

Family Home

Osborne House was a real home for the royal family. They stayed there for lengthy periods each year: in the Spring for Victoria's birthday in May; in July and August when they celebrated Albert's birthday; and just before Christmas. In a break from the past, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert allowed photographers and painters to capture their family in the grounds and in the house, partly for their own enjoyment and partly as a form of propaganda for the nation to show what a happy and devoted family they were. Many thousands of prints of the royal family were sold to the public which led Victoria to remark, "no Sovereign was ever more loved than I am (I am bold enough to say). Writing to her daughter Victoria in 1858 about the gloominess of Windsor Castle,Queen Victoria stated, "I long for our cheerful and unpalacelike rooms at Osborne.

The death of Prince Albert

Sadly the domestic idyll at Osborne was not to continue. In December 1861, Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle. In spite of his passing, Osborne House continued as one of Queen Victoria's favourite homes. As a widow, Victoria went into impenetrable mourning. She retreated to Windsor and Osborne with her memories. The private royal apartments were effectively sealed off in a time capsule with everything preserved as if Albert were still alive. The domestic routine also continued as though Albert were still alive, even to the extent of his shaving things and clothes being laid out for him each day.

Marconi transmitted some of the first radio messages to Victoria at Osborne to keep her abreast of the state of health of her son Edward, when he was seriously ill at Sandringham.

The death of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria died at Osborne on 22 January 1901 with two generations of her family gathered around her. Admirers of the building included the Queen's grandson Kaiser Wilhelm II (in whose arms she died there). Although Victoria had adored it, Osborne held few charms for her children. Victoria's will left strict instructions that Osborne was to stay within the family, but nobody wanted it so the new King Edward VII presented it to the nation. With the exception of Princess Beatrice and Princess Louise who both retained houses on the estate, the rest of the royal family saw Osborne as something of an inaccessible white elephant. The new King also had his own rural retreat at Sandringham House, and he also preferred to spend his leisure time shooting or racing rather than in seclusion on an island. The general public were allowed to visit the former state apartments, but the private family apartments were closed.

Convalescent Home

The non-pavilion sections of Osborne House were used as an officers' convalescent home during World War I - Robert Graves and A.A. Milne were two famous patients. Known as King Edward VII Retirement Home for Officers, this later included convalescents from military and civil service backgrounds. Until the late 1990s for retired officers of the British Armed Services.

Naval College

In 1903, part of the estate became a junior officer training college for the Royal Navy known as the Royal Naval College, Osborne. Initial training began at the age of 13, and further studies were continued at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. The College closed in 1921, with the last students leaving on 9 April 1921.

Former students included Queen Victoria's great-grandsons, the future Edward VIII and George VI, and their younger brother George, Duke of Kent. Another well-known alumnus of the college was Jack Llewelyn Davies, one of the five Llewelyn Davies boys who inspired J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Davies – whose brothers all went to Eton – described his five years at Osborne as horrendous. The case of George Archer-Shee from 1908, who was expelled from Osborne after being falsely accused of stealing a 5-shilling postal order, inspired the play The Winslow Boy.

World War Two

Adolf Hitler, being under the impression that Osborne House could become one of his post-war retreats, gave orders that the Osborne Estate should not be bombed during World War II.

Osborne today

Immediately following the death of Queen Victoria, the royal apartments on the upper floors of the pavilion wing were turned into a private museum for the sole use of the royal family. They remained completely as she had left them. Part of the ground floor was opened to the public early in the 20th century, and in 1954 Victoria's bedroom and private apartments could be seen by the public for the first time, followed by the nurseries in 1989. Today the house has been substantially restored to its former splendour as the summer palace of the Queen Empress.

English Heritage

Osborne House is now under the care of English Heritage and is open to the public from spring through to autumn. The former Naval College's cricket pavilion was converted into a holiday cottage in 2004 and can be booked by members of the public, guests staying at the cottage are also given the right to use the Osborne Estate private beach.

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