From the archives: Drawings of Kew, Kensington and Banqueting House

In this blog post, curatorial archivist Tom Drysdale presents some of his highlights from Historic Royal Palaces’ Architectural Drawings Collection for #ExploreYourArchive Week, drawings that reveal some lesser-known stories from the palaces. 

Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Banqueting House all have fascinating histories which have captured the imagination of visitors and historians for centuries. Kensington Palace is arguably most famous for being the childhood home of Queen Victoria; Kew Palace for being the country retreat of King George III during bouts of mental ill health; and Banqueting House for being the setting for one of the most astonishing moments in royal history – the execution of King Charles I.

Yet, the Architectural Drawings Collection highlights many less well known, but very important, moments in history and helps us to chart the evolution of the buildings.

For example, did you know that Kensington Palace was the original home of the London Museum – the predecessor of the Museum of London?

Section through Kensington Palace showing the London Museum, 1948 (KP/10/007). © Historic Royal Palaces

After departing in 1913 the Museum returned to Kensington in 1951 and occupied the former Teck apartments, as can be seen in this cutaway drawing. The Museum left the palace for the second time in 1975, and today the rooms it once occupied house the Young Victoria exhibition.

Section through Kensington Palace showing the London Museum, 1948 (KP/10/007). © Historic Royal Palaces
Proposal for the removal of service offices at Kew Palace, 1880 (EH/KWP/6). © Historic Royal Palaces

In this drawing of Kew Palace, the focus is not on the palace itself – immediately recognisable by its distinctive Dutch gables – but on the outbuildings to its left (west). This service block was probably begun in the 1730s but by the time that the drawing was made in 1880 it was in a poor state. As a result, the buildings nearest to the palace, marked ‘A-A’ on the drawing, were pulled down.

Presentation drawing of Princess Elizabeth’s bed chamber, 2006 (KEW/PL/401). © Historic Royal Palaces

In 2006, HRP recreated Princess Elizabeth’s bed chamber at Kew Palace. This watercolour by the designer Pamela Lewis was created to visualise how the room might look, based on extensive historical research. To the left is the elegant Grecian couch bed and tester with its golden yellow and maroon chintz (a shiny, printed fabric), and green verditer wallpaper.

The star attraction of the Banqueting House is the Rubens ceiling. The nine huge paintings were commissioned by Charles I to commemorate his father, James I, and were installed by March 1636.

Repositioning of paintings in the Banqueting House, 1973 (EH/BH/117). © Historic Royal Palaces. Reproduced under licence from The National Archives.

After being removed for safekeeping during the Second World War, the spectacular Rubens paintings were returned to the Banqueting House, but some were installed incorrectly! This error was put right in the early 1970s when the paintings were flipped, rotated and repositioned, as shown in this drawing.

Drawings can help us to imagine what things might look like in the future, or what things might have looked like in the past.

Reconstruction of Whitehall Palace in the 1670s, 2008 (BHW/01/004). © Historic Royal Palaces

Illustrator Stephen Conlin’s bird’s-eye view shows how Whitehall Palace might have looked in the 1670s – a densely packed jumble of Tudor and later buildings and formal gardens facing onto the River Thames. In 1698 the palace was destroyed by a catastrophic fire. The Banqueting House is today the only complete building and the most significant part of the former palace that survives, but Conlin’s watercolour provides us with a tantalising glimpse into the past.

Read more #ExploreYourArchive blog posts, looking at items from the Architectural Drawings Collection of the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. These blogs have aimed to highlight the amazing Architectural Drawings Collection at Historic Royal Palaces and some of the fascinating stories which they reveal.

We hope that the next time you visit one of our palaces, you might look with fresh eyes at the wonderful buildings around you and realise that their history is even richer than you might think.

Tom Drysdale
Curatorial Archivist

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