When the Red Carpet Rolled at Buck House

The Red Carpet at Buckingham Palace at the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning Queen of England, rolled out on the 6 August 1993, to allow for the first time in the history of England for more than 400,000 people to get a glimpse of the Royal Abode from August to October by levying a charge of £8.00 per adult, £5.50 on pensioners and £4 per children under 17 years of age, limiting up to 8,000 visitors a day.

In 1703, the palace originated as Buckingham House, built by John Sheffield, third Earl of Mulgrave and Marques of Normandy, as his London residence. He was made the Duke of Buckingham in the same year, thus he named the house after his title.

 In 1761 George III wanted to create a warm and a cozy house for his wife, Queen Charlotte, close to St. James's Palace. Subsequently their 15 children were born at the house.

 Initially, the site on which Buckingham Palace was built had a mulberry plantation initiated by James I, to cultivate silk worms. George IV in 1802 got the 'Buck House' renovated with the help of architect Johns Nash. In 1837 Queen Victoria moved in, and since then the Palace has served as the Official London Residence of Britain's sovereigns, which today has become the administrative headquarters of the monarch.

 Unorthodox decision

 The queen had to take an unorthodox decision to open the palace gates purely to raise the much needed millions of Pound Sterling required for the restoration work, immediately after the gutting of the Windsor Castle in 1993, one of her official holiday abodes in Windsor.

 Immediately after the fire damage, the queen harboured plans to place the entire liability of repairing the castle on the taxpayer as a way of recovering its repair costs. Soon ensued high profile public outcry against such a move on a much larger scale than what Sri Lankans have seen recently with the increasing of taxes that affected even the high street ordinary labourer's cup of 'plain' (black) tea.

 During such a hullabaloo one of the British newspaper columnists referred to an incident that took place in 1802, between John Nash, the architect of the building, who approached his royal master, for additional finance to rebuild part of the Buckingham Palace, and he only received a rebuff stating, "If you expect me to put my hand into any additional expenses I'll be dammed, if I will".

 In contrast, some of the British press, being critical about the Queen's harboured intensions, posed the question whether the same tone of voice that of her ancestor would have emanated from the queen after the fire damage to Windsor Castle? Finally, the public outcry made the queen skirmish and that itself led to the opening of the palace doors to her peasantry as one way of recovering the Windsor Castle repair costs. Finally, 400,000 commoners contributed approximately to £4.5 million.

 On 5 August 1993, the writer was privileged to take a position among 600 journalists from the world media at the Ambassador's Court in London, on the 'Palace preview day for the Press', as the London Correspondent of the 'Sunday Island' .

 Protocol

After checking of credentials, media personnel were subjected to a strict security check and permitted to climb the grand entrance taking a breathtaking glimpse at ten portraits of Queen Victoria's relatives, which included William IV, George III and Queen Charlotte. The guided balustrade had encased purposely in Perspex to preserve it from visitors' finger prints.

 The Guard Room contained 19th century statuary including Queen Victoria's painting done in 1847. Visitors were taken on a specific tour inside the palace at their own pace through a defined route between rope cordons and brass fittings. The most valuable carpets in the palace had been rolled up to avoid any damage out of the exodus of the trudging peasantry.

 Green drawing room

The Green Drawing Room, which is normally used for the assembly of visitors prior to State banquets and re-appearances, was decorated with portraits of the two sisters of George along with antique furniture including two French chest of drawers with 18th century Marble (Pieta Dura) and a porcelain vase in the shape of a boat (1758) that belonged to Madame de Pompadour.

 The Throne Room used by the queen to receive loyal spectators on formal occasions had one of the most richly ornamental ceilings and lit by seven early 19th century 'glass and bronze' chandeliers. On the daisy, under the canopy were the thrones of the queen and Prince Philip, which had been used during her coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey in 1953. Other thrones used in earlier coronations were also displayed in the same room separately.

 Picture Gallery

 The largest room in the Palace had been allocated to the Picture Gallery with a selection of important works by Van Dyck, Rubens, Cuyp and Rembrandt among others. Access from the picture gallery was to the Silk Tapestry Room, East Gallery Cross and West Galleries to the State Dining Room used for formal occasions. Seven portraits of the Hanoverian dynasty of George IV (in the centre), his parents and great grandparents decorated the dining room walls.

The Blue Dining Room looked impressive with a brilliant interior design and complemented with four majestic chandeliers. Twenty-four columns with sculptural reliefs of Shakespeare, Spencer and Milton by William Pitt supported the ceiling at either end.

 Music Room

 The Music Room had, over the years, been used for royal christenings. The Prince of Wales, Princess Anne, the Duke of York and Prince William have all been christened there by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In modern times the Royal family has used this room for receiving guests during State visits.

 Twenty-eight pilasters (rectangular decorative protrusions) supported the modeled and gilded ceiling of the White Drawing Room where the Royal family assembles prior to State occasions.

Mini-Town

 Buckingham Palace, being one of the most renowned buildings in the world resembles a mini town with hundreds of staff with its own post office, police station, staff canteen and dining rooms and a kitchen at times serving up to 600 meals a day. The post office handles over 100,000 items annually. With an army of secretaries, typists, telephone operators, carpenters, gardeners, maids, butlers, cleaners and two clock repairers (to maintain the 300 clocks) at the palace, the business at the monarchy never stops.

 The light shining from the window of the Queen's study at night gives an indication that even she has to work till late hours to attend to the official Red, and Blue leather cases containing vital official documentation that are sent for her signature.

 All 775 rooms at Buckingham Palace are more or less in constant use with more than 200 domestic staff employed by the Queen to attend to over 30,000 guests at State functions. The Palace boasts 52 royal and guest rooms 19 staterooms 78 washrooms, 760 windows and 1514 doors.

 The Royal collection comprised some 10,000 pictures, 20,000 drawings, 10,000 watercolours, 500,000 prints and many thousand pictures including furniture, sculpture, glass, porcelain, arms and armoury, textiles, silver, gold, and jewelry (including the Crown jewels). The Queen's immunity from taxation was subjected to a lot of public outcry, debate and deliberations at the time. Such public anxiety compelled her to cut her rather expensive coat according to her 'reduced cloth'. The year 1993 was labeled by the British media as the year that turned Queen's hair grey.

 With the opening of Buckingham Palace doors to 400,000 visitors, the palace attraction became London's biggest box office hit while the anti-royals wondered whether the taxman was keeping his vigilant eye on the red carpet rolling at the Buckingham Palace.

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 (Facts sourced from www.royal.gov.uk)


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