Page 4: Royalty comes to Kensington

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It was the house furthest to the east in Kip’s drawing that was to have a much bigger impact. This was Nottingham House, purchased in 1689 by William III as a country house where he could breathe clean air free of the smoke and dirt of London. Commissioned by the King, Christopher Wren enlarged and rebuilt the house, turning it into a fitting royal residence. With the King came many court officials, servants and followers. Kensington Square, until then a failing venture, became a popular residential area. The Palace was regularly used by reigning monarchs until 1760 and since then by members of the Royal family. Queen Victoria was born there in 1819 and it was her home until her accession in 1837.

Royal women were active in developing the gardens surrounding the Palace. Queen Mary, wife of William III, employed London and Wise of Brompton Park to lay out the grounds in the Dutch style. Unfortunately Queen Anne, who hated yew, had it all uprooted and redesigned the garden. However, it was Queen Caroline, wife of George II, who undertook the redesign and extension of the garden that can still be seen in the modern Kensington Gardens. The gardens were opened to ‘respectably dressed people’ on Saturdays by George II and to the public at large by William IV.

The arrival of the Court also stimulated trade and local employment and in 1705 John Bowack described Kensington as having an ‘abundance of shopkeepers and …artificers…which makes it appear rather like part of London, than a country village.’

 

Drawing of Kensington Palace and gardens

Kensington Palace by Kip showing the alterations made by William and Mary and their Dutch garden
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Map of Kensington Gardens

Plan of Kensington Gardens and Kensington Town drawn by John Rocque, 1756
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The History of the Royal Borough

Virtual Museum – The History of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
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