A glimpse into the history of a royal palace
Queen Victoria knew and liked the Isle of Wight after visiting as a child, and she and the Prince Consort were both determined to buy a property there. 'It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot,' wrote the Queen after a visit to Osborne House. In 1845 the royal couple purchased the property with an estate of 342 acres, along with the adjacent Barton Manor to house equerries and grooms and to serve as the home farm.
Before the deeds had even changed hands, master builder Thomas Cubitt had been approached - firstly to build a pavilion to house private apartments and then to demolish the old house and add further wings for the royal household. Once all the work was complete, an exquisite pair of Italianate towers dominated the landscape and looked out over passing ships in the nearby Solent.
The interiors of Osborne House abound with opulence in both architectural design and decoration. Marble sculptures, commissioned by Victoria and Albert, line the classically designed Grand Corridor of the house and recall the royal couple's love of the arts. Portraits and frescos adorn the walls, serving as a reminder of the family's links to the crowned heads of Europe, and of the unrivalled supremacy of the British Empire. Family photographs on the desks of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert offer a further insight into the way they lived.
Queen Victoria's role as Empress of India is celebrated in the richly decorated Durbar Room. Constructed from 1890-91, the room served as an elaborate banqueting hall and every surface, from floor to ceiling, is ornately embellished. The walls are decorated with symbols from India, including Ganesh - the elephant god of good fortune - and the deeply coffered ceiling is composed of fibrous plaster. The completion of the room coincided with the introduction of electricity, so the Indian-influenced lamp stands were designed to take full advantage of this emerging technology.
Prince Albert worked with Cubitt on the Italianate designs for the terraced formal gardens which complement the house. The grounds also contain a summer house, a museum, and a miniature fort and barracks, as well as the Swiss Cottage, originally built as an educational tool where the royal children could learn domestic skills. There is a beautiful wild flower meadow near the Swiss Cottage, and rare red squirrels can be seen throughout the gardens.