History of Osborne
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought the Osborne estate on the Isle of Wight in 1845. There they created a private home away from court life. Victoria used Osborne for over 50 years, entertaining foreign royalty and visiting ministers, finding solace there after Albert’s death in 1861. Today, many of the rooms are still filled with original furniture and works of art, while the planting in the grounds is to Albert’s designs.
Before Victoria and Albert
Little is known of the early history of the Osborne site, but in 1705 the estate came into the hands of the Blachford family. From 1774 to 1781 Robert Pope Blachford extended and adapted an existing house into a three-storey residence, with a walled kitchen garden and a brick stable block. The substantial stone foundations of the stable block may relate to an earlier building.
Osborne Takes Shape
The first phase of building was completed in 1846 with the Pavilion, housing the private rooms of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and the royal nurseries. The household wing, containing accommodation for members of the royal household who accompanied Queen Victoria to Osborne, was completed in 1848.
After the old house was demolished in 1848, the main wing, completed in 1851, was built on its site, and was linked by a long corridor to the household wing. The main wing was used initially by the royal children. The terraces on the north-east side of the Pavilion and main wing were designed to complement the house and are filled with the signature features of classical Italian gardens.
Neighbouring Barton Manor was thoroughly ‘restored’ by Cubitt and its outbuildings were organised as a model farm. Other building projects included estate cottages and lodges, a dormitory for male servants, and a landing house for the coastguard, with a sea wall along the coastal edge of the estate.
Queen Victoria Alone
Additions were made to the estate, however, as the royal family’s needs changed. In 1862 a museum was added near the Swiss Cottage to house the children’s growing collections. In 1866 a smoking room was built near the household wing.
Changing circumstances in Queen Victoria’s life prompted alterations to her accommodation too. In 1880 a private chapel was built and in 1887 the male dormitory was extended to accommodate the Indian servants who made up part of the royal household during the later years of her reign.
There was originally no grand reception room at Osborne. When Queen Victoria needed to entertain large numbers of people this had to be confined mainly to the summer months, when marquees could be erected on the lawns. In order to remedy this deficiency the Durbar Wing was built in 1890–92.
This provided a large reception or dining room on the ground floor, known as the Durbar Room. It also housed a private suite for the queen’s youngest daughter, Princess Beatrice (1857–1944), and her family, on the first floor. It was partly to meet the extra demands of this young family that a dormitory for housemaids was built in 1894.
The Naval College
Reforms initiated in 1902 led to a rapid expansion of the navy and an urgent need to provide for additional training places. In 1903 part of the estate around the stables at Osborne was developed as a college for naval cadets. Building began in March 1903 to the designs of Henry Hawks of the Office of Works, and the Royal Naval College Osborne was formally opened by Edward VII the following August.
By 1921, however, the Royal Naval College Dartmouth was able to supply all the new cadets required and the college at Osborne was closed. In 1933 many of its ‘temporary’ buildings were demolished and thereafter a succession of short-term tenants occupied the site.