Buckingham Palace is probably one of the most recognisable structures in Britain today but it started life, as did many great buildings, as a modest mansion house for the Duke of Buckingham. Built on the site of Arlington House in 1702, this dignified brick and stone property was purchased some 60 years later by George III for his wife Queen Charlotte. Buckingham House, as it was then known, was intended to provide a family home, conveniently close to St James' Palace where the royal couple had many court functions to fulfil. Remodelled by Sir William Chambers over a period of twelve years, it was completed in 1774 and renamed The Queens House. All but one of the Queen's 15 children were born in this house.
During the time of George IV, the house was subjected to a major transformation under the watchful eye of John Nash, the King's favourite architect. Work commenced in 1825, with Nash creating a new garden fašade on the west elevation giving the building its prominent central bow. On the east elevation a new neo-classical fašade was added, with northern and southern wings flanking a central marble arch commemorating Britain's victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo. Lavishly decorated state rooms were incorporated on the first floor, and these have survived almost unchanged to the present day. Due to the exorbitant cost of this work, Nash was immediately dismissed on the death of George IV in 1830, the work being completed later by Edward Blore.
Neither George IV nor his successor, William IV, lived at Buckingham Palace. King William died shortly before Buckingham Palace was ready for occupation, but in 1834 he had offered the property for the government's use, when a fire had destroyed the Houses of Parliament. This offer was not taken up. On 13th July 1837, Queen Victoria accompanied by her mother drove in state from Kensington Palace to take up residence, the first Monarch ever to live at Buckingham Palace. This Royal palace lacked certain facilities, which were highlighted following the marriage of Victoria to Prince Albert in 1840. Once again, Edward Blore was commissioned to provide additional accommodation, and a Chapel.
The new wing comprised of a 240ft (73.1m) gallery on the first floor, designed to link the royal corridor in the north wing to the household corridor in the south wing, and many of the fittings used came from the Brighton Royal Pavilion. The grand marble arch could no longer be facilitated, and it was consequently dismantled and re-erected in its present position, on the corner of Hyde Park. After completion of the new eastern fašade, the only other major structural addition to Buckingham Palace was a ballroom, built in 1854 by Sir James Pennethorne. As part of the Victoria memorial scheme in 1911, the present forecourt, wrought iron gates and railings were added. Blore's 19th century east fašade was re-modelled in 1913 by Sir Aston Webb, when the original stonework started to show signs of serious decay.
During the months of August and September, many of the state rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors and these contain some of the finest paintings and furniture from the royal collection. The Royal Mews remain open to the public throughout the year. This great symbol of our heritage and our beloved Royal Family should certainly be included on any tourist's list of 'places to visit in Britain'.