Heritage Category: Park and Garden
List Entry Number: 1000795
Date first listed: 01-Oct-1987
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
County: Greater London Authority
District: City of Westminster (London Borough)
National Grid Reference: TQ 28785 79554
The gardens of Buckingham Palace, the main residence of the reigning British monarch. The C18 formal garden made by Henry Wise was replaced by an informal garden, landscaped by William Townsend Aiton c 1826. Aiton's work largely survives with C20 modifications.
In 1608-9 King James I endeavoured to establish a silk industry in England and had mulberry trees planted in part of what was then St James's Park (qv), to the north of the present site of Buckingham Palace. The scheme was not a success and eventually, in 1640, the interest in the Mulberry Garden was sold to Lord Goring who owned neighbouring Goring House. After the Restoration however in 1660, Lord Goring lost his title to Goring House and it became the property of Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, a life-long favourite of King Charles II. Following a disastrous fire in c 1674, Arlington rebuilt Goring House, renaming it Arlington House. After inheriting the property in 1685 Arlington's daughter, the Duchess of Grafton, sold it to John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, later (1703) the Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham rebuilt the by then ruinous Arlington House and enlarged the site, buying the neighbouring Crow Fields to the north-west and incorporating a small part of St James's Park. He located his new house, subsequently renamed Buckingham House, on the main axis of St James's Park. This was done in such a way that it looked as if the whole of that park was his own. He employed Henry Wise (1653-1738), master gardener to Queen Anne, to make improvements to the gardens and Wise laid out a formal garden largely to the east of the new house (Plumtre 1981). The Duke of Buckingham died in 1721 and the property passed first to his wife and then to his son Charles Herbert who, in 1761, sold it to the Crown. George III used Buckingham House as a refuge from the formality of St James's Palace. In 1762 or 1763 Brown was asked to improve the garden. With some extra acres acquired from what is now Green Park, he proposed alternative schemes: the more elaborate used sculpted drifts of trees to create two large groves containing an oval lake. This was not carried out but his generous ambits or surrounds of trees gave the desired privacy and it seems that much of this shelter belt was planted. He was appointed royal gardener in 1764 and his remit included the Queen's House (now Buckingham Palace) (Brown 2011; Stroud 1975). George IV rebuilt the house from 1826, renaming it Buckingham Palace, and at the same time remodelled the garden. William Townsend Aiton, Superintendent of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (qv), was given the job of landscaping the grounds and in doing so largely removed the formal garden made by Henry Wise. Aiton's work continued during the reign of William IV and he was still involved, probably undertaking maintenance works, when the young Victoria came to the throne (1837).
After the death of Victoria in 1901 the Palace was renovated and the Queen Victoria Memorial created to the east, the architect being Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930). The C19 framework of the garden was maintained, with additional trees and shrubs being planted and areas of bedding and borders made during subsequent years. The Palace was damaged in the Second World War but the royal family stayed in residence. Since the accession of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the gardens, while largely being retained for private use, have become a venue for regular large royal garden parties.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING Buckingham Palace is situated in central London, c 500m to the north of Victoria station and immediately to the west of St James's Park. The c 16ha site is bounded to the north by Constitution Hill, which separates the Palace from Green Park (qv). The east boundary is formed by the road which encircles the Queen Victoria Memorial (listed grade I). Buckingham Palace Road and Buckingham Gate road form the boundary to the south-east, and Lower Grosvenor Place the boundary to the south, Grosvenor Place being the boundary to the west. The largely level site rises in the north-west corner, corresponding with the rise in Constitution Hill, and is enclosed within high brick walls of C18 to mid C19 date.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES The main entrance to the gardens, to the north of the Palace, is approached from the Palace forecourt to the east. The forecourt railings, gate piers, gates, and lamps (listed grade I) were made between 1901 and 1911 by Sir Aston Webb as part of his Victoria Memorial scheme. The entrance to the north of the Palace is through a gateway in the colonnade screen (listed grade I), made as part of Nash's building programme of c 1830. The Greek Doric screen, decorated with the royal arms, is made from Bath stone with cast-iron columns. A minor entrance in the southern boundary wall, Grosvenor Gate, leads north from Grosvenor Place to the head gardener's house and yard. A second minor entrance to the garden is to be found to the south-east where a pair of tall wooden gates inserted in the south-east boundary wall, the 'Electricians Gate', provides access directly from Buckingham Gate road.
PRINCIPAL BUILDING Buckingham Palace (listed grade I) is set to the east of the site. Built around a quadrangle, the east front of which looks onto the Victoria Memorial, the building has three storeys with ground and attic floor mezzanines. The west front overlooks the main lawn and is dominated by the West Terrace which runs north-west/south-east for 100m. The terrace is decorated with Coade stone balustrading topped with classical urns, also made from Coade stone. The Palace largely retains the style of the early C19 when John Nash (1752-1835) was asked, in 1825, by his friend the Prince Regent (later George IV), to provide plans to rebuild Buckingham House as a royal residence. By 1831 however, with the project vastly overspent and questions over some of his business practices, Nash was dismissed and replaced by the architect Edward Blore (1787-1879). Blore altered the Nash design and completed the building in 1837. In 1847 he added the east range which replaced the Marble Arch (then the formal entrance to the Palace), and enclosed Nash's east forecourt. In 1913 Sir Aston Webb, while working on the Victoria Memorial, made a new facade to cover Blore's east front.
To the south-west of the Palace and facing Buckingham Palace Road are the Royal Mews; these consist of two parts, the Mews and the Riding House. The Riding House was built in 1764 but received its decorated frieze and pediment in 1859. The Mews proper was built in 1824-5, around a quadrangle with a large archway with coupled Roman columns, intermittently blocked, and crowned by a clock tower.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS Best viewed from the West Terrace, the gardens and pleasure grounds, although screened from the outside world by high brick walls and mature trees (London plane being a dominant species), maintain an open appearance. A rolled gravel path runs around the perimeter of the site, while branches divert around lawns, island beds, and other features, largely reflecting William Townsend Aiton's layout of 1825.
From the main entrance a gravel path runs along side Nash's north range of the Palace, to join up with the Broad Walk below the West Terrace. From the Broad Walk the main lawn (c 2ha) stretches for 150m south-west to the lake. The main lawn, used up to six times a year for royal garden parties, also acts as a landing pad for helicopters. A short path lined with Indian chestnut trees, planted late C20, curves north-west from the northern end of the Broad Walk to island shrub beds to the north of the main lawn. The northern perimeter path meanders west from the main entrance between the main lawn and, to the north, an herbaceous border edged by a strip of grass. The herbaceous border replaced, in the late C20, a border of seasonal bedding plants. Some 180m west of the main entrance and to the south of the perimeter path is the simple wooden Tea House of c 1939. The island beds around the Tea House are largely planted with shrubs, rhododendrons being especially prominent. The perimeter path continues to the west where, after c 200m, it passes the Waterloo Vase. Situated in the Arboretum, the Waterloo Vase stands in a glade of trees, with views to the lake lying in a dell to the south. The Carrara marble vase (listed grade I) stands 4.5m high with an acanthus-carved base and is set on a paved plinth. Made in 1812 for Napoleon Bonaparte, the vase was presented to the Prince Regent and later carved by Sir Richard Westmacott, with on one half a battle scene, and on the other a figure, probably the Prince Regent. William IV gave the vase to the National Gallery but it returned to Buckingham Palace in 1906 when the trustees of the Gallery presented it to King Edward VII. To the north, east, and west of the Waterloo Vase is the C20 rose garden and, on the north side of the perimeter path c 30m north of the Vase, the Admiralty Temple (listed grade I). Set on grass amid island rose beds, the early C18 building, used (2000) as a summerhouse, has a tripartite elevation with four free-standing supporting pillars or herms in the form of tritons. The building was brought in 1901 from Spring Gardens. The perimeter path continues west from the Admiralty Temple passing, after c 50m, the Silver Garden. Set against the northern boundary wall the garden was made in 1972 to commemorate the Silver Wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. To the west of the Silver Garden the ground slopes south away from the perimeter path to tennis courts (made 1919). To the north of the tennis courts, largely concealed behind C20 plantings, is an area set aside to recycle garden refuse (late C20).
From the north-west corner of the garden (south-east of Hyde Park Corner), the perimeter path continues south for c 150m to the lake, the boundary wall to the west being largely screened by trees and shrubs, the lawn to the north-east being decorated with ornamental trees and shrubs. The c 2ha lake is largely rectangular, with a serpentine tail of water c 150m long to the north-west. An oval island (c 0.5ha) lies to the south-west of the main body of the lake with a much smaller island to the south of it. A small promontory of land, the Table, sticks out into the lake from the south-east bank. The lake, part of Aiton's design, was excavated by 1827/8. At the north-west end is a small waterfall. This waterfall, installed in 1991 in order to improve the quality of the water, replaced a cascade (made c 1961) c 5m to the south. Some 100m to the north-east of the waterfall, on the north bank of the lake, stand a pair of ornamental Japanese cranes. The life-size bronze figures were presented to Edward VII during a visit to India in 1903. Two bridges, one to the north and one to the south, connect the west bank of the lake to the large island. The bridges were apparently made by Pulham and Son in 1904 (Beresford 1996) but the bridge to the south has the date 1920 inscribed near its base, perhaps indicating a later repair.
The western perimeter path continues south for a further c 150m, alongside the shrubs and trees which largely screen the western boundary wall, to the Mound where it divides, a branch running to either side of the earthworks. The Mound (8.6m maximum height) has steeply sloping sides and is planted with grass, trees, and shrubs, the south side being decorated with large pieces of rock, the work of Pulham and Sons c 1904 (Beresford 1996). The linear works extend east for 100m before turning to the north-east for a further 200m and terminating to the north of the Royal Mews. The Mound was made in 1827/8, primarily to conceal the view of the stables from the Palace. Some of the material excavated from the lake is thought to have gone into its make-up but although the two features cover a similar area, the Mound is substantially higher than the lake is deep (c 1.5m). Initially the Mound was planted with trees and shrubs; these have been added to and also thinned over the years. In 1840 Prince Albert had a gravel path laid along the top of the Mound, which has since been grassed over. In 1844 the royal couple had the Comus pavilion constructed on the Mound. Built facing north-west across the lake, above the Table, it was named after the scenes from Milton's Comus which decorated the interior. The pavilion was removed in 1928 after it had become derelict during the First World War.
The path to the north of the Mound runs between it and the south-east end of the lake then, following the line of the earthworks, swings to the east where after c 50m it meets with the Back Path running north from south-east of the Mound. The path which runs to the south of the Mound, a continuation of the western perimeter path, leads first to the gardener's yard, where the head gardener's house, greenhouses, and other service buildings are situated, before continuing east to join up with the Back Path which emanates from Grosvenor Gate. The Back Path continues along the south-east side of the Mound, with to the south-east the buildings of the Royal Mews, before joining, at the north-east end of the Mound, the path running to the north of the Mound. From this point the perimeter path continues past the buildings to the west of the Electricians Gate entrance, where after c 50m it links up with the south-east end of the Broad Walk.
N Cole, Royal Parks and Gardens of London (1877), pp 1-6 E Cecil, London Parks and Gardens (1907), pp 350-6 B Cherry and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England: The Cities of London and Westminster (1973), pp 504-10 P Coates, The Gardens of Buckingham Palace (1978) G Plumtre, Royal Gardens (1981), pp 158-78 C Beresford, Pulham Data Base, A report on the English Heritage Data Base (1996), no 196
Maps Charles Bridgeman, A plan of the Gardens of Buckingham House, mid C18 (in Plumtree 1981)
OS 25" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1867 2nd edition published 1898 3rd edition published 1916
Description written: August 2000; amended: September 2003 Register Inspector: LCH Edited: January 2002 The List entry was enhanced in 2016.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 1788
Legacy System: Parks and Gardens
Books and journals
Brown, J (Author), The Omnipotent Magician, Lancelot 'Capability' Brown , (2011), 141
Stroud, D, Capability Brown, (1975), 122
Brown's proposals for Queen Charlotte's grounds at Queen's House, now Buckingham Palace, c 1762 in the Royal Collection , accessed 10 May 2016 from https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/search#/2/collection/929594
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing