Magazine article History Today

The King and the Kittens of Kew: Charlotte Crow Visits the Newly Restored Kew Palace, Country House to George III and His Family from 1800-18 and a Royal Residence for Ninety Years

Magazine article History Today

The King and the Kittens of Kew: Charlotte Crow Visits the Newly Restored Kew Palace, Country House to George III and His Family from 1800-18 and a Royal Residence for Ninety Years

Article excerpt

THE SOUND OF HOOVES ON GRAVEL and a ghostly snort of equestrian breath reach one's ears as if from nowhere on the approach to George III's country residence. In re-opening the doors of Kew Palace, after a ten-year, 6.6 million [pounds sterling] restoration project, Historic Royal Palaces undoubtedly bring us closer to the domestic persona of Farmer George, who spent many happy times here, though also endured bouts of his loathsome illness within these walls, besieged by tyrannical physicians.

The merchant's house of 1631 was first used by the royal family in 1728 for the eldest three girls of George II. Their older brother Frederick inhabited the much larger White House opposite, since demolished, on land that is now part of Kew Gardens. George III and his brother Edward had their school at the Dutch House, as the smaller building was known, and following his accession in 1760, George's expanding family (fifteen children by 1783) soon overspilled from their official residence at nearby Richmond Lodge into the care of governesses in nearby houses at Kew. In 1764, some of the younger princes were quarantined at Kew when they caught whooping cough.

The interiors seem anything but child-friendly, yet by Georgian standards the arrangement is a far cry from the formality of state apartments. It is possible to imagine the younger royals at Kew partly because of the scale of the house (it is the smallest palace in Britain) and partly because it contains certain items, such as the large Doll's House, with interiors matching some of those in the palace, a much-loved toy refurbished by the daughters of George III, rediscovered by good fortune in an art dealer's warehouse in New York; a filigree silver rattle, presented to the six-month-old Prince of Wales in 1763 by his governess Charlotte Finch, and an ostentatious silver-gilt egg boiler given to the King by his daughters on his sixty-sixth birthday in June 1804.

The King may have enjoyed the products of this gift where it is now displayed in the Breakfast Room with other material relating to the royal children. But this room, like the Library--where George III's diverse pastimes are represented by carefully chosen key objects--has not been reconstructed. …

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