Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens

Cupola Room 1785

Cupola Room 1785


Kensington Palace began as a simple two-story Jacobean mansion built by Sir George Coppin in 1605 in the village of Kensington. The mansion was purchased in 1619 by Heneage Finch, 1st Earl of Nottingham and was then known as Nottingham House. Shortly after William and Mary assumed the throne as joint monarchs in 1689, they began searching for a residence better situated for the comfort of the asthmatic William, as Whitehall Palace was too near the River Thames, with its fog and floods, for William's fragile health. In the summer of 1689, William and Mary bought Nottingham House from Secretary of State Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham for £20,000. They then instructed Sir Christopher Wren, Surveyor of the King's Works to begin an immediate expansion of the house. In order to save time and money, Wren kept the structure intact and added a three-story pavilion at each of the four corners, providing more accommodation for the King and Queen and their attendants. The royal court took residence in the palace shortly before Christmas 1689, and for the next seventy years, Kensington Palace was the favoured residence of British monarchs, although the official seat of the Court was and remains at St. James's Palace, which has not been the actual royal residence in London since the 17th century. After William III's death, the palace became the residence of Queen Anne. She had Christopher Wren complete the extensions that William and Mary had begun, resulting in the section known as the Queen's Apartments, with the Queen's Entrance, and the plainly decorated Wren designed staircase, that featured shallow steps so that Anne could walk down gracefully (she was a little overweight after 17 pregnancies).


Kensington Palace was also the setting of the final argument between Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and Queen Anne. The Duchess, who was known for being outspoken and manipulative, was jealous of the attention the Queen was giving to Abigail Masham, Baroness Masham. Along with the previous insensitive acts of the Duchess at the death of Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark, who had died at Kensington Palace in October 1708, the friendship came to an abrupt end on 6 April 1710, with the two seeing each other for the last time after an argument in the Queen's Closet. George I spent lavishly on new royal apartments, creating three new state rooms known as the Privy Chamber, the Cupola Room and the Withdrawing Room. He hired the unknown William Kent in 1722 to decorate the state rooms, which he did with elaborately painted trompe l’oeil ceilings and walls. The Cupola Room was Kent's first commission for the King. The octagonal coffering in the domed ceiling was painted in gold and blue, and terminated in a flat panel decorated with the Star of the Order of the Garter. The walls and woodwork were painted brown and gold to contrast with the white marble pilasters, doorways and niches which were surmounted with gilded statuary. George I was pleased with his work, and between 1722 and 1727, Kent oversaw the decoration and picture hanging for all of the royal apartments at Kensington Palace. Kent's final commission was the King's Grand Staircase which he painted with 45 intriguing courtiers from the Georgian court, including the King’s Turkish servants Mahomet and Mustapha, Peter ‘the wild boy’ as well as himself along with his mistress. The last reigning monarch to use Kensington Palace was George II, who did not undertake any major structural changes to the palace during his reign, and left the running of the palace to his wife Queen Caroline. At the request of the Queen, Charles Bridgeman, successor to Henry Wise as royal gardener, swept away the outmoded parterres and redesigned Kensington Gardens in a form that is still recognizable today: his remaining features are The Serpentine, the basin called the Round Pond, and the Broad Walk. After the death of his wife, George II neglected many rooms and the palace fell into disrepair. King George II died at Kensington Palace on 25 October 1760.


With the accession of King George III in 1760, Kensington Palace was only used for minor royalty. The sixth son of George III, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, was allocated apartments in the south-west corner of Kensington Palace in 1805 known as Apartment 1. He was interested in the arts and science and amassed a huge library that filled ten rooms and comprised over fifty thousand volumes. He also had a variety of singing birds that were free to fly around his apartments and a large number of clocks. He was elected as president of the Royal Society and gave receptions in his apartments at Kensington Palace to men of science, but the expense they incurred induced him to resign the presidency, as he preferred to employ the money in making additions to his library. During World War I, George V allowed a number of rooms in the palace to be used by those working for Irish POWs and Irish soldiers at the front, and decreed that its royal inhabitants adhere to the same rations as everyone else. The royal inhabitants now included Helena, Duchess of Albany, her daughter Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone with her husband Alexander Cambridge, 1st Earl of Athlone, who was the brother of Queen Mary. In 1921, upon widowhood, Victoria, Marchioness of Milford Haven moved into a grace-and-favor apartment at Kensington Palace. During this period, her grandson, Prince Philip would live with her at times as she was in charge of his education. As a result of the number of royal relatives residing there during the 1920s and 1930s, Edward VIII called the palace "the aunt heap." For those with limited mobility, Liberty Drives is a seasonal initiative by The Hyde Park Appeal to provide a free electric buggy service to aid mobility around the 760 acres of the park, including Kensington Gardens where Kensington Palace is situated. It runs from May to October, the buggies seat up to five people and can give half-hour rides around the park, as well as offer drop off and pick up. There is level access from Kensington Gardens to the palace, a lift to all floors and wheelchairs and portable seating to borrow during your visit. They have Describer Tours led by their Explainers of either the King's Apartments or Victoria Revealed to blind and partially sighted visitors. They recommend choosing one of these per visit as they will take around 1.5 to 2 hours. Tours can be arranged between 10.00 and 15.00 and must be booked at least two weeks in advance. There is no additional charge for a Describer Tour. They have Describer Tours for Fashion Rules and the Queen's State Apartments to be downloaded beforehand to listen to during your visit. Find these at Describer Tours download.


Location : Kensington Gardens, London W8 4PX

Transport: High Street Kensington (District, Circle). Queensway (Central Line). London Buses routes 70, 94, 148, 390 to Bayswater Road or 9, 10, 49, 52, 70, and 452 to Kensington High Street.

Opening Times: to 28th February 10:00 to 17:00.

Opening Times: to 31st October 10:00 to 18:00.

Tickets : Adults £14.00.   Online Booking

Concessions £11.40,    Under 16 Free

Excludes Voluntary Donation

Half Price through 10th February.

Tel: 020 3166 6000