Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bought the Osborne estate in 1845. Their aim was to create a private home away from court life in London and Windsor and to provide a retreat reflecting a more ‘normal’ experience for their growing family. Osborne with its house and grounds was used by Queen Victoria for more than 50 years as a place where she could entertained foreign royalty and visiting ministers as well as enjoy her own extensive family.
When they first bought Osborne the existing house was too small for their requirements. Prince Albert commissioned Thomas Cubitt, a master builder and developer of much of Belgravia in central London, to advise him on the best way to improve the house and grounds. Cubitt recommended demolishing the old house and to build a new house more suited to their requirements. He then collaborated with Prince Albert to design the more appropriate building that can be seen today and which was finally completed in 1851.
The Swiss Cottage was built for the royal children in 1853-54, and is situated within the grounds nearly a mile to the east of the house. The family could ‘escape’ here and live a ‘normal life’, where the children could play, learn to cook and grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers.
The design of the formal gardens around the house and the transformation of the parkland was supervised by Prince Albert and comprises of an extensive network of walks 21 miles in length including a route around the perimeter of the park. This was all completed by 1864. However, sadly, in 1861, at the early age of 42, Prince Albert died and Osborne lost its principal creative force.
Prince Albert’s early death plunged Queen Victoria into a deep mourning that lasted for the rest of her life. After Prince Albert’s death Queen Victoria found comfort and consolation at Osborne, and took up full-time residence. She died at Osborne in 1901.
Osborne was the private property of the royal family but Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s successor, did not wish to keep it. In 1901 on the orders of Edward VII, Victoria and Albert’s private rooms were sealed closed. No other member of the royal family wanted to take on the upkeep of Osborne, and on 9th August 1902, the day of King Edward VII’s coronation, the King gave Osborne to the nation.
In 1904 parts of the ground floor of the house were opened to the public, and most of the other parts of the house were converted into the King Edward VII Convalescent Home for Officers. In 1902 reforms to the British Navy initiated its rapid expansion and an urgent need to provide for additional training facilities. To meet this need part of the estate around the stables at Osborne was developed into a College for Naval Cadets, which was opened by Edward VII in August 1904. However, by 1921 the Royal Naval College Dartmouth was able to supply all the new cadets required and the college at Osborne was closed.
In 1954 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II gave permission for Victoria and Albert’s private rooms to be unlocked and the public were first admitted in 1954. There was a significant upsurge in visitors as a result of publicity surrounding Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee in 1977 and this enabled many rooms to be redecorated.
English Heritage took over the management of Osborne in 1986 and since then much exterior restoration and interior redecoration and re-arrangement has been undertaken. The royal nursery suite on the second floor of the house was reconstructed and opened to the public in 1989. In 2012 Queen Victoria’s private beach was opened to the public, and, in 2014 The Swiss Cottage was restored and re-presented as a child/family friendly educational resource.
Many of the rooms are filled with furniture and works of art original to the house in Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s day, reflecting their personal tastes, while the planting in the grounds has either matured or been reproduced to reflect Prince Albert’s designs.
Osborne House is an outstanding example of neoclassical design holding a significant collection of paintings and works of art given to the nation. Works by Gainsborough, Rembrandt, Reynolds, Turner and Vermeer hang on a background of opulent interior décor, including the splendidly decorated library; a masterpiece designed by Robert Adam.
The landscaped grounds are enjoyed by thousands of visitors every year and form the backdrop to many events including open air concerts, plays, films and TV documentaries. Most recently Osborne House hosted the filming of ‘Victoria and Abdul’ starring our Patron Dame Judi Dench.