The Fall and Rise of Kew Palace

Kew Palace

As the family of King George III and Queen Charlotte grew, Kew took on more of a secondary role to other royal residences in the 1780s with more time spent at Windsor and Weymouth. However, in November 1788 George III was brought to Kew from Windsor suffering from his first episode of illness. In 1801 Kew Palace was his sanatorium while his family lived separately in the larger White House nearby.

Queen Charlotte's Boudoir at Kew Palace

Queen Charlotte’s Boudoir at Kew Palace adjoined her bedroom. It was in rooms such as this that the ritual of afternoon tea – taken with bits of food and in the presence of friends – would be acted out in stately 19th century English homes. Queen Charlotte would never have called her tea drinking  “afternoon tea.” Photo by Bruce Richardson.

In 1802 the White House, in a state of disrepair, was partially demolished. Work on a new palace was underway and some of the Royal family temporarily took up residence at Kew Palace while the new palace was completed. That palace was never completed.

George III bath at Kew

The royal bath tub was kept in the lower level of the Royal Kitchens where it was close to the coppers that constantly kept large quantities of water heated for washing kitchen and dining utensils – or the king. Photo by Bruce Richardson.

In the later part of his life, George III suffered from recurrent, and eventually permanent, mental illness. Although it has since been suggested that he suffered from the blood disease porphyria, the cause of his illness remains unknown. After a final relapse in 1810, a regency was established, and George III’s eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, ruled as Prince Regent. On George III’s death at Windsor on January 19, 1820, the Prince Regent succeeded his father as George IV.

Queen Charlotte's Chair at Kew

Queen Charlotte died in this chair beside her bed on November 17, 1818. Photo by Bruce Richardson.

But Queen Charlotte was already deceased. Visitors to Kew today can see the chair in which she died on November 17, 1818. Her death brought to an end 90 years of royal residence at Kew Palace. The Queen’s goods were removed or sold and a housekeeper was left in residence in the emptied house. In 1840 the majority of the gardens and park were transferred to the Office of Woods and Forests. Kew Palace was re-decorated and opened to visitors in 1898 by Queen Victoria.

Following a ten year closure for restoration, Kew Palace was used to hold a dinner hosted by Charles, Prince of Wales to celebrate the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II on April 21, 2006 and opened the next day to the public. The lower two floors of the house have been restored to the first decade of the 19th century, allowing us a intimate peek into the life of George III during the thirty years after the Boston Tea Party.

Kew Palace is operated by Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, and Kensington Palace, as well as Kew Palace. The palace – open April through September – is on the grounds of Kew Gardens. Visitors may take the District Line from London and exit at the Kew tube station. Allow 45 minutes travel time.  Lunch or refreshments are available in the Orangery located one yards from the palace door.