Kew Palace Revealed

THE speaker at the January meeting of the Ashbourne Heritage Society was Mr  Harvey Murray – Smith and his subject was “Kew Palace Revealed”.

Mr Murray-Smith was the house manager for the last six years of his service  with the Royal Palaces. He was previously at Hampton Court. In 1995 a ten year  programme of restoration was started at Kew at a cost of £6.8 million. The  building was in a terrible state having been unoccupied since the death of  George III in 1820. Mr Murray-Smith started by giving a brief history of the  palace (the smallest of the Royal Palaces) whose earliest part, the undercroft,  dates from the 1550’s. In 1631 it was a rich merchant’s house. kew p outsideIn 1727, after  the death of George I, George II succeeded to the throne and with his wife,  Caroline of Ansbach, leased the palace as a residence for the Queen and their  daughters.

George III is the monarch most associated with Kew. He spent a lot of his  childhood there. His father, Frederick Prince of Wales, died when George was 12  and he was raised by his mother, Augusta. He inherited the throne in 1760 and in  1761 married Charlotte of Mecklenburg Strelitz. He was a devoted father to their  fifteen children though he did restrict their personal lives, particularly their  marital choices. By 1771 Kew had become the school for George (IV to be) and his  brother Frederick.

We have all heard of ‘the madness of King George’ which has now been  diagnosed as porphysia. His first attack was in 1765 with the first really  serious one in 1788. By 1811 he was completely incapable and spent time apart  from his family in a wing of the palace (now demolished), especially converted  for his use. By now the Queen and the princesses were afraid of the king during  these attacks. The Prince of Wales (later George IV) became Prince Regent in  1811.

Until the onset of the later attacks George III had been an exemplary husband  and father with many interests outside his constitutional duties – art,  architecture, music, astronomy, and of course, farming. His was known as ‘Farmer  George’.

After his death in 1820, the palace was unused. So we come to 1995 when the  decision was taken to bring Kew Palace back to life. It was largely due to the  vision of Prince Charles, our Prince of Wales, that this happened and much of  the £6.8 million was raised thanks to his efforts.

Mr Murray-Smith then showed us several short extracts from the DVD made to  celebrate the restoration of the palace. His paid tribute to Lee Prosser and  Susan Groom who helped with the film and who acted as on-screen guides to parts  of the film. One fascinating anecdote he told us was about the colour of the  doors. Any brown door servants could enter but no other colours, why? Most  servants were illiterate so colours, rather than labels indicated the servants’  access.kew p piano

These film extracts were fascinating and, I for one, would love to have seen  the whole film. The palace is open for six months of the year. There are no  guided tours but “visitors’ assistants” are in every room and all in their  costume (what Mr Murray-Smith described as Jane Austen styles) representing land  agents, equerries, house servants etc. When these posts were advertised 2000  people applied for the 60 available jobs. The chosen few then had two weeks  training.

Another little story – the new carpets made for the palace were made by the  same company that made the originals. The 200 year old patterns were still in  the store and were used to recreate the carpets for 2005.

There are 64 pictures on view at Kew and all are micro-chipped with a history  of each picture. The pictures are hung in such a way that they can be easily  removed in case of fire and all are colour-coded. Red marked ones to be rescued  first!

In 2006, after the completion of the restoration, Prince Charles hosted a  dinner at the Palace to celebrate its restoration and the Queen’s 80th Birthday.  We saw snippets from that, particularly the beautiful table setting and the  party of 26 senior members of the Royal family who gathered after dinner to  watch the firework display. The “Who’s who red book” was signed by all the  party.

A second dinner party for the Royal family was held a few years later, this  time hosted by the Sultan of Omar who paid for the restoration of the kitchen  block. This was last used in 1805 and when work started, the kitchen proved to  be a “time capsule” and many of the old features have been retained.kew p bed

As well as the film clips and slide that we saw Mr Murray-Smith had put on a  tremendous display of books, pictures and souvenirs of his time at Kew –  including the hand painted menu for the Queen’s 80th Birthday dinner.

This really was a memorable evening and our grateful thanks to Mr  Murray-Smith and “his technical friend at the computer” were expressed by our  chairman, John Titterton.

A group visit to Kew Palace by the Ashbourne Heritage Society is being organised for Tuesday 3rd June 2014.