A confession to begin – this property, located in Kew Gardens, was never actually a residence but instead was built as a country day retreat for the family of King George III at the behest of his wife Queen Charlotte.
The cottage, which features a thatched roof and half-timbered walls and dates from around 1772, is known as a cottage orné (decorated cottage).
Located in what’s described as “one of London’s finest bluebell woods” with parts of it more than 300-years-old, it was designed to be a place where the Queen and her growing family (the King and Queen would have 15 children) could enjoy picnics or take tea while on walks through the gardens during their summers at Kew.
Inside, the ground floor of the premises features two halls – one for the royal family on the left and another for servants on the right, each of which features a staircase leading to the first floor. In the centre of the ground floor is the Print Room, a small room hung with more than 150 satirical engravings including works by the famed James Gillray. There’s also a small kitchen.
On the upper floor is the Picnic Room which features two expansive recycled 17th century windows looking out to the garden and wall and roof paintings featuring trailing nasturtiums and convolvulus to give the appearance of a bower. The latter are thought to have been the work of Princess Elizabeth, generally viewed as the most artistic of King George III’s children.
Behind the cottage was a large paddock which was used to contain a growing menagerie of animals, no doubt to the delight of the royal children. Initially the occupants were Tartarian pheasants and oriental cattle but later it also housed a now extinct quagga (an animal similar to a zebra) and some of the first kangaroos to arrive in Britain (these were bred by the early 19th century, there were up to 18 of them). In 1806, the gardener was instructed to turn the paddock into a flower garden.
King George III was apparently fond of the cottage but he was last at Kew in 1806. It was used in 1818 following the double wedding of his sons, the Duke of Clarence (who became King William IV) and Edward, the Duke of Kent (father of Queen Victoria).
Queen Victoria rarely visited the cottage but had it maintained by a housekeeper. In 1889, the Queen gave the cottage to the public to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee.
The Grade II* cottage is these days managed by Historic Royal Palaces.
WHERE: Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, the south-west corner of, Kew Gardens (nearest Tube station is Kew Gardens); WHEN: Cottage is open from 4th April from 11.30am to 3.30pm on weekends and bank holidays; COST: (entry to Kew Gardens) £21.50 adults/£10 students/children £5 (discounts apply for advance bookings); WEBSITE: www.kew.org.