One of the must see attractions in the Isle of Wight is Osborne House, the former royal residence of Queen Victoria. More than anything, this was a summer home and rural retreat for the royal family. The house was built between 1845 and 1851 on the site of a smaller house. Osborne House was one of the most favorite places of the Queen and she spent a lot of her time there. In fact, it was here that the Queen passed away on 22 January 1901.
Osborne House – A Home Befitting the Queen
What strikes you the moment you reach the premises of the house is the vastness of the estate. The house is in a huge estate spread over 354 acres, consisting of gardens, beach, cottages and open spaces. The house itself is big enough with lots of rooms such as state rooms, dining room, drawing room, billiards room, council room & audience room and more.
These are the rooms where Queen Victoria entertained her important guests during her stay at Osborne House. The Queen of England and her husband Prince Albert welcomed heads of state, inventors, princes and princesses here. The opulent corridors and the beautifully furnished interiors reflect their taste and style, as this house was purpose-built for the Queen.
During our visit to Osborne House, we can see the dining room, where the table is precisely set in the same way as it would have been in the days of Queen Victoria. We can also see the copy of an exquisite family portrait of the Queen, Prince and their children here. When the Queen passed away in 1901, her body was laid in state in this room, before it was taken to Windsor for funeral.
The yellow satin curtains, full length mirrors and a pair of cut-glass chandeliers are the highlights of this room. The Queen used to receive foreign royalty in the drawing room. But she also used it to play cards, sing, play the piano with member of royal household.
This was were the men retired after dinner. As it was separated from the drawing room by a screen and curtains, they could sit on a raised bench as the Queen was in the other room. The room is designed in such a way that it hid from the drawing room, so that the men could sit as technically, they were supposed to stand unless given permission to sit in the Queen’s presence.
Council Room & Audience Room
The council room was used for entrainment – there used to be dances, charades and dramas. This is where the Queen gave her husband the title ‘Prince Consort’. Also, this was where Alexander Graham Bell gave the Queen a demonstration of his new invention – the telephone – in 1878. Using the telephone, the Queen conversed with others as far as Southampton and London. This was a historic moment as it introduced telephone to Britain.
Durbar Room in Osborne House – the Indian Connection
Queen Victoria’s status as the Empress of India was celebrated by creating the Durbar room, an Indian-styled room. This was designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling, along with master carver Bhai Ram Singh. The room was used as a venue for ceremonial dinner for European royalty. A banquet table at the centre of the room recreates the scene of a dinner held in the Durbar room in the late 19th century. The cabinets in the room displays Indian gifts and artefacts.
The exquisite design of the interiors makes the Durbar room a popular filming location for period films. This room was featured in the 2017 film ‘Victoria and Abdul’, starring Dame Judi Dench and Ali Fazal.
A visit to Osborne House gives us a peek into the private world of the Queen and her family. The family rooms are all about Victoria, Albert and their nine children. We can see the Queen’s sitting room, personal bath tub as well as the bedroom where the Queen died on 22 January 1901.
We can see Prince Albert’s private suite, as it was in his lifetime and many of the things used by him. The nursery and the Queen’s personal lift are some other notable attractions inside the house.
Christmas Celebrations at Osborne House
It was during the times of Queen Victoria’s reign that Christmas tree decoration became popular in England. The Queen and Prince loved to decorate the trees with candles and sweet. It is said that Christmas celebrations as we know now was popularised by the royal family.
The Ground and Gardens at Osborne House
The house itself is made in an Italian style and there are terraced gardens adjoining the house. The upper terrace and lower terrace gardens have a wide range of flowers on display. Spring is the best season if you wish to see the garden in its full glory. We read somewhere that there is a myrtle, which is said to be grown from a vine planted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. However, we couldn’t spot it during our visit. In case you managed to see that during your visit, please let us know in the comment box.
Queen Victoria’s Private Beach
Another highlight of Osborne House is Queen Victoria’s private beach. The Queen regularly bathed at the beach and her children learned to swim there. Today, the beach offers a magnificent view out to the sea with yachts adding to the beauty of the scenery.
There is an alcove and a bathing machine, which is a kind of innovation in those times. The Queen used the bathing machine to enter the waters without being seen in her swimming costume. The bathing machine was run into the sea so she could enter the water and once she finished, it was pulled back to the beach with rope and winch. It is an interesting contraption, which had dressing room and even a water closet!
It is good place to enjoy a picnic. You can enjoy some snacks and drinks at the cafe by the beach. It is also a great place to taste the famous Isle of Wight Minghella ice-cream.
A little further ahead from the beach is the Swiss Cottage/Chalet which Prince Albert made for the royal children. There is a playground, garden and vegetable patch, where the royal children used to play and do some gardening. There is a small museum in the premises with a wide range of collections. The Chalet is not open to public, but we can take a walk in the gardens and enjoy a picnic too.
A Bus Ride
If you are too tired to walk back up to the house, you can take a ride in the bus back to the reception. This is a complementary ride and very useful if you wish to save some time or rest your weary legs. The view of Osborne House from inside the bus as you ride by is lovely. Although we weren’t too tired, we decided to hop on the bus. Soon, we alighted at the reception and made our way back to the car park.
It was time to move to our next destination for the day. We shall tell you about that in our next blog. Stay tuned!
This is the second blog of our Isle of Wight series. If you haven’t read the first blog, click here.