Originally built as a private residence in 1631, Kew Palace is a British royal palace in Kew Gardens on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond. Kew Palace is relatively small for a royal residence, basically just the size of an aristocratic manor house.
It was perhaps this smallness that endeared it to the King George III's family who spent much of their time there during his reign. Today, the palace is cared for by an independent charity, the Historic Royal Palaces. It is open to visitors during the summer and features such quaint exhibits as King George III's waistcoat and the chair in which Queen Charlotte died.
To discover more of the important historical buildings in the Richmond area, visit our page about historic houses.
According to historians, there have been at least three palaces at Kew. Only the second one remains today.
The first palace on the site was owned by Robert Dudley, childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth I. It may have been also called Leicester House.
The second palace was built in 1631 by Samuel Fortrey, the father of author Samuel Fortrey. The building, also called the 'Dutch House' because of its distinctive Dutch-style gables, was subsequently purchased by Sir Richard Levett, a wealthy merchant and the former Lord Mayor of the City of London, from the grandson of Samuel Fortrey.
It was leased by George III from the Levett family and in 1781, the monarch finally bought the house for £20,000. Members of the Royal Family have actually occupied the house since 1734 starting with Frederick, Prince of Wales who took a long lease of the house and made it his residence.
George III and Queen Charlotte originally considered Kew Palace as temporary residence pending completion of a much grander royal palace (the third Kew Palace) that was being built nearby. As it turned out, it became the permanent residence of the king and queen and their 15 children. It is the stories of the simple family life that King George's family enjoyed at Kew Palace that lend historical significance and importance to this popular tourist attraction today.
By all accounts, the third Kew Palace was an ill-conceived monstrosity, a gothic 'castellated palace' hated by everyone who saw it, 'an abortive production...illustrative of bad taste and defective judgment'. The poet Sir Richard Phillips, in 'A Morning's Walk from London to Kew', called it the 'Bastile palace'. Designed by George III and James Wyatt, construction on the palace started in 1802 but was never completed. It was later demolished in 1828.
Kew Palace is a great example of the Artisan Mannerist architectural style. Brick is the predominant material used in this building, shaped and fashioned according to the familiar lines of features of Classical architecture.
A comprehensive 10-year restoration project was completed in 2006 included repairs to the structure and the facade as well as the addition of period draperies and other fabric decorations overseen by master weaver Ian Dale. The original gardens surrounding the palace were laid out by Sir William Chambers, one of the greatest ornamental gardening masters in England.