Kings and Queens once called it home. These days, the younger royals have the run of the place. Kensington Palace began life as Nottingham House, before it was snapped up and expanded by William and Mary. The rest is history.
Here we delve into the past of Kensington Palace, and its magnificent gardens.
1. Queen Caroline: Brilliant life, gory death
Caroline of Ansbach, the wife of George II, was one of the most remarkable women in British royal history. Described by one historian as "the cleverest queen consort ever to sit on the throne of England", Caroline came to Kensington Palace in 1727. Widely read and intelligent, English was only her third language but that didn't stop her mediating between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Liebniz about which of them had discovered calculus, forging an alliance with the Prime Minister Robert Walpole, and effectively ruling the country during four regencies while her husband visited Germany. A contemporary poet summed up her importance:
You may strut, dapper George, but 'twill all be in vain,
We know 'tis Queen Caroline, not you, that reign
Caroline's burgeoning size made her famous for her enormous bosom and she was crudely referred to as the King's 'great fat-arsed wife'. Her sad end came at Kensington Palace in 1737. The ignorance of 18th century medicine spelt her doom as bungling doctors chopped off a chunk of bowel that had popped out of her belly due to a umbilical hernia rather than just pushing it back inside. Her husband, inconsolable and never to marry again, faced a similarly unpleasant end when he died on the toilet at Kensington in 1760.
2. Peter, 'The Wild Boy'
Peter 'The Wild Boy' was found alone and naked in a German forest in 1725. Aged about 12, he couldn't talk and he preferred to scamper around on all fours. George I brought him to Kensington Palace the following year and installed him as some kind of curious human pet. People speculated that Peter had been raised by wolves or bears because he ate with his hands, disliked wearing clothes and could not be taught to speak. His novelty eventually wore off and he was sent to live at a farm. A metal collar was made for him which read, 'Peter the Wild Man of Hanover. Whoever will bring him to Mr Fenn at Berkhamsted shall be paid for their trouble.' When he died, the locals paid for a headstone and flowers are still laid on his grave to this day. It is now thought from his behaviour that Peter suffered from a rare genetic condition known as Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome.
Peter features on the grand paintings on the King's Stairs.
3. When Victoria met Albert
Queen Victoria was born in Kensington Palace in 1819. Raised under the strict 'Kensington System' which focused on preventing the princess from meeting people whom her mother deemed undesirable, she described her childhood as 'rather melancholy'. She often only had her spaniel Dash for company. She first set eyes on her future husband, her cousin Albert, at Kensington when she was only 16. It was lust at first sight: "He has besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance, you can possibly see". Ooer.
When Victoria became Queen in 1827 at the age of 18, she was the first monarch in over 100 years to leave Kensington Palace. Instead, she took up residence at some little pad called Buckingham Palace, becoming the first sovereign to rule from there.
4. Children's graves from Peter Pan?
The words of JM Barrie in Peter Pan are sadly poignant: "I think that the most touching sight in the Gardens is the two tombstones of Water Stephen Matthews and Phoebe Phelps... Here Peter found the two babes, who had fallen unnoticed from their perambulators." The letters W. St M and 13A P.P are indeed clearly inscribed on the two stones. But the real truth is more prosaic. The stones are actually examples of the hundreds of boundary markers across London. But they will forever be associated with the magical landscape of London in Peter Pan.
5. A Grade II listed tree
A 900 year tree sits in its protective cage in Kensington Gardens — little figures peaking out from the branches, and clambering up the bark. The Elfin Oak is one of the more bizarre listed monuments in England. The tree was transplanted from Richmond Park and adorned with its small inhabitants by Ivor Innes in 1928. The comedian Spike Milligan fought for it to remain as a brilliantly odd landmark in the Gardens, in the 1960s and 1990s.
Have fun spotting the various naughty inhabitants — some of them kissing, others smoking cigarettes.
6. A luxury torture chamber?
Three luxury mansions on Kensington Palace Gardens, bordering Kensington Palace, hold a dark secret. Between July 1940 and September 1948 they were requisitioned by MI19, a secret section of the British War Office, for the interrogation of prisoners of war. Known as the 'London Cage', allegations are rife that German POWs were subjected to torture and humiliation on a daily basis. One prisoner described how he was doused in cold water, pushed down stairs, and beaten with a cudgel. Unable to make the desired confession he was deprived of sleep for four days and nights and starved. In total 3,573 men passed through the Cage and more than 1,000 were 'persuaded' to give statements about war crimes.
Author Helen Fry has written a book about it.
7. The Esme Percy Fountain
He waits in Kensington Gardens with endless patience for someone to play with him. Often, a real dog will join him for a drink.
The fountain, with a sculpture of a terrier, was erected in 1961, and is in fact a memorial to actor Esme Percy. He was once famous as a producer and a star of stage and 50 films, but largely forgotten since. Percy led an interesting life. In his youth he was remarkably handsome but by the 1920s, the looks had faded somewhat. He had his nose broken in an accident and lost an eye after 'a playful mishap' with a Great Dane. During one of his performances in 1949 his glass eye popped out and rolled across the stage. This finally persuaded him to wear an eye patch in subsequent shows.
8. Filthy language uncovered at the Palace
When restoration work took place at Kensington Palace in 2011 there were some odd discoveries. Along with shrapnel from the second world war, pieces of graphic Edwardian graffiti dating from 1902 were revealed. 'Peter Jackson, The Champion F***er' is clearly etched on a timber post supporting the ceiling. Further finds suggested that it was not Mr Jackson himself who penned the filth but one of his workmates who clearly did not mean the message as a compliment.
9. Kensington Palace: The next generation
Prince William and Harry were brought up in Apartment 8 at Kensington Palace by Princess Diana. William and his family now call Apartment 1a — which has 22 rooms and two kitchens — home, and plans are in place for a £10 million 50-metre long, two-story deep super-basement to be built (how very Kensington). This is in addition to the £4m already spent on renovating the kitchen, bathrooms and nursery of Princess Margaret's old home.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will move into William and Kate's old home at the Palace, Nottingham Cottage, which has a mere two bedrooms.
See also: 13 secrets of Buckingham Palace.