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The independent charity Historic Royal Palaces re-opened the doors of Kensington Palace to the public on 26 March 2012 after a £12 million project to restore and refurbish the palace and gardens in celebration of Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year. Major work began in June 2010 with the palace closing completely in January 2012 to allow for final adjustments to take place. New landscaping has reconnected Kensington Palace to the surrounding park, and restored historic views. The re-development works include refurbished and decorated interiors, extensive garden landscaping including a new three-acre public garden, a new access route into the palace, new education and community facilities, disabled access, a café and a family shop.
Now visitors can walk though landscaped gardens to the palace entrance – from the Broad Walk and Round Pond areas of Kensington Gardens – into a ground floor central ‘Hub’ in the Stone Hall, free of charge to enter. At the heart of the Hub is a spectacular light sculpture Luminous Lace, created by the designers Loop.pH, who were inspired by examples of lace in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. The shimmering light sculpture is made from nearly four kilometres of electroluminescent wire, and hundreds of crystals donated by the crystal manufacturers, Swarovsky.
Leading off the Hub, the ticket office is close by in the White Court, redesigned by the architect John Simpson. The White Court’s glass-covered roof encloses the once-open courtyard, now decorated with vibrant orange and red canopies, creating a theatrically regal starting point for the visitor. A new shop and a café are accessed from the ‘Hub’ space, which also introduces visitors to four routes which can be explored through the palace: the King’s State Apartments; the Queen’s State Apartments, ‘Victoria Revealed’ on the life of Queen Victoria; and a temporary exhibition ‘Diana: Glimpses of a modern princess’.
Through a series of intriguing installations and radical presentation, the lives of former inhabitants of the King’s and Queen’s State Apartments are explored in ‘Secrets of the Royal Court at Kensington Palace’, created by theatre-makers Coney. They show and tell stories of those who resided at the palace: William and Mary, Anne, George I and George II, each explored through multimedia installations, to reveal court life in the 17th and 18th centuries. Coney have carefully considered visitors from around four years of age upward, to create a pleasurable experience whilst discovering the palace’s history: ‘courtiers’ are on hand to explain and guide whilst one eavesdrops on conversations in whispering cushions and walls, with an invitation to play ‘The Game of the Court’, a secret card game of court intrigue.
A third route from the ‘Hub’ leads to ‘Victoria Revealed’ an exploration of the life and reign of Queen Victoria, one of the palace’s most famous residents. She was born in Kensington Palace and her letters reveal what she thought to be a rather isolated childhood here. ‘I was brought up very simply – never had a room to myself till I was grown up – always slept in my mother’s room till I came to the Throne.’ The nursery room contains some of her toys and letters, drawings and paintings and clothes she wore as a child.
The exhibition begins in the Red Saloon where Victoria held her first Privy Council on 20 June, 1837, only a few hours after she became monarch. Other rooms recall her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and intimate private moments of family life. On display are 300 items from the Historic Royal Palaces’ collections, including the Queen’s watercolour paintbox, personal jewellery and a manuscript of music that Albert composed for Victoria on their engagement in 1839.
The fourth route from the ‘Hub’ leads through a corridor decorated with a unique wallpaper designed by Julie Verhoeven and inspired by some of Diana, Princess of Wales’ key fashion moments, to introduce a temporary exhibition ‘Diana: glimpses of a modern princess’ – on until September, 2012. This is an intimate and evocative portrayal of the princess through a special display of five dresses once owned by her. Included are gowns designed by Elizabeth Emanuel, Catherine Walker and Gianni Versace, exhibited alongside illustrations and photographs. The exhibition explores visually memorable moments in the Princess of Wales’ public life. Whilst the dresses are known through extensive media coverage, some are on display in the UK for the first time.
Later this month, Kensington Palace will open another exhibition ‘Jubilee – A View from the Crowd’ (24 May–4 November 2012), exploring Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, to coincide with HM Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year.
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