Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, August 5, 2019

Osborne: Was I Really Here?

a spot we passed near Laiano, Tuscany
I have long been a fan of the picturesque Tuscan Villa, in its original form (might need another trip to Italy) and in the versions which appeared during the Italianate era in nineteenth century Ontario.

So as not to fall into repeating myself, these links will take you to some local Tuscan enthusiasms in Belleville,  nearby Kingston and Cobourg.

This past spring, I visited the granddaddy (or more correctly, grandmammy) of them all, when we had a chance to visit Osborne, the summer home built by Queen Victoria and her designing husband Albert, on the Isle of Wight.

terrace landscape fit for a queen

It was their refuge from public life, not a bit pretentious, surrounded by carefully choreographed drives and pathways, all ending at the family's private beach and yacht harbour on the Solent.

Three Italianate terraces overlook the valley and the sea.

the Pavilion, private family quarters

Since I remain a bit speechless, I'll let this photo essay speak for me.

The most surprising thing to me, was that Osborne was built of brick, with cement render coloured to resemble stone. The area with the square tower was the pavilion - the family wing - built in 1845 after an earlier house on the property was demolished.
the marine monsters of the Andromeda fountain
As the house was funded by the queen's privy purse (though it doesn't scream 'budget' to me) terrace designer Gruner cut corners by purchasing bronzed-zinc copies of classical statues from catalogues. The salt air corroded them; today's shiny perfection is due to applied (reversible, should anyone become nostalgic for the pitted zinc era) acrylic compound.

the shell alcove

view from the terrace to the Solent
The terrace, which, to her credit, Victoria frequented in fair weather or foul, breakfasting, lunching and working in a series of outdoor shelters, is just wonderful. I've been reading biographies - it seems the sovereign's tolerance of wretched English weather far surpassed that of her family and staff. But they wouldn't get to say so.

view from the Pavilion terrace

The arched alcove encrusted with sea shells, designed by Prince Albert, emulating Roman stibarium, or garden seats, has been superbly restored. Note the dolphin seat supports, which I have personally experienced. There was a lovely colonnade nearby, very dank and unrestored, that spoke volumes to me.

 Ludwig Gruner's massive 1849 sphinx vase was assembled from mail-order bits. The four sphinxes holding up a huge fluted bowl were improved upon by the addition of wings.

The view from the terraces to the Solent is superb. I've read that the wooded valley leading from the house to the sea was completely remodeled by massive earth-moving equipment, to create the naturalistic fall to the coast.
the scaffolding conceals Albert's clock tower, under restoration
Cement copies of the Medici lions (1851) flank the steps leading to the broad walk to the beach. The final fountain, just below them, a bronze boy with a swan, was the scene of a dramatic rescue the day of our visit, a group of wild-life types trying to net abandoned ducklings.

Here's more about the clock tower, from

The house from the south. The wing to the right was the household and main wing - the arcaded second level was the grand corridor, built to link those wings to Victoria's private apartment. Long galleries, every one filled to bursting with contemporary versions of classical sculpture, paintings, treasures and lots of pet sculpture.

To the left of the carriage ring is the Durbar wing (here's some detail) the interior of which is beyond splendid. We were rocked by the sheer magnificence of everything - the wealth on display, like intricately carved ivory and silver address caskets, containing greetings from Victoria's loyal subjects of the Indian sub-continent.

The central complex, of course,  is the Pavilion.

To the beach.
Queen Victoria's (restored) bathing machine

the wooded valley walk from Osborne to the beach

memorial bench to faithful Scottish servant John Brown
Sadly, Osborne was a beloved family home for only 55 years. When Queen Victoria died, the new Edward VII (formerly the playboy Prince of Wales) couldn't get rid of the place fast enough. It became (but for the sacrosanct private apartments which were closed off behind wrought-iron gates, only opened to the public by Queen Elizabeth, in 1954) a convalescent home for officers, opened in 1904, and home of the Royal Naval College.
memorial plaque above Victoria's bed

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful! And perfectly humble...teehee. Thank you for the fine photos and essay. Bucket list for me!