Osbourne House was the vacation/holiday home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Reflecting its significance in their lives, Osbourne has been used as a setting in numerous movies and television programs about Victoria and Albert. It offers a unique glimpse into their lives as many of their possessions have been preserved and are on view. In addition, it is a splendid house with beautiful restored gardens, Located on the Isle of Wight, it is a short ferry ride from Southampton.
Seeking a place where they could get away from the pressures of court life, Victoria and Albert purchased the site where Osbourne House now stands in 1845. Victoria had spent time on the Isle of Wight when she was a princess. Albert liked the site because its view of the sea (the Solent) reminded him of the Bay of Naples.
The royal couple decided to demolish the existing 18th century house that stood on the site and build a new much larger house. All that was retained of the old house was the porch, which was used as the entrance for a new walled garden.
Prince Albert designed the house himself in consultation with the builder Thomas Cubitt. Albert used Italian Renaissance palazzos as the inspiration for his design. The house has two towers and is built around a terrace that overlooks a formal garden and the sea in the distance. The house was to have three sections - - the Pavilion section for the use of the Royal Family; a wing for the household staff and a wing for the use of the older royal children and guests. Construction took place between 1845 and 1851.
Victoria and Albert spent a significant amount of time at Osbourne. They would typically come in May, July and August as well as before Christmas.
The Queen and the Prince Consort very much wanted this house to be a private residence where they could raise their nine children in a family environment. Therefore, while the ground floor rooms were decorated with sumptuous formally for use in carrying out official duties, the Royal apartments were designed for comfort.
To further the children's education, the royal couple built a “Swiss Cottage” on the grounds which had a kitchen where the children could cook meals using the items they grew in the adjacent garden. There was also a minature fortress where the children could act out their military fantastic. In addition, Osbourne had its own private beach where the family could swim.
In 1861, Prince Albert died at Windsor Castle. Devastated, this sent the Queen into a long period of mourning and seclusion. Osbourne was one of her favorite places and she spent much time there.
Victoria had a fourth wing added to Osbourne in 1891. Designed by John Lockwood Kipling, father of Rudyard Kipling, the new wing was for use in state occasions. It contained a large reception room known as the Durbar Room, which was decorated in an intricate Indian-inspired style. This reflected the fact that Victoria had become Empress of India in 1876 and was intrigued by India.
Queen Victoria died in 1901 at Osbourne. She wanted the house to remain in the family but none of her children or grandchildren wanted it. Therefore, her son King Edward VII presented Osbourne to the nation. The royal apartments, however, were to be maintained as a private museum for the Royal Family.
From 1903 to 1921, parts of the estate were used as the Royal Naval College Osbourne for the training of young cadet officers. During World War I, parts were used as a convalescent home for officers. A.A. Milne was one of the patients. Parts of Osbourne continued to be used as a convalescent home until the 1990s.
Today, the house and gardens are open to the public. Because part of the house was preserved as a private museum, Osbourne provides a unique glimpse into the lives of Victoria and Albert. It reflects their tastes and their thinking. For example, Albert was very interested in science and so he incorproated the latest technology in the house. After his death, Victoria carried on having both electric wiring and the telephone installed.
Osbourne also has an art collection. Again, this reflects Victoria and Albert's interests. The collection is particualrly strong in sculpture and in works by contemporaries of the royal couple. In addition, there are various treasures that were presented as gifts on state occasions.
The original estate was over 2000 acres. It is now 345 acres. However, within it are the beautiful formal gardens, the Swiss Cottage, the miniature fortress and the private beach, all of which have been restored.
Osbourne House is not far outside of Cowes. You can walk there from the town but it is some distance and uphill.
For information about visiting, see the English Heritage website
Above: Osbourne House from the land.
Above and below: Views of the formal garden from the house.
Above: The Walled Garden.
Cruise destination - England - Isle of Wight - Osbourne House