Submitted by Dinah Nichols (BA History, 1965)
Susanne Groom (BA French, 1969) recently retired as Curator of Historic Royal Palaces and is the author of several books, including Kew Palace-the Official Illustrated History. Her lavishly illustrated talk on Kew Palace during the 18th century was a veritable romp through the various construction projects and garden transformations of the area now encompassed by Kew Gardens, alongside the extraordinary antics of the dysfunctional Hanoverian Royal families for whom Richmond and Kew were their main escape from London.
There had been Royal Palaces in Richmond since the 13th Century but it wasn’t until the early 1700s when George I purchased Richmond Lodge that the serious business of landscaping began, under the skilled direction of Queen Caroline and William Kent. Together they began to design the ‘new kind of garden’ which became the model for English landscape gardening for the next two centuries – informal, with vistas, trees, lakes and strategically placed ornamental buildings, so very different from the formality of Hampton Court and European gardens. Enhancement of the estate continued under George II with William Kent’s grand design and luxurious furnishing of The Dutch House (the present Kew Palace) for Frederick, the popular heir to the throne. But unfortunately Frederick died suddenly – allegedly from getting his feet wet while gardening – and his wife Adelaide was left with eight children and another on the way, and a need to protect the 12 year old future George III from the vices of London. She kept his interest by engaging him in creating an exotic “Grand Tour” on the estate – building a pagoda, an Alhambra, a mosque, a Gothic Cathedral, and a Chinese Menagerie. Later George III swept many of these buildings away to install pasture for his beloved sheep – and also for Queen Charlotte’s tigers, and kangaroos brought by Joseph Banks from the New World! But the famous 10-storey pagoda remains today. Exotic plants were imported from all over the world- the foundation of the present Kew Gardens.
The family life of the Hanoverians was, however, both abundant and chaotic. George I, who spent his summers in Hanover, became jealous of the popularity of the Prince and Princess of Wales and so ejected them from all the Royal Palaces, but kept and brought up his three female grandchildren. When the future George II was born he was sent to Hanover, so he did not know either his older siblings or the later additions to the family. History repeated itself when George II threw out his then heir Frederick and family, although after Frederick’s untimely death his widow Augusta managed to twist the King round her little finger and thus obtain his support for her large family. The 1760s to 1780s were happy Golden Years at Kew for George III, Queen Charlotte and their 12 children; but then followed the loss of the Colonies, the death of two of their children, George’s madness and Charlotte’s breakdown. A mad scheme to engage the architect Wyatt to build yet another Palace at Kew was never completed, and George died in 1820.
Susanne’s talk certainly whetted the appetite of those present for the tour of Kew Palace – including the recently restored authentic 18th Century kitchen – which took place in July.
This most enjoyable evening ended with wine and much conversation, as Bedfordians who hadn’t previously met found many common interests and connections.