The Many Queens of England with Clarence House

After a bit of worry on my part, would there be enough seats, a brand new 61-seater coach arrived to pick us up – so we could relax. Not so our driver, who then had to negotiate this ‘monster’ through the streets of a very busy London. We met our City & Village guide virtually on time and went immediately to the wonderful new Salvation Army headquarters building for a welcome cup of coffee then had a short tour of some of the reminders of the many Queens, and Mistresses, of England, from Bloody Mary, Good Queen Bess, to Brandy Nan and Little Nell Gwyn. After some free time for lunch it was time to get on our large coach again and drive to Clarence House, for 50 years the home of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, and were guided to the gate and then to the front door to meet our house guides; it is now the official London residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. The house was built in 1827 for William Henry, Duke of Clarence, later William IV, and his wife Adelaide. Queen Victoria’s mother lived there until her death in 1861 and after Victoria became Queen and moved to Buckingham Palace, her second son, Alfred Duke of Edinburgh, took up residence. He married the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna but before she came to England he felt the house was not big or grand enough for a Russian Grand Duchess and built the top floor, which connected the house to the State Rooms of St. James’ Palace. It is a homely comfortable house, the rooms are not large and the furniture not ostentatious; the Queen Mother’s touch is very evident over the whole of the ground floor. The large hallway became the library, with many of the Queen Mother’s books reflecting her interests, particularly fine art and horses. In the Music and Living Room stands the Steinway Grand Piano that Princess Margaret played to concert standard and also the golden Royal Welsh Harp, played by the Royal Harpist, a position inaugurated by the Prince of Wales. The corridors are lined with pictures and photographs of the Queen Mother’s horses and because she liked modern artists, amongst her collection are 26 of John Piper’s watercolours and a small first oil painting by Noel Coward, who was apparently a good watercolourist, but Winston Churchill had suggested he try painting in oils. The Prince of Wales found hidden away in the house a very large interesting tapestry, which he hung in the Garden Room. The House shares a garden, totally organic and with vegetables looking good enough to eat, with St James’ Palace. It was the headquarters of the Red Cross and St John Ambulance during the 2nd World War; with considerable war damage and after much refurbishment there is very little of the original Nash building remaining. After the war and on their marriage, it was given to Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh; their daughter Princess Anne was born there in 1950 - the rest as they say is history. An excellent day all round, and the good weather was a bonus.

Caroline Wesson