After binge-watching ITV’s Victoria series over the Christmas break, I was captivated by the story of Queen Victoria and Price Albert. Through being an English Heritage member I’d heard of their family home on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House, but after learning more about the royal couple I was even more eager to visit.
A brief history of Osborne House
Victoria and Albert wanted a home where they could escape from the stresses of court life. They bought Osborne House in 1845 but the existing house was too small for their needs. They replaced the house with a new, larger residence which Albert himself designed.
The Swiss Cottage, located on the estate nearly a mile from the main house, was built for the children in 1853-1854. Here they played at being adults and learnt the skills that their father believed would make them better people and rulers. This included cooking and growing their own fruit, vegetables and flowers.
The family stayed at Osborne for lengthy periods each year: in the spring for Victoria’s birthday, in the summer when they celebrated Albert’s birthday, and just before Christmas.
When Prince Albert died in 1861, Victoria plunged into a deep mourning that continued for the rest of her life. She avoided public appearances and chose to take full-time residence at Osborne. Victoria died at Osborne in 1901.
Even though Victoria had expressed in her will that she wanted Osborne to stay in the family, her children didn’t want to keep it. Their eldest son, the new King Edward VII, presented it to the nation. On his orders Victoria and Albert’s private rooms were sealed closed. Part of the ground floor of the house was opened to the public in 1904, and most of the other parts were converted into a convalescent home for officers.
In 1954 the Queen gave permission for Victoria and Albert’s private rooms to be unlocked and opened to the public. English Heritage took over the management of Osborne in 1986 and since then has carried out much external repair and internal redecoration and re-presentation.
A look inside
The State Apartments are the first rooms you see when touring the house. Many of the rooms are still filled with original furniture and works of art.
The Council Room was used most frequently for entertaining. This was the room where Queen Victoria gave Prince Albert the title ‘Prince Consort’.
In the Dining Room, the table is laid out for the queen’s dinner.
The lavish Drawing Room is where visiting foreign royalty were often received, and the queen generally retired here after dinner to play cards or piano.
The route through the house then leads upstairs to the family rooms. There are beautiful views from here over the gardens and looking out towards the sea.
The nursery on the second floor has been carefully restored based on old photographs.
The sitting room where Victoria and Albert worked on state papers also has a beautiful view over the estate and the ocean.
I do love a good staircase and the one leading back down to the ground floor did not disappoint.
The house tour concludes with a visit to the Durbar wing. This was a late addition to the house, built between 1890-1891. As Victoria was mostly living at Osborne at this time, she decided that she needed staterooms so that she could hold court there. The Durbar Room was added as a result, detailed with intricate Indian-style plaster work to reflect Queen Victoria’s fascination with India. The cabinets in this room house the gifts Queen Victoria received on her Golden and Diamond Jubilees.
Victoria and Albert had their very own private beach at Osborne, about a 20 minute walk from the house. You can even see the city of Portsmouth across the channel.
If you walk down to the beach you’ll also see the Queen’s bathing machine. Basically a little wooden hut on wheels, Victoria would enter the “machine” through the rear door, get changed into her swimming costume, and exit into the water via the front steps, allowing her to preserve her modesty.
- Osborne House is located in East Cowes, Isle of Wight. Between April and September, Osborne is open all week from 10am to 6pm. Out of season opening times vary so check the English Heritage website for latest information.
- At the time of writing, adult entry to Osborne is £17.20. English Heritage members can visit for free.
- Plenty of on-site parking is available.
- You should allow at least 3 or 4 hours to explore Osborne House, and you could easily spend a whole day here. The grounds are vast so there is a lot to explore. I’d recommend arriving early as it was quite crowded around lunch time on the day I visited (although it was a bank holiday weekend).
- A courtesy mini-bus operates between the house, the beach and the Swiss Cottage to make it easier to get around.
- If you are an English Heritage member you may also want to visit Carisbrooke Castle while on the Isle of Wight. It’s about a 20 minute drive from Osborne.