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Buckingham House (Palace) in the Eighteenth Century


The information in this article comes from a letter written by John Sheffield, the Duke of Buckinghamshire, builder of the house, to the Duke of Shewsbury sometime before Buckinghamshire's death in 1721.

The building we now know as Buckingham Palace, was built originally as Buckingham House in 1703 on the site of Mulberry Gardens (a place where, according to legend, seventeenth century poets would wander in order to find inspiration; more prosaically, this space was a walled garden for mulberry trees built by James I in the early seventeenth century in the hope of kick-starting England's silk industry).

During the early eighteenth century the approaches to the house was via twin avenues which ran through rows of stately elm and lime trees running the length of St James' Park. The avenue of elm trees was for coaches, that of the lime trees for those on foot. The avenues eventually terminated in a iron palisaded square court, which had in its centre a great basin with statues and water works. From this court a flight of steps led to the house.

On the very roof of Buckingham House, hidden from view, was a massive lead cistern which held fifty tons of water which had been pumped up from the Thames. This water was for watering the gardens of the house and for supplying the various water works for the fountains etc. One reached the garden at the back of the house by descending a flight of seven steps leading to a grand walk that reached across the garden with a covered arbor at the end of it.

Another grand walk led from the front gardens through two groves of tall lime trees, planted in several equal ranks, upon a carpet of grass. Tubs of bay and orange trees (no doubt brought inside during winter) bordered the lime tree groves.

For a reasonably detailed plan of the gardens in 1720 visit the parish map of St Margaret's Westminster, the house and gardens are in the upper right hand corner. For a rough plan of the garden and of the area about it in the later 1700s, visit Richard Horwood's plan and click on the thumbnail for more detail. This plan was produced in the very late 1700s and while it is highly doubtful it is in any way accurate, it will give you an idea of the House - then the Queen's residence - and its environs some ninety years after this description was penned. Both these links are off site at

At the end of this broad walk one walked up to a terrace four hundred paces long, with a large semi-circle in the middle, from where it was possible to survey the Queen's two parks (Green Park and St James Park, presumably, or perhaps even St George's and Hyde Park) and a great part of Surrey. A few steps down led to the bank of a canal, 600 yards long and 17 wide, with two rows of lime trees on either side of it.

On one side of this terrace, a low wall, covered with roses and jessamines, allowed a view of a meadow of cattle beyond. At each end the wall descended into Parterres, with fountains and water works.

From the biggest of these parterres the visitor wandered into a little square garden with a fountain in its centre and two green houses on the sides with a convenient bathing compartment in one of them. A flower garden lay nearby.

Below all of this was a kitchen garden, full of 'the best sort of fruits' and which had several walks in it for the colder weather.

By the late eighteenth century the 'goodly elms and gay flourishing limes' were greatly decayed, the iron palisade had been replaced with a far simpler fencing and the great basin and waterworks in the front court had long since vanished. Many of the terraces in the main part of the garden had similarly decayed.

In 1761 the house was purchased for £21,000 for the private and exclusive use of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. It was extensively rebuilt into the palace we know today by her son, George IV. See a view of the house in the early 1800s.

Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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