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Stately homes and palaces
Buckingham Palace is the administrative HQ of the Monarchy and has been the Monarch's official London residence since 1837. The Duke of Buckingham acquired a house on the present site in 1698, which he replaced with a new 'Buckingham House'. This was acquired by George III in 1761 as a family residence for his wife, Queen Charlotte, and their children, and extensively refurbished and modernised. George IV commissioned John Nash to turn the house into a Royal Palace. The familiar east wing, with its central balcony, was added during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Visitors can see three aspects of Buckingham Palace.
1) The State Rooms. The 19 sumptuous state rooms, where guests are received and entertained, are generally open to the public during summer months. They include paintings, porcelain and furniture from the royal collection.
2) The Queen's Gallery, which hosts a programme of changing exhibitions of artwork, mostly from the royal collection, is open most days.
3) The Royal Mews is the stables responsible for the horses that pull the royal carriages as well as where state vehicles are kept and looked after. It is open most days, but closed in December and January.
All three venues have separate entrances on Buckingham Palace Road (the road running along the left of the Palace as you face it).
The Jewel Tower is a small, but fascinating, remnant of the medieval Palace of Westminster. It was built in the 14th century and once housed Edward III's treasures. It was subsequently used to store records from the House of Lords - including notable Acts of Parliament - and went on to be the National Weights and Measures Office.
Lambeth Palace has been the official London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury for 800 years. It is famous for its gardens, and its extensive ecclesiastical library, which holds records dating back before the Norman Conquest and the archives of the Archbishops of Canterbury. Architecturally, the Palace is famous for its Tudor gate, Morton's Tower, but also has a medieval chapel and Stuart Great Hall. It is not, generally, open top the public, but guided tours available - see the website.
The Palace of Holyroodhouse was built around an abbey founded by King David I in the 12th century, which had royal chambers attached to it. James IV (1488-1513) decided to upgrade the chambers to a palace, and this work was added to by subsequent monarchs. The Palace is the British monarch's official residence in Scotland and Her Majesty Her Majesty The Queen visits during Holyrood week, at the end of June/beginning of July. When The Queen is in residence, the Scottish variant of the Royal Standard is flown.
Parts of the Palace are open to the public, though opening arrangements are subject to change, sometimes at short notice, and you should check before making a special journey. Highlights of a visit include the magnificent State Apartments and the fascinating Mary, Queen of Scots', chambers. You can also walk round the ruins of Holyrood Abbey and parts of the gardens.
Castle Howard is an 18th century Baroque stately home in North Yorkshire, one of the grandest and most over the top in England, with 145 rooms and set in 1,000 acres of gardens and parkland. It is owned by the Howard family, and has been for over 300 years. The house was started for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle in c1699, designed by John Vanbrugh (his first commission) and Nicholas Hawksmoor, and took about 100 years to complete. It is built on the site of a ruined medieval castle and the original estate covered 13,000 acres - which included several villages. In addition to being able to tour the house and gardens, visitors can enjoy various exhibitions, and activities take place frequently.
Castle Howard was famously used for the 1980s TV series and 2008 film, Brideshead Revisited.
The seat of the Duncombe family since 1711, when the house was built by Thomas Duncombe (born Thomas Browne). His descendent, Charles Duncombe, was created Lord Feversham in 1826. The house is not open to the public, but 450 acres of parkland, gardens and nature reserve are. There is also a bird of prey centre on site.
Sitting in acres of Northamptonshire countryside, Althorp has been the residence of the Spencer family for 500 years and is one of England's grand stately homes. It is packed full of treasures, including some fascinating portraits. The original Tudor house is still there, beneath the later restorations and refurbishments, but the overall feel of the place is distinctly 18th century. The gardens are lovely and regular events are held, including an annual literary festival. Althorp is, sadly, best known for the association with possibly the most famous Spencer, Lady Diana, whose last resting place is on an island in the Round Oval lake.
Althorp has limited opening - it is essential to check their website before making a special trip.
Alnwick Castle dates from the 11th century and has been in the hands of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, since 14th century. The family still lives there. Their castle is one of the most visited in England, steeped in Percy history with gruesome discoveries to be made as well as magnificent state rooms. Alnwick is often used for filming and has starred in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey (to mention just two). The castle also houses a number of special exhibitions, including the Regimental Museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Adjacent to the castle is the Alnwick Garden, a formal garden built around a huge cascading fountain.
The former Palace of the Archbishop of York stands on the site of a Roman villa, next door to the Minster and adjoining the present official residence of the Bishop of Southwell. It dates from 14th century, was wrecked during the Civil War of the 17th century and the house restored in the 19th century. Cardinal Wolsey stayed here on his last journey and Charles I was imprisoned here, having been captured in the town. Part of the building is now a choral school. There is public access to the ruins and an area of garden (including a sensory garden) and the restored state chamber.
The palace is used for functions so check opening before making a special trip.