Royal Childhood exhibition at Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace celebrates Prince George's first birthday with an exhibition covering 250 years of royal childhood.

Royal Childhood, part of the summer opening of Buckingham Palace, runs from July 26 to September 28. The accompanying book is published by the Royal Collection Trust for £9.95 

Prince George’s first birthday yesterday is being marked from Saturday with an exhibition at Buckingham Palace celebrating 250 years of royal childhood.

As part of the Palace’s summer opening, more than 150 items will be on show in the State Rooms, including toys, clothes, photographs, archive film, a drawing by Queen Victoria and even a Buckingham Palace Brownie Pack set up for Princess Anne — all showing stalwart efforts to give royal youngsters a “normal” childhood. 

Since George III bought Buckingham House in its then semi-rural setting as a retreat for his queen, Charlotte, in 1762, British monarchs have had a light touch in raising their children.

A gorgeous 1765 Johann Zoffany portrait of the princes Frederick and George, later George IV, shows the tots in their petticoat-dresses, too young for “breeching”, in a red floral-carpeted room that looks cosily 19th century rather than 18th. 

Once Queen Victoria moved in, at just 18, things soon became even more family orientated. She had a nursery wing added for what would eventually be nine children. Unusually, her husband, Prince Albert, attended all the births, and all but one child was baptised in the specially commissioned silver-gilt lily font that will be on show in the music room. Victoria also had a baptismal gown made that, having clothed more than 60 royal babies, was replaced in 2008 by our current Queen. 


Royal rocking horse: one of a pair given to Princess Elizabeth and Margaret

While being born in a palace and baptised at home by an archbishop definitely marks one out as special, succeeding families have made great efforts towards more ordinary childhoods. Prince William was the first English heir presumptive to be born in a hospital — St Mary’s in Paddington, where his son, Prince George, was also born. 


Wear and tear: Elizabeth's knock'em dow ninepins, most minus their noses.

As one would expect, there were plenty of grand toys. These included a spectacular 22ft-wide, 15ft-high thatched cottage sent to the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret by the people of Wales in 1932, complete with running water and lighting and a functioning kitchen with utensils. Far too big to get into the Palace, it stands in the grounds of the Royal Lodge at Windsor. However, a replica of its kitchen will be on display as part of the exhibition. Many dearly loved and much-used items are on show, such as one of the twin rocking horses that belonged to Elizabeth and Margaret, the Queen’s set of knock’em down ninepins — most now without noses — and the adorable and very simple dog wheelbarrow, trundled by its back paws by Princess Margaret and, later, Princess Anne. 


Wear and tear: The dog-shaped wheelbarrows used by Margaret then later Princess Anne.

The most ordinary items are the exhibition’s most touching, including two small wooden nursery chairs, one upholstered, one with a scuffed rush seat, with William and Harry painted on their backs, or the tiny pompom bootees worn by the future George V, that anyone could have knitted.


Two small wooden chairs: nursery chairs with the names of their royal owners written on the back.

Royal Childhood, part of the summer opening of Buckingham Palace, runs from July 26 to September 28. The accompanying book is published by the Royal Collection Trust for £9.95 

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