It’s 1910, the British Empire is at its height and people are starting to think that Buckingham Palace is rather shabby for an Imperial capital.
Described by The Strand magazine as a “bare, brown and gloomy pile”, it was felt, mainly by The Strand, that something grander was needed, something to rival Versailles, the Louvre or the palaces of Luxembourg.
The magazine pulled together a number of plans and commissioned the architect Adrian Berrington to render them into drawings.
Some architects were rather keen on the “Capitol design”, based, with no degree of irony, on the home of US democracy, the US Capitol. The plans would see the replacement Palace set much further back than it currently sits, so as to create the grand open space in front so that more people can be wowed by its Imperial power.
One architect at the time writes that “if America had borrowed nothing more from ancient Rome than this dome-capping Empire idea in public architecture the debt would be great, for nothing is comparable in sheer majesty”.
Other plans were if possible, even grander.
It was felt that the entire area occupied by Buckingham Palace be flattened and remade into an Imperial estate, moving The Mall, opening up more space for ceremonies and shrinking the parks to accommodate the enlarged Palace.
One of the larger schemes, coined the Italian was seemingly modelled a bit too closely on the Vatican for the head of the Church of England to have occupied. Dismissed as “too much Greece and too much Rome” by the proposer of the rival Egyptian scheme, which fortunately didn’t come with pyramids.
More practical and European was the Restoration scheme, which was said to be favoured by the most architects who saw the plans, and would have been based on Inigo Jones’s design for Whitehall, and flaked with grand triumphal arches.
The Château de Chantilly in France was the inspiration for a design that was supposed to look like it had emerged from centuries of rebuilding and expansion rather than being a single development.
It’s suggested that the last scheme would be the one that King George V would prefer.
However, no one seems to have actually asked the King for his opinions.
While the grand rebuilding was never carried out, in 1913 the entire front of the Palace was redesigned and clad in Portland Stone to create the grand frontage we see today. We call it a frontage, but that wing of the building was only added in 1847, and technically, it covered up the back of the building, as the front used to be around the other side – facing the now private gardens.
But majesty needs to look majestic, so they swapped the building around, and now the back is the front, and what we see is just a modern facade at that.
The Strand, November 1910