Buckingham Palace is in need of maintenance work costing £150m. Some rooms haven’t been decorated since before the Queen ascended the throne but how have they fared, asks Justin Parkinson.
Labour’s Clement Attlee was prime minister. Wolverhampton Wanderers won the FA Cup. Nato was created.
And 1949 was also the last time the principal rooms of Buckingham Palace were re-decorated.
The central London building, which had suffered nine direct hits during World War Two, was in need of a spruce-up. According to the monarchy’s website, “very few changes” had happened to it during George VI’s reign, from 1936 to 1952.
The 19 state rooms remain remarkably intact 66 years after the last significant work. Pictures show the White Drawing Room, often used for photographic portraits of the Royal Family, looking in a very similar state in 1947, 1993 and 2011.
“Most people decorate their houses, mainly for fashion reasons, every 10 years or so,” says historian Ellen Leslie, “but this isn’t what the Royal Family are into when it comes to Buckingham Palace. They want it to keep looking the same.”
Leslie, who last visited the palace in 2012, says the decor, which she describes as a mixture of “neoclassical and empire”, looked “fine” at the time.
The state rooms are finished in elaborate style. The Blue Drawing Room features blue flock wallpaper and columns painted to resemble the stone onyx. The Throne Room, its interior designed by John Nash, features a plaster frieze showing scenes from the Wars of the Roses.
Only routine touching-up has occurred during the reign of Elizabeth II, which began in 1952. “But it wasn’t designed to be low-maintenance,” says Leslie. “There’s lots of white paintwork to keep clean. The reason it’s lasted so well is that it was furnished and decorated to a very high standard in the first place.
“A lot of the interior is based on the inspirations of Edward VII, who loved the place. Any renovation work that goes will not mean change, more a continuation of what is already there. It doesn’t surprise me how it’s lasted.”
A US study suggests the average “life expectancy” of wallpaper is just seven years. That on display in the Blue Drawing Room was hung at the direction of Queen Mary, whose husband George V was on the throne from 1910 to 1936.
The expected £150m cost of works for Buckingham Palace, which reportedly could see the Queen having to move out temporarily, also covers re-wiring and re-plumbing.
The building, London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837, has 775 rooms. A lot of plumbers, electricians and decorators will be busy for quite a while.