Queen Charlotte's Cottage
In the late 18th century, this thatched cottage was a private haven for Queen Charlotte.
Queen Charlotte's Cottage in bluebell season
History and architecture
Queen Charlotte’s Cottage was built as a one-storey building between 1754 and 1771 within the grounds of Richmond Lodge (which now form the western half of Kew). It was located within an oval ring of pheasant pens, at the end of a paddock known as the New Menagerie.
Previously known as the Menagerie (later the New Menagerie), it became home to exotic creatures from the furthest reaches of the British Empire, including a pair of black swans, buffaloes and the first kangaroos to arrive in England, which successfully bred here. George III also kept an example of the now extinct quagga, an animal similar to a zebra, at the Menagerie.
George III bestowed Richmond Lodge and estate to Queen Charlotte as part of their marriage settlement. From the early 1770s the cottage (or at least its interior décor) was a source of pride for the Queen.
In August 1774, the London Magazine described the cottage as a “pretty retreat”. When exactly the crude red brick building acquired an extension and its first floor ‘picnic room’ (accessed by a curving staircase) is not clear, but incidental evidence points to the mid- to late-1770s.
This main room, with bamboo motif door mouldings and pelmets, has painted convolvulus and nasturtium ‘growing’ up its walls. These may have been added by Queen Charlotte’s artistic third daughter, Princess Elizabeth.
Despite considering it a 'favourite place', George III did not return to Kew after 1806, and the Georgian royal family stopped using the cottage in 1818.
In 1845, fencing was replaced by open rustic trellis to reveal it to the public. However they couldn’t get close until Queen Victoria ceded the cottage and its 15 hectares of grounds to Kew in 1898 to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee. At this time furniture and pictures were removed and sent to Windsor Palace.
The late Princess Margaret, the present Queen's sister, used the cottage in 1996 for a private party.
Restoration and conservation
After Queen Charlotte’s 1770s makeover of the cottage, the one large ground floor room boasted 'all English prints of elegance and humour', including those of Hogarth. These were removed in the 1890s but reinstated in 1978 and are currently being restored.
The cottage’s thatch roof requires periodic replacement. In 1950, Norfolk reed, as opposed to the original straw, was used. During re-thatching in 1998 a sparge pipe system was installed to limit potential fire damage. Queen Charlotte’s Cottage is maintained and administered separately from Kew by Historic Royal Palaces.
The cottage grounds boast one of London's finest bluebell woods, part of which is over 300 years old.
One condition that Queen Victoria made on ceding the cottage to Kew was that the surrounding woodland be kept in its naturalistic state. Her wish was respected and it now forms part of Kew’s Conservation Area.