Sophie WessexMore than two years ago Island children and families, including groups of Brownies, were asked to suggest how best to change the exhibits at Swiss Cottage so that children could feel more involved with the Royal Victorian children.
Those asked stated that they wanted to know more details of the individual characters of Queen Victoria’s nine children and to this end the exhibits have now been changed to reflect this. As well as the revamp of Swiss Cottage there will soon be a large new play area nearby and close to the Royal Fort where the Royal children played.
Swiss Cottage has been furnished to reflect the last time the whole family gathered at Osborne, in Summer 1861, prior to Prince Albert’s premature death.
For the official unveiling on 28th March by the Earl and Countess of Wessex 28 pupils from the nearby Queensgate School had the chance to be the first to see and use the new displays. ‘Childhood at Osborne’ a conservation and interpretation project costing some £1.65 million was funded by a Heritage Lottery Grant plus generous donations from charities and local groups including the Island Friends of Royal Osborne.
As well as discovering the new exhibits the local children have, over the winter months, planted spring bulbs in the grounds of Osborne and have undertaken a project to grow primroses which will also enhance the area between Osborne House and Swiss Cottage.
During their visit to Osborne the Earl and Countess were accompanied by an English Heritage Commissioner Vice Admiral Sir Tim Lawrence (Princess Anne’s husband) as well as other representatives of EH including Sir Laurie Magnus (Chairman). It was interesting to learn that Sir Tim’s father had attended the Osborne Naval College as a sea cadet when this establishment was based on the Osborne Estate.
Before the restoration of Swiss Cottage could start, under the stewardship of curator Michael Hunter, some 3,000 artefacts had to be moved from Swiss Cottage to the main building for safe keeping.
Swiss Cottage was the domain of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s children and built between May 1853 and May 1854 at Albert’s instruction in the grounds of Osborne. All the children escaped there as much possible when at Osborne for their summer holidays and to celebrate birthdays, and later most of them brought their own children back to play.
Now, unprecedented research using the children’s letters, diaries and paintings has enabled English Heritage to reveal their intimate stories, giving 21st century families the chance to experience this unique childhood for themselves in a new interactive exhibition.
This project has also seen vital conservation work to the structure of Swiss Cottage and the historic Gazelle House has been conserved and given a new lease of life as a cake shop café.