‘Empty, bare, dreary, comfortless’
Throughout the 19th century, the State Apartments were sadly neglected. They were used as stores for various paintings and furnishings from other palaces. By century’s end the building was seriously dilapidated: the brickwork decaying and the woodwork infested with dry rot.
In 1888, an article in The Queen's Homes described the State Apartments as 'empty - empty, bare, dreary, and comfortless ... nothing but bare walls and bare boards'.
A building at risk
Ideas for its future varied from demolition to use as a gallery or museum. On 12 January 1898 The Times reported the Queen's declaration that 'while she lived, the palace in which she was born should not be destroyed'.
It was only Queen Victoria's love for the palace in which she had grown up that saved it. In 1897, Parliament was persuaded to pay for the restoration of the State Apartments on condition that they should be opened to the public.
Restoration and public access
The restoration of the State Apartments was carried out at great speed, but also with much care and attention to detail.
According to Viscount Esher, the Secretary to the Office of Works, the aim was to restore the decoration 'as far as possible [to] exactly what it was in the reign of George II'. The aim was also to use as little new work as possible.
The State Apartments were opened to the public on Queen Victoria's 80th birthday, 24 May 1899. The newly restored rooms were hung with portraits and genre and history paintings illustrative of the periods and the monarchs associated with the palace. Queen Victoria took a keen interest in the pictures and exhibits, many of which concerned her reign and her image as Queen.
This was the start of Kensington Palace's dual life as a public museum and royal home.