Tucked away in the south west end of Kew Gardens is Queen Charlotte's cottage. A hidden gem, it was used by the royal family for rest and refreshment during walks.
Queen Charlotte’s cottage is an early example of a cottage orné, a rustic cottage built as a country retreat, but not as a residence. The cottage was used by the royal family in the late 18th century for resting and taking tea during walks in the gardens.
Its main attractions were its rural setting and the large paddock which was situated to the rear of the cottage. Many exotic animals were kept in the paddock. Queen Caroline had kept tigers at Richmond, but George III and Queen Charlotte contented themselves with more docile pets, including oriental cattle and colourful Tartarian pheasants, which are still to be seen in this quiet area of the gardens.
From the early 1790s, kangaroos (the first to arrive in England) were kept and successfully bred in the paddock. By the early 19th century there were 18 kangaroos.
This made the cottage a popular destination for royal walks until 1806 when Mr Aiton, the gardener, was instructed to turn the kangaroo paddock into a flower garden. No doubt the Queen was inspired by her gardener at Richmond, ‘Capability’ Brown, who introduced the picturesque landscapes to English aristocrats.
The earliest description of Queen Charlotte’s cottage is in a London magazine of 1774: 'The Queen’s cottage in the shade of the garden is a pretty retreat: the furniture is all English prints of elegance and humour. The design is said to be Her Majesty’s.'
The cottage was looked back on a ‘favourite place’ with the King, but its heyday was brief and George III did not return to Kew after 1806. It was used for the last time by the royal family in 1818 following the double wedding of the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) and Edward, Duke of Kent (father of Queen Victoria).
Queen Victoria rarely visited the cottage, although it was maintained by a housekeeper throughout her reign. In 1898 the Queen gave the cottage and its grounds to the public to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee.
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