Our first response was how small the rooms were. A helpful guide (Lady in Waiting) explained it had been a seventeenth century merchant’s house before it became a royal retreat, so a country cottage rather than a Sandringham or Balmoral. On the edge of Kew Gardens with the river beyond and about-to-be gentrified Brentford on the north bank it still has a feel of the country, even to Suffolk senses.
We had explored the palace gardens first: part of the total Kew experience but in its intimate relationship to the palace complementary rather than subsumed. Herbs and culinary plants to one side, medicinal plants beyond, and then a formal garden with box hedging and tulips, each was a delight. The scale of the gardens should in a sense have prepared us for the interior, which was only domestic in the private spaces. The music room and the dining room were as a Jane Austen scene designer would expect.
There are guides in period costume and character in many places about the palace. A twenty-first century computer presentation is also available to add to information they provide, and some rooms have audio-visual presentations too, though none of it is obtrusive.
Furniture that was part of the household during George III’s illness, and the bedroom of Queen Charlotte with the chair in which she died, render a personal or poignant aspect of the experience. So too do the poky rooms where the unmarried princesses spent much of their time in the “nunnery”.
On the other side, drawings from nature show by one of the princesses and some scurrilous Gillray cartoons show that life wasn’t always governed by the sickbed or the classroom. Though we didn’t visit there was the Cottage nearby, where the royal family would go for picnics.
Nobody I imagine visits Kew only for the Palace or the Cottage, but they are by no means merely adjuncts. The palace especially is as entire in itself as is the archive and research centre, and not on any account to be missed.