A Closer Look At Buckingham Palace Gates
Since I’ve become a Blue Badge Guide, I’ve been spending way more time in front of Buckingham Palace Gates than I ever did when I was just your regular Londoner.
Mostly this is for the Changing the Guard ceremony, or just to tick the iconic palace off the tourist bucket list. But the more time I spend there, the more I appreciate the little details that make the gates and surrounding architectural details simply outstanding.
Too often the Buckingham Palace Gates are simply considered a barrier, something in the way of the *perfect* selfie/family photo.
But I’ve been having a closer look. And I’ve come to appreciate these railings for what they are…
Works of Art.
Buckingham Palace Gates
In 1905 the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts were received their most important commission to date. Designing the wrought iron gates to surround Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s London home since 1837.
The Bromsgrove Guild was founded by Walter Gilbert in 1898.
Based in the Worcestershire town of Bromsgrove they were strongly rooted in the Arts and Crafts movement; a desire to counteract the ‘damaging’ effects of industrial production and instead focus on domestic, often bespoke, design.
They had become well-known for wrought iron pieces (other famous works include Liverpool’s Liver Birds c.1910) and the gates are covered in regal decoration.
Below is a version of the Royal Coat of Arms, a Lion (symbolising England) and Unicorn (symbolising Scotland) presenting four quadrants.
Diagonally opposite each other are three lions walking (in fancy heraldic terms; ‘passant gardent’) and they’ve been used to represent England ever since the reign of King Richard I (1189-1199). The harp is for Ireland and upstanding (‘rampart’) lion is for Scotland. These both first appeared on the Royal Coat of Arms in 1603, when James I of England (VI of Scotland) became King of both nations.
But there’s also specific Kings mentioned on the gates, King George V who was monarch at the time of completion;
The cipher; GR V stands for George Rex (King George) the fifth.
And there’s a fancier version on the main central gates, the G and Roman numeral 5 in swirling calligraphy.
But there’s also a more mythical suggest of George V; an inclusion of St George the Dragon, a patriotic aligning of the patron saint with the eponymous monarch.
It’s not only about George V though, we can also see the cipher of his predecessor, King Edward VII (1901-1910), on the – presumably earlier – stone columns.
Atop these columns are another regal couple of lion and unicorn. This time looking more ferocious.
And some pretty scary-looking ‘dolphins’. These are usually sturgeon fish and can be seen all over London as decoration, most prominently on Embankment lampposts.
Bromsgrove Guild closed in 1966, but the legacy of craftsmanship in the midlands has been continued by Worcester Guild.
The Grand Plan
Decoration and detail didn’t end with these front gates.
Aston Webb had grand plans to construct a fitting memorial to Queen Victoria, the first monarch to live in Buckingham Palace, outside her former home.
As a central focus was the huge, cream cake-like, Victoria Memorial by Thomas Brock (unveiled 1911). With an ageing sculpture of the Queen (above) as well as a youthful allegory of her as Mother of the nation facing towards her family home;
And surrounding this centrepiece are three further gates; Australia, Canada and South & West Africa. Now, once you start looking for peculiar details, they seem to all jump out at you at once.
So besides from the usual lion and unicorn on the main Buckingham Palace gates, there are also plenty of other animals – relevant to those nations – that you can spot in the vicinity…
Like an affectionate-looking emu crowning the North column of South Africa gate.
Meanwhile if you look towards Green Park you see the Canada Gates, featuring a mature-looking cherub that proudly displays a bulging net full of fish with a seal by his side.
And – of course – for Australia we have a Kangaroo. Now did you ever realise there was a kangaroo in easy sight of Buckingham Palace?!
It just goes to show that even in the most popular tourist spots, there’s always more to spot when you look up!