The Surprising History of Queen Anne’s Alcove
Within Kensington Garden’s Italian Gardens you can find the monumental Queen Anne’s Alcove. Not only was it designed by Christopher Wren but it has a surprising history!
The Italian Gardens were laid out around 1860, spearheaded by Prince Albert.
They followed a similar plan for gardens he’d already had constructed at Osborne House, designed by James Pennethorne.
Combining Albert’s flair for gardening and his love of new technology, the gardens have their own fun contraption hiding in plain sight.
This elaborately decorative Pump House contained the steam engine that powered the fountains. Its pillar is even a disguised chimney to allow the steam to escape!
But back to the alcove which – as the name suggests – is much older.
History of Queen Anne’s Alcove
When stop to really look at the large pedimental niche, it’s a little out of place. That’s because it was made in 1705, over 150 years before the Italian Gardens.
It was designed by none other than Christopher Wren who evidently had a bit of spare time between his work on St Paul’s Cathedral, the 51 other City Churches and his work on Royal palaces across London.
As you might’ve guessed, this wasn’t its original location.
Originally, the alcove stood at the southern boundary of Kensington Palace’s formal gardens.
Kensington Palace was formerly Nottingham House, but was earmarked for use as a royal palace for Queen Mary II and King William III in 1689. They hired Christopher Wren in his position as Surveyor of the Kings Works to enlarge the palace and make it fit for royalty.
William and Mary were unable to have children and so the throne passed to Mary’s sister, Queen Anne in 1702.
Apparently she wasn’t too impressed with the neglected state of her gardens at Kensington and by the summer of 1702 a bill had been submitted for “severall new workes performed for her majesties garden att Kensington”.
In 1705-6 Wren created a fabulous full stop at the end of the garden path and it became known as the Summerhouse.
You can see it in the engraving below dated from the early 1700s (I’ve circled the alcove in red).
From the early 1800s parts of former palace grounds had gradually opened to the public, known as Kensington Gardens.
While this was considered a wonderful development for most people, others weren’t so impressed.
According to the Royal Parks website, Mr Cowley, a London builder, complained that the alcove had become “unsightly” and “a resort for undesirable persons” so it was moved to the Italian Gardens in 1867.
On the map below you can see that Queen Anne’s Alcove is now an 18min walk from its original site, at the south end of Dial Walk.
Thankfully today, anyone’s free to have a perch on the bench and admire the gardens!
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