When Rev R.W. Hardy from Canada turned up at the Queen’s House in Greenwich he was not looking for ghosts. He was here for the Tulip Stairs – the first supported spiral staircase in the country. It was 1966 and he’d read in his guidebook that Inigo Jones had built this architectural marvel in 1635.
We must take a photograph to show the folks back home, he said to his wife. We’ll wait until no-one’s around. And did you know that they named it wrongly? Those wrought iron flowers in the railings are actually fleur-de-lys. The Rev liked to know something that others didn’t.
Back in Canada, he eagerly collected the developed photos, only to reel back in shock. The photo had two weird ghostly figures that he didn’t see at the time.
He sent a copy of the photo by airmail to the Queen’s House. Astonished, they arranged for investigators from the Ghost Club to hunt down any roaming spirits. Alas, they found none, and the spooky photo has been lost.
But some visitors to the house report a definite chill in the air when they climb those Tulip Stairs.
Buck House (as Londoners sometimes call it) features on almost every tourist’s hit list.
Take a snapshot
If you simply want to stand outside it and have your image captured and sent globally to all your Facebook or Instagram followers, please feel free to do so.
If you want your photo to suggest that you were standing alone at the gates, as if about to enter with a special queenly invitation, avoid going there between the hours of 10-12 during the Guard Change. You won’t get anywhere near the gates. This usually takes place on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and more frequently in the summer.
You actually want to go inside?
You don’t have an invitation but still want to go inside the Palace? You’ll have to wait until ‘Her Maj’ is away.
From late July until the end of September, she spends the hunting season in her cold and draughty Balmoral Castle in Scotland. While she’s battling with rain, midges and duty visits from Prime Ministers she allows the hoi polloi to trail through her 19 State Rooms.
10 things to see and know about Buckingham Palace.
1 Still counting…
It’s bigger than it looks with 775 rooms in total. The Queen lives in a dozen private rooms on the first (upper) floor overlooking The Green Park.
2 We are not amused…
Queen Victoria was the first monarch to move in, aged 18, in 1837. You can see her statue on the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. Not the breast feeding young mother that faces the palace, but the grumpy looking matron around the back.
See the balcony in the middle where, on special days, the royal A-list line up to wave and occasionally kiss.
3 Regal gestures.
A flag always flies above Buckingham Palace. If you recognise our national flag, you’ll know that the Queen is away. If it’s the flag full of lions and a harp merged with a winged, topless girl, you’ll know that the Queen is at home.
5 Eerie nights.
Buckingham Palace is haunted
On Christmas Day, a chain-rattling brown-hooded monk wanders, moaning, at night. He was imprisoned and died in a punishment cell that once existed many years before this Palace was built.
Palace staff also talk about strange auras in one particular office where a private secretary to King Edward VII allegedly shot himself after a scandalous divorce.
6 We’re still standing.
The Palace was bombed nine times in World War 2. On one occasion, the Queen (later to become the Queen Mother) stated, while inspecting the bomb damage: “I’m glad we have been bombed. Now I can look the East End in the face.”
London’s East End was a poor, run-down area where the docks were situated and where people spoke with Cockney accents. (Think Eliza Doolittle.) This location (not the accents) made it a perfect target for the German bombers. The newly made homeless sheltered in deplorable conditions in London’s underground stations.
The Queen Mother’s sentiments ensured her East Enders’ devotion for the rest of her life. (Her predilection for a glass of gin and a flutter on the horses didn’t harm her popularity either.)
7 Sorry, you’re not on the list.
Some people simply can’t wait for an invitation to the Palace.
In 1982 a man called Michael Fagan managed to scale the palace garden walls, break into the palace and enter the Queen’s bedroom. He woke her up, sat on her bed and asked her for a cigarette. Her footman had taken her little corgi dogs for a walk in the garden, and she was left unprotected.
Eventually, the police were called and the intruder was taken away. Is he still languishing in jail today? Not a bit of it. He was released without charge. In those days it was not a criminal offence to break into the Queen’s bedroom. I can assure you it is now.
In 2004 Batman climbed on to a ledge next to the palace balcony and refused to come down for five hours. He was campaigning for greater rights for fathers.
8 One does not feel at home here.
The Palace may be Her Majesty’s official residence but she doesn’t particularly like it. Treating it as her office, she generally stays here on weekdays only. Most Fridays afternoons she heads home to the much older and grander Windsor Castle.
9 We all stayed for tea.
Each year, over 20,000 people do get invited to have tea at Buckingham Palace in the garden. The Queen hosts three garden parties during the summer for people usually in public service whom she wishes to reward.
At each event, these 8000 people devour 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches, and 20,000 slices of cake between.
The men wear smart suits and the women wear hats and fascinators and uncomfortable shoes. They can often be seen leaving the Palace carrying their stilettos in their hands.
10 How to get there.
The prettiest route to the Palace is from Green Park tube station, 10 minutes walk across The Green Park. Other nearby tube stops are Victoria and St. James’s Park.