Getting All Victorian on the Isle of Wight: Osborne House

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It's Hard to Resist a good Country House.

If you've been following this blog for a while now you've probably heard me waxing lyrical about Chatsworth House and the treasures inside, so when I popped across to the Isle of Wight as part of my holiday I was eager to seek out Osborne house - the family home of Queen Victoria for 55 years.

Victoria has always been an unusual character and while she is still perhaps England's most famous queen, at the time she was a figure of controversy and unpopularity. This was largely due to her extensive period of 'self-indulgent' mourning following her husband Albert's death and her stubborn seclusion from the public sphere: Osborne house is perfectly set to illustrate this, as well as the deep closeness of the family which would be the root of her subsequent sadness.

On the Isle of Man you can find Osborne house at East Cowes (PO32 6JX): it's an unusual building, seemingly plucked out of another country with its Italian/Mediterranean styling, and is situated on a huge sprawling estate. The key features aside from the main house is a private beach right at the bottom of the estate, where the Queen herself used to go swimming, and an adorable 'Swiss cottage' -where the nine children used to be educated-that features its own little allotment and miniature fort mimicking the trenches and barracks of the Crimean war that the children used to play in. The key theme of the house is family life and it offers an intimate insight to the balance between the domestic and the courtly duties.

Annoyingly for any tourists, there is no photography (even non-flash photography) permitted inside the house. When you walk through you are kept to an often narrow walkway that doubles back on itself, weaves up stairs and takes you on a fairly restrictive tour, but despite this there is plenty to see here. Osborne house has perhaps less charm than somewhere like Chatsworth that holds layers of differing types of history as the house has been built up over 500 years, but instead Osborne house acts as a time capsule for the Victorian fashion and sensibilities in both domestic life and courtly life. Queen Victoria's room reflects this the most keenly as it was quite literally locked up behind an iron gate after her death until Queen Elizabeth II granted permission for the chamber to be opened to the public.

The Victorian often dark, cluttered pattern-laden style tends to make rooms look smaller and less grand than they are, but this does in itself make the house seem more believably domestic. The nursery is charming with its display of old cots and toys (along with a very unsettling collection of porcelain baby-limbs that Victoria has cast). Similarly Queen Victoria's sitting room where both she and her husband Albert sat side by side to answer letters and the like shows beautifully how united the couple were in both the home and in their work. Despite all this, perhaps the most impressive room is the remarkable Durbar room which is a stunning white room utterly covered in Indian plaster-castings and mouldings, along with displays of exquisitely intricate gifts given to the queen from the people of India. This, combined with the Durbar corridor which holds a collection of portraits of Indian people by Rudolf Swoboda, shows that Osborne house was still a very stately place and that within it resided the leader of an Empire that, while she could never travel to it all, still impressed its duties and wonders upon her.

The Durbar Room (English Heritage)

In the end Osborne house will never be one of my favourites, but it is certainly worth an explore of the busy rooms and sprawling grounds if you ever find yourself on the Isle of Wight.

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