Queen Victoria’s private beach at Osborne, her seaside home on the Isle of Wight, will open to the public for the first time ever later this month.
Today (Tuesday 17th July), children from Queensgate Foundation Primary School in East Cowes were clearly excited to be the very first youngsters to step onto and enjoy the new beach. The sun was shining, the children were entertained by a traditional Punch and Judy show, ate ice cream and ended their visit with an audience with the Queen.
Osborne House, near East Cowes, was a popular retreat for Queen Victoria who enjoyed family holidays at the seaside mansion. Osborne Bay was often used as a landing for both the royal family and visiting dignitaries and the stretch of seafront, has never been accessible to the general public before.
A visit to the seaside would not be complete without spying a bathing belle and Osborne House Commercial Manager, Elspeth Moore, dressed for the occasion in traditional Victorian bathing attire.
As well as being the first place that Victoria swam in the sea, it was also where her children learned to swim. With the aid of a bathing station to protect her modesty, Victoria would swim in Osborne Bay twice a day.
Writing of her first bathing experience, she said: “I thought it delightful till I put my head under water, when I thought I should be stifled.”
Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: “Queen Victoria is fixed in many people’s minds as the grandmother of Europe, a queen who spent most of her reign in mourning for her husband.
“Opening her beach at Osborne lets us show another side to her – this was a Queen who collected sea shells with her children, who sketched the changing sea, and who swam sometimes twice a day.
“Osborne was her seaside retreat from the formalities of Buckingham Palace – now people can visit that seaside.”
The beach was a deciding factor behind the decision by Victoria and Prince Albert to buy Osborne House as their private home. Albert likened the bay to Naples in Italy and Victoria wrote: “It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot.”
Victoria’s original ornate bathing machine, which ran down a ramp into the sea and from which Victoria would emerge in her swimming suit, her modesty preserved, has now been returned to the beach. After Victoria’s death in 1901, the bathing machine was removed from the beach and later used as a chicken shed before it was saved in the early 1950s.
Also restored is the Queen’s Alcove, a small but elegant semicircular stone shelter with half-dome which amplified the sound of the waves. Queen Victoria liked nothing better than to sit and sketch the coastal views, including her own Royal Navy which was based across the Solent in Portsmouth. It was completed in 1869 and Victoria personally agreed its interior decoration of large vibrant Minton blue tiles, decorated with small yellow starbursts with a timber bench supported by cast iron dolphins on a mosaic floor.
In recent decades the bay was left undisturbed allowing vegetation to flourish including a strip of vegetated shingle which has been lost from many beaches on the Island and is to be protected with a new boardwalk and fence.
Throughout high summer there will be family entertainment similar to that enjoyed by the Queen and her own family, including a specially commissioned Royal Punch and Judy, and Victorian beach games like skittles and hoops-and-sticks. Visitors can relax by the sea in deck-chairs while the bathing pavilion, built when Osborne became a convalescent home for officers, will be transformed into a sea-side café.
The Queen’s bathing machine (pictured above) and other attractions will be open for the public to enjoy during: Family Summer Fun at Osborne from Friday 27th July 2012.
English Heritage Members Free
Child, 5-15 years £7.80
Price includes entry to event and Osborne House and Gardens. For more details visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/osborne-house/ external website link.
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