This year’s special exhibition to coincide with the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace, chronicles the lives of royal children over 250 years. Royal Childhood features well-loved toys, treasured family gifts, and outfits belonging to nine generations of the royal family. More than 150 objects are on display, set against a backdrop of previously unseen photographs and private film footage. Everything from samples of Princess Victoria’s hair taken from an album compiled by her mother c1820-25 to Princess Elizabeth’s ‘progress book’ c1926 to the rocking horse presented by President Obama to mark the birth of Prince George, complete with the Presidential Seal on its saddle.
Miniature outfits worn by the children are a big feature including a satin coat and hat worn by Princess Margaret c1934 (below), Prince William’s page-boy ‘sailor suit’ c1986, and two pink coats belonging to Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret which they were often photographed in together (below).
The two Parisian dolls (below) belonging to Princess Elizabeth and Margaret are on display for the first time. The dolls are dressed in French couture outfits. Princess Elizabeth’s doll ‘Pamela” c1935 can be seen wearing the red beret. In front stand three of Queen Victoria’s home-made wooden dolls. She created over 130 such dolls which are dressed in outfits which she also designed herself.
Like any proud parent, members of the royal family kept records of their children’s growth and development, from ‘behaviour books’ to keepsakes such as locks of hair. Queen Victoria even commissioned marble carvings of her children’s legs, arms and feet. She also kept the first teeth of her children, wrapping them in tiny parcels inscribed with the date and the child’s name (below).
In the Palace’s Ballroom, there is a spectacular four-metre-tall display of childhood toys, including a wooden ‘roller coaster’ and a election of cars and bikes. There’s even a tiny replica (below) of the DB5 used by James Bond in the films Goldfinger and Thunderball. The car was presented to Prince Andrew at the age of six. It is fully mobile and includes rotating number plates, a pop-up bullet-proof shield, a working smoke screen and electric water jets hidden in the rear reflectors.
Toys and games were frequently passed on from one child to the next. The wooden wheelbarrow c1935 in the shape of a dog features in a photograph of Princess Margaret during the war, and can also be seen again being pushed by her niece Princess Anne 13 years later (below).
The exhibition also brings together both family and official gifts presented to royal children. One of the most impressive gifts was given to Princess Elizabeth on the occasion of her sixth birthday. In 1932 the people of Wales had surprised her with a miniature thatched cottage named ‘The Little House’. It was constructed in the grounds of Royal Lodge, Windsor, and was fitted with electric lighting and running water. 15 feet tall, it is built on two floors and contains a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. The exhibition shows the contents of the kitchen, including a miniature oven by Magnet, a washing machine by Fisher, and a tea service made by Copeland and decorated with Princess Elizabeth’s cipher.
Rocking horses were popular toys with royal children and both Princess Elizabeth and Margaret were each given a horse with their own initials on the bridle.
For the first time, families visiting Buckingham Palace this summer can visit the Family Pavilion, situated on the Palace’s West Terrace, overlooking the garden. Inside there are activities and games for a variety of ages. Young visitors can dress up and take to the Family Pavilion’s stage, inspired by the pantomimes staged by royal children over the years, have a ride on a traditional rocking horse, and before they leave, write a message to The Queen on a chalkboard.
Royal Childhood is open from 26 July – 28 September 2014.
For advance ticket and visitor information please visit: www.royalcollection.org.uk or telephone: +44 (0)20 7766 7300
Royal Collection Trust has produced an exclusive range of children’s toys and accessories inspired by the exhibition available from Royal Collection Trust shops and online at: www.royalcollection.org.uk/shop
All images by CELLOPHANELAND*
CELLOPHANELAND* was a guest of Buckingham Palace and Royal Collection Trust.