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H.R.H. THE PRINCESS MARGARET AND KENSINGTON PALACE
A LIFE OF CONTRASTS; TRADITION AND MODERNITY
Kensington Palace has been a Royal residence since shortly after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought William and Mary to the throne. The first house on the site, built in about 1620 by a London merchant, was one of several put up near the small village of Kensington to take advantage of the clean air and proximity to London. A grander seat, erected by Heneage Finch, later created 1st Earl of Nottingham is recorded by Samuel Pepys in 1664, when he enjoyed 'the fountayne and singing there with the ladies', remarking on what a 'mighty cool place it is, with a great laver of water in the middle, and the bravest place for music I ever heard'. It was just these qualities that were to shape Kensington's future when, in 1689, William III and Mary II, needing somewhere more agreeable than the damp and smoky palace of Whitehall to attend to London business, bought the property and entrusted Christopher Wren to enlarge it for their use. Subsequently enriched by the creative genius of William Kent, Kensington Palace was occupied by successive reigning monarchs until 1760, when George III forsook Kensington for Buckingham House. From that moment onwards, whilst the State Apartments continued to be used intermittently for State occasions, the maze of apartments clustered around the Clock Court, to the West of the Palace itself, once used by courtiers and Royal children, increasingly became the London residence of other members of the Royal family.
It was a natural choice, therefore, that a suitable apartment should be found for Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones in the 'Aunt Heap' - in the inimitable words of Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII - following their marriage on 6 May 1960. Apartment 1 was the pick of the bunch. Bathed in light from its South-facing windows that look down over the gardens towards Kensington High Street, 1 was originally part of Christopher Wren's 'Stone Gallery', headed by a Porticoed entrance, which served as the King's Regal and theatrical entrance to the State Apartments, and ran the full length of the South Side of the Clock Court.
The suite of rooms that formed the core of Apartment 1 were first created by Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex around 1810: 'Of all the sons of George III, the Duke of Sussex was, after the Duke of York the most popular; and next his eldest brother, the most accomplished'. An inveterate and extravagant collector, the Duke of Sussex's abiding passion was books, and by 1820, when described by Thomas Faulkner in his History and Antiquities of Kensington, his burgeoning Library was housed in six rooms at Kensington Palace, including the full length of the wide first-floor corridor over the Stone Gallery. It is from one of these rooms that the bookcases, subsequently dismantled after Princess Louise, must have originally come (lots 584-585). At his death in 1843, the Duke of Sussex's lying in state at Kensington was attended by up to 20,000 people. Much of the collections that he formed were sold in a celebrated series of sales at Christie's, but his widow Cecilia, daughter of the Earl of Arran, lived on at Kensington until 1873.
Queen Victoria installed her newly-married fourth daughter, Princess Louise into Apartment 1 at Kensington Palace in 1875. The first marriage of a sovereign's daughter outside Royalty since that of Princess Mary, Henry VIII's sister in 1515, Princess Louise had married John Campbell, Head of the Clan Campbell, Marquess of Lorne and later 9th Duke of Argyll in 1873; the apartment, however, required a comprehensive refurbishment before the couple could move in. In many ways the most talented and least conventional of Queen Victoria's five daughters, Princess Louise was a gifted sculptress who had been a pupil of Joseph Edgar Boehm, and she even installed her own studio at Kensington. The leading light in a fascinating and intellectual artistic milieu, Princess Louise's London home became a meeting place for the Pre-Raphaelites and 'Aesthetic' Movements, their close circle of friends including Frederick, Lord Leighton, Sir Edward Burne-Jones, Sir Edward Poynter, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, James McNeill Whistler and even Sir Edwin Lutyens. During the First World War, the widowed Princess Louise converted part of her apartment into a convalescent home for officers, and she remained in situ at 1 Clock Court until her death in 1940.
The apartment was later divided into two and Apartment 1 became the home of Princess Marina and her family. It was located to the west of Clock Court and included the former King's Entrance. Apartment 1A was formed out of the southside of Clock Court and had its own entrance. Unfortunately, Kensington Palace did not escape the ravages of the Second World War and an incendiary bomb exploded in the North Side of Clock Court in 1940, damaging many of the surrounding buildings. Although Apartment 1A was spared by this explosion, the apartment remained empty and neglected, riddled with dry rot and a leaking roof.
All this was to change with the marriage of Princess Margaret to Antony Armstrong-Jones on 6 May 1960. The epitome of glamour and modernism, the newly-married couple were faced with an uphill and lengthy task - but one to which they were uniquely well-suited. Evocative photographs of Princess Margaret, her King Charles spaniel Rowley (so-called after Charles I's nickname) playfully scurrying at her feet, show the blank canvas with which they were faced and it was Armstrong-Jones who succeeded in transforming 1A into the modern family home they desired. In this task, he was assisted by the architect Carl Toms, Oliver Messel's last assistant, who went on to become an inseparable friend to them both, his early training as a draughtsman with Messel well preparing him for designing Commemorative ware with Lord Snowdon, as well as frocks and masks for Princess Margaret (lot 632).
Inevitably, 1A Clock Court was uninhabitable during over 2 years of building work. An apartment on the North side of the Palace was therefore made available to the young couple and their growing family David, Viscount Linley having been born at Clarence House in 1961. Apartment 10 had until then been lived in by the Marquess of Carisbrooke, eldest son of Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria's youngest daughter. In need of furniture for their temporary home, the Princess purchased the desk (lot 474) and rock crystal chandelier (lot 475) from the Marquess of Carisbrooke's collection.
In 1960, Kensington Palace was under the auspices of the Department of the Environment, and the building work at 1A Clock Court had to be carried out under the strictest of budgets. In spite of red tape and inevitable delays, by 1962, the whole interior had been gutted and all the floors, except the attic floor, had been removed to deal with rising damp. Thankfully the new incumbents could not have been more hands-on, and thus whilst Lord Snowdon laid out the slate and marble chequerboard floor in the Entrance Hall, the Princess herself was gluing on the mahogany veneer to the doors of the Dining and Drawing Rooms and 'dragging' the turquoise glaze to the wallpaper in the Drawing Room. It was this same chequerboard flagged floor that was to later suffer the privilege - or indignity - of having a 1953 BSA Denton 125 cc motorbike parked upon it! What they created was an incredibly modern family home, formal on the one hand and immensely practical for contemporary family life on the other. In many ways closer in spirit to Manhattan apartments of the time, the plan was compact and the use of space well thought out. A lift and luggage lift were installed alongside state-of-the art intercom and telephone systems in grey and white plastic. A hole was knocked through from the Drawing Room to the Library to allow for a built-in projection unit - upon which were played the Marx Brothers and the latest films sent round by Peter Sellers, along with Lord Snowdon's own documentaries including Don't Count the Candles. The Basement, meanwhile, became a crucible for endless experiments and invention, having a fully fitted Dark Room and workshop, with machinery and lathes for cutting and polishing minerals and semi-precious stones. Unusually, both the Princess and Lord Snowdon had their respective offices at home, and these were furnished with Danish Modernist furniture from Ole Wanscher (Lot 655).
What made 1A so unique was its sensational South-facing gardens. Originally, only an arched knee-high fence prevented the public from wandering freely into the Private Gardens of the Princess' home, but with the arrival of David and his sister, Sarah, who was born in 1A shortly after work was completed in 1963, the need for privacy was finally respected. Whilst the bare bones of the garden designed by Gertrude Jekyll for Princess Louise survived, including the great Katalpa tree and magnolias, the current planting of shrubs and roses is very much the Princess' creation. To create a shaded arbour, Lord Snowdon also introduced the newly redundant cast-iron railings from Royal Ascot (Lots 468 - 469), which provided such a theatrical 'My Fair Lady' backdrop for Cecil Beaton's portraits of the Princess, taken in 1965 (Lots 472 - 473) Indeed, this quiet oasis in Kensington, echoing to the ripples of the fountain given by Mrs. Drue Heinz that remains there to this day, was such a sun-trap that following the terrible drought of 1976, the vine immediately outside the Drawing Room windows was so laden with fruit that The Princess with some helpers collected 96 weight of grapes, and these were subsequently bottled in celebration of the Queen's Silver Jubilee (Lot 789).
1A Clock Court was at the heart of London society throughout Princess Margaret's life, a place where Peter Sellers would rub shoulders with Gore Vidal, where Frank Sinatra or Cecil Beaton might observe Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. The Princess' hospitality, extraordinary breadth of knowledge, abilities as a mimic and stamina for late nights and laughter are the stuff of legend. Perhaps nothing, however, sums up both her sense of fun and her life of contrasts better than her annual Christmas Party - those 'Sacred and Profane' evenings. These festive Christmas soirées began with the angelic voices of the King's College Choir leading rounds of Carols. After dinner, an impromptu musical medley of a different kind would begin - usually led by Johnny Dankworth on the clarinet, and soon joined by his wife Dame Cleo Lane, Marion Montgomery and Laurie Holloway, Princess Margaret herself leading the assembled company onwards and upwards. Pepys' comment is as relevant then as it was in 1664 - 'mighty cool place it is, with a great laver of water in the middle, and the bravest place for music I ever heard'.