Stables built for King Henry VIII 473 years ago may be up for sale, because Buckingham Palace is desperate for money for urgent repairs. The old stables in Royal Mews, in the grounds of Hampton Court, would be expected to fetch £2m.
The money would help pay for a huge backlog of repairs the Palace says are so urgent that all of them must be completed within 10 years. The combined cost is estimated at £44m. The dilapidated state of parts of the royal estate has forced the Queen to beg the Treasury for extra money as the Government sets about preparing drastic cuts in public spending.
The revelation about the old stables shocked the Horse Rangers Association, a registered equestrian charity which has its headquarters there. Its director, Jackie Bryans, said: "Buckingham Palace have been very good to us. We have been here almost 40 years. So I hope this is not going to happen, at least not for a very long time.
It would cost a great deal to convert 500-year-old stables, so the only person I can imagine who would be interested in buying is us, and we haven't got £2m."
The stables were built in 1536, soon after Henry VIII had expropriated Hampton Court from Cardinal Wolsey, who fell out of favour when he failed to persuade the Pope to allow the King to divorce Catherine of Aragon. They were designed by the master mason Charles Dickinson, one of the king's favourite architects. Two centuries later, King George II decided not to use Hampton Court as a royal residence any more and the stables fell into disuse. The east side was converted to an inn, called Chequers, but that closed in the 1840s.
A document released under the Freedom of Information Act shows that last August, a Palace official wrote to the Treasury pleading for the Queen's income for the Civil List, now £7.9m a year, to be raised by "at least £4m a year".
The Palace estimated that the extra income would give them £28m of the £44m they need for repairs, and undertook to find the rest themselves by various means including "the disposal of non core assets eg Hampton Court Mews (£2m)". This month, English Heritage released the text of an email it had received from the royal household warning that parts of the Queen's estate are being left "without prospect of repair", because they are so desperate for money to patch together the roof of Buckingham Palace and for other essential works.
Graham Sharpe, the royal household's head of property services, warned in the email of major problems at Windsor Castle, which was badly damaged by fire in 1992. "The lead roofs ... are at the end of their life and the only areas to be re-roofed by 1997 were in the fire restoration," he wrote. "There are 26 other identifiable roofs that need to be renewed. All were patched in 1997 and we were advised that the patches would extend the life by 12 to 15 years."
He added: "You may question why we cannot prioritise these roofs against other projects in the programme. The reality is that Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews have the same issues with roof repairs. The truth is that there is insufficient funding to cover the needs and we are unable to carry out repairs as we should and would like to.
"You are well aware of the status of the Victoria and Albert Mausoleum as a 'Building at Risk', the repair of which cannot be undertaken due to its high cost, but there are other parts of our estate that are now being left with no prospect of repair."
Urgent repairs: Palace costs
Fix lead and slate roofs at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace
Replace heating and electrics at Buckingham Palace and remove asbestos
Replace cast iron and lead Victorian water main at Windsor
Refurbish St James's Palace
Conservation work at the V&A Mausoleum