Victoria's plunge: Queen's beach to open to public

Queen Victoria's private beach, where she fell in love with the great British outdoors, is to be opened to the public for the first time. Jack Watkins reports

The image of Queen Victoria as a mordant, po-faced monarch is to undergo something of a sea change this month as the private beach at her seaside retreat of Osborne House, Isle of Wight, opens to the public for the first time.

The Queen's journals are full of happy references to time spent on or near the beach, where the children, including Bertie (later Edward VII), learned to swim and the monarch herself could spend time away from the burden of responsibility.

"They really loved it here," said English Heritage historian Dr Andrew Hann. "We know from her journals that the children were brought down from the house to play here every day, and the queen, who enjoyed walking or riding around the estate, would often join them for a stroll, or to gather seashells."

The idyllic spot, which reminded Prince Albert of the Bay of Naples, was a deciding factor in the royal couple's decision to build the house on the island in 1845. The beach remained in use when Osborne House became an officers' convalescent home in the early 20th century, but afterwards fell into neglect. English Heritage took on the management of the property in 1986, and the opening is part of its long-term scheme to restore and re-emphasise the estate's origins as a royal family home.

The original wooden bathing hut, from which the queen would emerge resplendent in a voluminous bathing costume, is being returned to the beach, newly restored. The alcove, within which, surrounded by colourful mosaics and seated on a bench supported by cast-iron dolphins, she sat sketching and painting, has also been restored. As well as admiring the views, which inspired the queen's illustrations, visitors will be able to watch or participate in a range of Victorian-style beach entertainments and games, such as Punch and Judy shows, quoits and skittles.

Announcing the plans, Simon Turley, chief executive of English Heritage, said that Victoria was: "Fixed in many people's minds as the 'Grandmother of Europe', who spent most of her reign in mourning for her husband. Opening her beach at Osborne lets us see another side to her – this was a queen who collected seashells 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."

The queen's bathing machine was unusually ornate, with a front verandah and curtains which would conceal her until she had entered the water. The interior had a changing room and a plumbed-in WC. The royal offspring, meanwhile, were taught how to swim in a "floating bath", specially designed by Albert, and moored a few hundred metres off the beach. It consisted of two pontoons with a wooden grating suspended between, which could be lowered or raised according to the proficiency of the swimmer.

Evenings would feature fishing trips, using a little boat moored on the beach, from which they would be rowed out to be escorted by local fishermen. In one journal entry, Victoria triumphantly records: "We got 39 whiting perch, of which I caught 10."

The beach had a landing pier and was where many eminent guests, among them the French emperor Napoleon III, had their first sight of Osborne House, through groupings of trees and shrubs specially laid out to provide tantalising glimpses along the footpath. "Prince Albert was concerned with planting for special aesthetic effect in the views of the beach, sea and of the house. He would sit in the tower of the house and convey orders to the workers by semaphore," said Dr Hann, who said many of the trees planted by Albert survived.

The queen continued to visit the beach after Albert died and her children had grown up, he says. "She liked the solitude and serenity of the spot and continued with her watercolours, although her style became loser and darker in tone, probably reflecting her changed mood."

In subsequent years, the bathing machine was used as a hen coop, and much damage was done to the beach when it was used for army training during the Second World War. However, neglect of the bay meant it has also became something of a wildlife haven, including a colony of red squirrels. It contains a rare and fragile strip of vegetated shingle, while eel grass growing in the shallow waters provides an important habitat for seahorses. Natural England has carried out an audit of the flora and fauna and its protection and interpretation will part of the visitor experience.

Victoria's Secret: in her own words

21 June 1846 "We drove down to the sea in our char a bancs… by the beautiful new road laid out by Albert, which goes through the wood and winds down gradually to the sea. The view is quite beautiful."

30 June 1846 "Albert went back to the beach again later and bathed Bertie in the sea – a great event. He was extremely good and proud of his performance."

30 July 1847 "Afterwards drove down to the beach with my maids – went into the bathing machine where I undressed and bathed in the sea (for the 1st time in my life). A very nice bathing woman attended me. I thought it delightful till I put my head under water, when I thought I should be stifled."

16 August 1855 "Every day, every year, this dear sweet spot seems more lovely, & with its brilliant sunshine, deep blue sea & dazzling flowers, is a perfect paradise, & all my beloved one's creation, the result of his exquisite taste!"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appeal
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Sport
Ched Evans in action for Sheffield United in 2012
footballRonnie Moore says 'he's served his time and the boy wants to play football'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick