London Drum

Clarence House – King Charles & Camilla’s old home

Clarence House
Where? Clarence House, The Mall · Web: Opening times? Usually closed to the public, except for guided tours during August Time required? A typical visit is 1-1½ hours Parking: Nearby car parks Buses: 8, 9, 14, 19, 22, 38 Bus fares Trains: The closest station is Green Park Jubilee Piccadilly Victoria Train fares

Craig’s review… Clarence House used to be the official Royal residence of King Charles and Camilla (when he was still a prince), but most of us still associate it with the Queen Mother. Every time her birthday rolled around she used to totter out of the side gate and wave at the public. They’d line up a few kids to give her some flowers then she’d stagger back inside for a gin. This went on for years and years until she passed away aged 101.

The Queen Mother’s former home

Before the Queen Mother lived here she was up in Buckingham Palace with George VI, and Clarence House was home to her daughter Elizabeth. Our future Queen spent the first few years of her marriage here, had a couple of kids with Philip (Charles and Anne), but when the King died she suddenly became Elizabeth II and had to do a house swap with the Queen Mum.

Following the Queen Mother’s death in 2002 it passed back to Charles again. Prince William and Prince Harry came along for a while but shifted into Kensington Palace as soon as William married Kate. So then it was just Prince Charles and Camilla rattling around his grandmother’s old home. Imagine living in your 101-year-old grandmother’s house and having to keep all the same tables and chairs and pictures on the walls.

If you walk down The Mall then Clarence House is that creamy-coloured building on the side of St. James’s Palace. It’s not much to look at from the outside because you can hardly see anything above the tall perimeter wall. If you want to look inside then you have to book a spot on one of their August tours. That’s where I am right now. I’ve made it through the gate and the x-ray scanner and I’m sitting in the little tented pavilion waiting for the guide. I’ve already been here a few times already and I always have exactly the same experience: it’s always just me and a load of chatty old grannies and grandads on a day out. It seems to be much more for the older generation, this place, because it’s more like a stately home than a Royal residence. Think ‘duck egg blue’ instead of gold. Think frayed carpet instead of red carpet. Put it this way: it’s definitely a home. You can tell that people actually live here.

Guided tour of the public rooms

The tour starts in the garden where you get to see the front facade and a few ornamental beds. It’s just a lawn and some tall trees really, hardly big enough for a kick-about, but it’s pleasant enough. After that you head into the hall and the first of five rooms. The Lancaster Room is just a cosy little sitting area with a few bookcases and a fireplace. Everyone in the group has to spread out because it’s quite a small space and they let you stand surprisingly close to his ornaments – all of his photo frames and statues and very expensive looking vases are literally inches from your elbows. But don’t stray from the beige carpet for chrissakes – don’t step on the real carpet underneath because you’ll definitely get told off. And don’t touch anything either because there are a couple of staff members keeping their beady eyes on you.

I enjoy looking at Charles’ family photos that he’s got dotted around the tables. He comes across as a proud dad, and in much the same way that we’d show a photo of our child’s first day at school, Charles has got photos of Harry posing in his army uniform and wedding photos of William and Kate. You can see some faded photos of his mother as well (the Queen) when she still had kid-curls in her hair. Lots of black and white photos of his grandparents as well (the Queen Mother and George VI). One of the Queen Mother’s snapshots is especially nice because she looks a little bit dishevelled, as if she’s had far too much to drink. They’re exactly like the photos that you and I might have on the mantelpiece at home – just happy family snaps all over the place. But I noticed that there wasn’t a single picture of Diana anywhere – he must have chucked them all out. Or maybe Camilla accidentally burned them with her cigarettes.

Paintings at Clarence House

There are plenty of paintings on the walls but we’re not talking great works of art. These paintings are much more personal: family portraits and pictures of distant relatives, a few Blitz scenes and a stormy collection of Windsor Castle landscapes. The Queen Mother’s collection of horse portraits are still hanging on the wall as well (the Queen Mum loved her horses), and the bookcases are still filled with her old Dick Francis and PG Wodehouse novels.

After that comes the Morning Room. There’s not much that I can say about this room really… it’s just more Chippendale chairs and pictures of his kids. That’s what I’m trying to get across to you: it’s just like a home. You’re not going to walk into a room and go wow!, like you do when you walk into the Ballroom or Throne Room at the palace. They are just regular sized rooms filled with portraits and personal objects.

The Library is where the Royals take tea with visiting dignitaries. Our guide reeled off a guest-list that included the likes of Nelson Mandela, the Clintons and the Reagans, and ‘oh yeah’, she said, ’the King and Queen of Spain were here last week.’ So the Charles and Camilla were having a cup of tea with the King of Spain in that very seat that’s only five feet away? ‘Yes’, she said. When she says stuff like that you don’t really believe it’s true because you only paid a tenner to get in. Why on earth are they letting us ruffians in here as well?

The final room has a very nice Middle Eastern feeling to it with red chairs and a huge tapestry on the back wall that Queen Victoria nabbed from Napoleon III.

And that’s it. That’s all you get. You don’t get to see any of his private rooms upstairs, just five of the public ones on the ground floor. After that they kick you into the shop so you can spend some money on chocolates and tea towels.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you enjoy this then try Buckingham Palace (you can walk it in 6 mins); Hampton Court Palace; Kensington Palace (travel from Green Park to Queensway via tube); St. James’s Palace (you can walk there in less than 1 min) and Windsor Castle

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Margaret Brilliant review, thank you, we're looking forward to visiting London!

Zena We visited Clarence House a few years ago and enjoyed the visit, however we did feel some of the curtains need replacing, and it appeared the lights, lampshades and paintwork needed refreshing. However, a nice smallish home, kind of cosy, not ostentatious at all, which was very surprising

J B I am very much a fan of the Royals and have been to all the palaces numerous times, but for some reason I put this one off, but after having been I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised and wondered why I didn't go sooner. The tour (which we had no choice but to go on) was quite short, lasting about an hour, but the interesting part was that the guide pointed out which items came from which Royal, so even though the house is currently occupied by Prince Charles, he pointed out a very large number of items which originated with the Queen Mother.

Pat Hello. How far is Clarence House from Buckingham Palace? How long does it take to walk between the two?

Craig Hi Pat. It's very close, it only takes two minutes to walk it.

stein How often do they open clarence house for tours? Can you visit it all year round? It never seems to be open when we've walked past

Craig Hi Stein. I've only ever known them to open it during the month of August. Buckingham Palace usually opens from the last week of July to the first week of September, but for Clarence House it's just the four weeks in the middle.

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