~Written By Zenobia~

Queen Victoria’s palace by the sea, Osborne House in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, was designed by Prince Albert with the palaces of the Italian Renaissance in mind. It was built between 1845 and 1851, but the royals had their private apartments established, and had moved into the residence in just over a year from the start of the project. Designed to be a royal residence, the house was very much a retreat for the queen and her family…where they could be away from the very public attention of the royal court in London. During queen Victoria’s reign, it was used far more as a family home than any other royal residence Victoria had at her disposal. Osborne House was undoubtedly the favorite residence of Queen Victoria and was probably the closest thing her 9 children ever had to a family home. The royals spent an extraordinary amount of time there, all of the summer months and most Christmases. After Albert died, Victoria spent considerably more time on the Isle of Wight, and spent every Christmas at Osborne House.

The house itself is a very large building, a lot of which was built to accommodate visitors and household staff, with the royal family’s private apartments taking up only a fraction of the whole building. Queen Victoria paid for the construction of Osborne House entirely from her own pocket…and although the house itself is extremely opulent and extravagant, Victoria and Albert were quite frugal…and kept a tight rein on the purse strings. Evidence of this is noticeable throughout the house…main corridors of the house and other areas where Victoria frequented are adorned with gold leaf on the cornices and moldings…corridors which Victoria never ventured down are simply left white and unadorned. Osborne House was a modern marvel during Victorian times as it was the first house on the island to have central heating, electricity, refrigeration, and fabulous indoor plumbing…showers and all!

Walking through this magnificent house, you get a strong feel of family and an intimate glimpse into the daily routine and life of the royal family. It is truly like something frozen in time, or documented on a postcard. All the possessions and sentimental items still remain where they were left when Victoria died on January 22, 1901.
Immediately following the death of Queen Victoria, the royal apartments on the upper floors of the pavilion wing were turned into a private museum purely for the use of the royal family. Part of the ground floor was opened to the public early in the 20th century, and in 1954 Victoria’s bedroom and private apartments could be viewed by the public for the first time, followed by the royal nurseries in 1989. Today the house has been sympathetically restored to its former glory as the summer palace of the Queen Empress.
Throughout its history, Osborne house has served many purposes. From a royal residence and family home, to an officers convalescence home, to a naval college and finally, a museum. When the queen died, the house was passed to her son Edward, who wasn’t really interested in it, preferring to spend his time at Sandringham. Eventually, he turned Osborne House over to the nation.

Some of the more interesting things you might not have known about Queen Victoria and Osborne House….For a woman who was the royal grandmother to many of the crowned princes and princesses in Europe, and who ruled through an age of major industrial progress in England, Queen Victoria was pretty much the opposite in real life to the persona she was carrying off of the iron fisted ruler who was supposed to be upholding these strict values and morals. Victorianism over the years had come to imply rigidity…in social conduct, sexual morality, family values and religious faith. Unfortunately, if these values were supposed to be taken seriously as requirements for being *Victorian*, then no one, least of all Victoria herself, could be considered Victorian. She loved a good drink and preferred whiskey in her tea rather than milk. She took gluttony to new heights at mealtimes. She couldn’t stand childbirth…despite having 9 children. She disapproved of most marriages…and instead of celebrating birthdays, she preferred to celebrate the anniversaries of peoples deaths. She spent a lot of time visiting the dearly departed at their respective mausoleums. Although the queen was religious in every sense…she was also fascinated with spiritualism, mysticism and with contacting the dead. A lot of her fascination with the *other side* came about when Albert passed away suddenly. From that moment on, Osborne House became one of the main settings of her many journeys into dabbling with the occult.

Albert’s death in 1861 came as such a shock to Victoria, that she never quite recovered from it. Her reaction was to hide herself away, becoming a recluse. It was while she was at Osborne House that she began to hold seances along with her daughter Louise, and a medium, and psychic, Robert Lees, in an attempt to contact Albert. Later, she would appoint Robert Lees as her own royal psychic, as her desire to keep Albert close even in death grew. Eventually, Prince Albert was *contacted* from beyond the grave, and apparently he advised Victoria to send for John Brown who was at Balmoral, to come and act as resident medium for the queen. Now….John Brown as we all know was at the center of controversy and was accused of having an illicit affair with the queen. However, if you read the history books, you might ask yourself whether or not Victoria kept him close by her side in an effort to keep Albert’s spirit close to her. John Brown was indeed the person who was trance channeling the spectral presence of the prince consort, and the queen had somehow got it into her head that the spirit of Albert had somehow passed into the body of John Brown. I believe that the allegations of the affair between the queen and John Brown were speculative..to say the least, however, we will probably never know the truth because Victoria’s son Bertie (Edward VII) burned the personal diaries of John Brown which contained records of the many spiritualist seances held with the queen.

Surely death is not the end. Albert certainly was never allowed to completely pass away. Whether Victoria actually ever did contact him from beyond the grave or not….she carried on daily life as if he were still alive….clothes laid out for him, fresh towels in the bathroom and hot water were continuously provided. It was as if Albert had not died, but had simply left the room.
Some have said that queen Victoria was mad. It certainly ran in the family! Was she mad? Or did she actually have a link to the Afterlife? We may never know. Doubts were cast on the queen’s sanity by her own children and her government. It is a well known fact that Victoria suffered from porphyria, a disease which can bring on bouts of madness and delusional anger. This disease wreaked havoc throughout the house of Hanover with her grandfather George III suffering the worst effects of it very publicly.

Ok….history lessons over. What about the ghosts I hear you say?? Is Osborne House haunted?? I personally believe that all houses are *haunted*, that energy trapped in the floors, walls and atmosphere of a house over time, has the potential to replay itself, so to speak…every now and again, given the right frequency for broadcasting. The thing about Osborne house is that because of the private nature of the house and the collection, no photographs, digital equipment or investigations are allowed in any way shape or form, so we know only by word of mouth the ghost stories which originate from there. Accounts from staff and visitors regarding their ghostly encounters at Osborne house indicate that it is haunted mainly by royalty, which would make sense. A woman dressed in black has been reported wandering the corridors upstairs in the house, and some are convinced it is Victoria…still in mourning for Albert. I wouldn’t be surprised if her spirit visited there frequently, as it was her favorite place to spend time. Other accounts reported include the sound of bagpipes and music emanating from the house, some believing this to be caused by the ghost of John Brown.

I had the good fortune to visit Osborne House recently, and I do believe I had a spiritual experience of my own there. As we were following the tour round, we entered the Queens dressing room. Almost instantly, I began to suffer with a sudden attack of indigestion, despite having eaten nothing so far that day. As I was standing there listening to the tour guide and feeling quite uncomfortable, the guide starting telling us how the queen had kept her *potions* in a portable wooden box in her dressing room, as she suffered from frequent and serious attacks of indigestion. Coincidence? Probably. I was just standing there hoping I wasn’t going to vomit on something priceless! The feeling I had lasted through the dressing room, through the bathroom, and into her private bedroom. As soon as we left the room and headed down the stairs, I was fine! Very strange for me as I rarely suffer from heartburn.

Osborne House is now owned by English Heritage and is open to the public from spring through to autumn. The former Naval College’s cricket pavilion was converted into a holiday cottage in 2004 and can be booked by members of the public. Osborne House is a great place to visit on a day out on the Isle of Wight with the whole family. The house hosts many events and provides family activities for all, details of which can be found on the English Heritage website link below.
For more information on English Heritage properties to visit in the Isle of Wight during the winter months…go to www.english-heritage.org.uk or call 0870 333 1181.