In 1876 Queen Victoria became Empress of India, some years after the British protectorates and possessions in India were incorporated into the British Empire. This new role led to a growing fascination with the Indian Subcontinent, and eleven years later Victoria decided to bring two Indian nationals to Britain to act as attendants to the Queen. One of them, Abdul Karim, developed a close platonic friendship with Her Majesty, which led to some considerable friction among members of the Royal Household. This story forms the basis of the recently released film Victoria and Abdul.
Abdul spent time at a number of the royal properties, but one which features heavily in the film is Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s beloved retreat on the Isle of Wight. This was an exciting time for the English Heritage staff at the property, it being the first time a feature film had made use of the sumptuous interiors, which include many Indian influences. For example, the Durbar Room, with a ceiling designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of the author Rudyard Kipling. There is a portrait of Abdul Karim hanging in the Durbar Room and it is redolent with Indian touches such as the beautiful peacock fireplace. The Drawing Room also makes an appearance, with its yellow satin curtains and full length mirrors, as does the Grand Corridor with its classical statues and busts and decorative tiled floor.
|The Durbar Room|
As well as the interiors, the grounds of the house are also seen in the film. The exterior architecture is Italianate in style. When I visited last year I had recently been to Lake Maggiore and the exterior of Osborne House took me right back there. The grounds range from a more formal style immediately outside the house to the landscaped parkland in which red squirrels can sometimes be found – we thought we saw one belting along, but it was moving too fast to be sure it was a red. There is a lovely walk down to the private beach with views over the Solent, where the Queen’s personal bathing machine can still be found, as well as a cafe. Probably the most surprising thing encountered by visitors to the property is the Swiss Cottage, an authentic wooden chalet where the Queen’s children enjoyed hours of fun and where they were taught about ‘normal’ life activities such as growing and cooking vegetables.
|The Italianate exterior|
As mentioned before, Osborne House, which is a short distance to the south-east of East Cowes, is run by English Heritage and is open all year round except for Christmas. Allow plenty of time for your visit as there is lots to see.