Having been to the Isle of Wight last week to see where Queen Victoria died, yesterday I went to see where she's buried. [10 photos]
She's buried in Windsor, but not at the castle... she and Albert lie half a mile south in the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore. And Frogmore's not often open to the public, indeed only for three days each year at the start of June, although if you had an invite to Harry and Meghan's wedding reception you might have been tippling champagne on the lawn a few weeks back.
To get inside the gardens you need to pay attention and buy a ticket in advance from one of the three designated charities, which this year include the National Open Garden Scheme (Tuesday 5th), SSAFA (Wednesday 6th) and the Prisoners’ Education Trust (Thursday 7th). E-ticketing has yet to reach this corner of the royal household, so wait a few weeks and your ticket will eventually arrive in the post. I did wonder whether this was to enable police checks, but it turned out tickets are also available on the day in a tent at the end of the drive, so evidently not.
Frogmore lies at the heart of Windsor Great Park, hidden amongst a huge secret backlot where the royal family ride horses and play at farmers. Access is through a gate on the Long Walk, watched over by Royal Palace guides in smart uniforms and suitably equipped police. First there's an enormous field to file past, currently replete with unripe corn almost as far as the horizon, then a gravel drive towards the delightfully titled Mausoleum Lodge. Cue bag check ("Oh, what a lovely picnic"), and then step through the gate onto hallowed turf.
There are 30 acres of immaculate gardens at Frogmore, beautifully landscaped and cared for by unseen hands. A sinuous water feature crossing the site creates a pastoral vibe, with a central artificial mound as the centrepiece. Many different species of tree have been lovingly nurtured over the years, the finest specimens carefully labelled, from Indian horse chestnuts to a bush of Glastonbury thorn. The flower beds are informal and rich in rhododendron and iris, or at least they are in the week the public get a look in - only royalty sees what blooms at other times of year.
The first mausoleum at Frogmore was for Queen Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent, who spent 20 years living in the big house in the grounds. She planned a summerhouse on top of vaults inside the central mound, but died just before the summerhouse was complete, so it was filled with a statue of her instead. The front steps are chained off for mere mortals on Open Days, but you can climb the mound to almost see the exterior up close, as well as admiring it from various vantage points around the lake.
Queen Victoria selected the location for the much larger Royal Mausoleum a few days after her beloved Albert died. Designed in a Romanesque style, from above it takes the form of a Greek Cross, and is topped by a copper dome. It used to be possible to go inside, with limited public opening on the Queen's birthday in May, but the interior is now structurally unsound due to damp, and has been closed off since 2007. Initially it was thought repairs would take five years, but the current estimated date for reopening is 2023, assuming government or royalty are willing to dip into the Privy Purse.
If you're a lesser royal, like a Duke of Gloucester or an Ogilvy, your likely final resting place is the burial ground outside. It's been in use since the 1920s, and although it isn't meant for monarchs or their consorts, it is where you'll find Edward VIIIand Wallis Simpson, as well as three of Queen Victoria's children. Someone was obviously planning ahead because the lawn is still mostly empty, apart from a few pristine slabs in family clusters, and the overall effect seemed oddly artificial.
And then there's Frogmore House - owned, enlarged, and increasingly tarted up by the royal family since the 18th century. George III bought it as a country refuge for his wife Queen Charlotte, and it was lived in by an assortment of mostly queens and princesses after that. It must have been convenient to have a house available in Windsor that wasn't a castle, and had a bit of rustic privacy. These days it's used exclusively for entertaining, ideal for exclusive soirées or garden parties, and of course for wedding receptions when your grandchildren tie the knot.
Frogmore House is also only open to the public three days a year, for an additional fee on top of the gardens, and the queues to get inside generally die down mid-afternoon. Expect to shuffle through the ground floor rooms, and to wonder quite how anybody ever agreed to fussy decor in such extreme colours. Two rooms have been laid out as they would have been when Queen Mary used Frogmore to display her 'bygones' in the 1930s, including rather too many black/gold lacquer boxes and artificial flowers in glass belljars. The guide in the room seemed most unimpressed by Mary's taste, but still opened up one of the boxes to give me an illicit flash of handwritten label.
The next room is set out as the Duchess of Kent would have known it, almost a century earlier, and the box beneath the crystal chandelier may just include a box of Queen Victoria's knitting. The last room on the tour used to be the library, but was repurposed as the Britannia Room after the royal yacht was decommissioned in 1997. Prince Philip ensured that Britannia's enormous dining table ended up here, along with chairs and other trophies which he wanted to keep close to home rather than aboard a berthed tourist attraction in Edinburgh.
I confess to feeling somewhat on the young side while walking around Frogmore yesterday, the midweek timing ensuring that the main clientele was retired ladies and couples who like historical gardens. We were also repeatedly interrupted by planes whining directlyoverhead, Queen Victoria having completely failed to recognise that Heathrow's northern runway would be built a few miles due east of her favourite peaceful hideaway. In case you want to slip inside for yourself, hurry, because the Frogmore estate will be shutting its gates for another year at 5.30pm on Thursday.