In February 1845, Queen Victoria wrote to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, about the ‘urgent necessity of doing something about Buckingham Palace’. The first monarch to occupy the Palace, she found the building wholly inadequate and required proper accommodation for her growing family, more space for official entertaining and improved offices for the staff of the royal household.
The architect Edward Blore (1787-1879) was instructed to prepare plans for a new wing, which would close the east side of the Palace courtyard and convert the building into a quadrangle. The work would be funded by the sale of Brighton Pavilion, the exotic seaside residence built by George IV, Victoria’s uncle.
The Palace’s east wing was completed in 1847. Unfortunately Blore had used soft Caen stone, which rapidly blackened and deteriorated in London’s polluted air. Only 20 years later, the state of the stonework was so poor that the sentries often had to shelter in their boxes from falling fragments of masonry.
In 1912 it was decided to use £60,000 of surplus funds from the public subscription for the national memorial to Queen Victoria to reface the east façade. Sir Aston Webb (1849-1930), architect of the Queen Victoria Memorial scheme, would carry out the work.
The national memorial to Queen Victoria was a project on a grand scale. It included the marble monument to the Queen, a new approach to the Palace along the Mall, the creation of Admiralty Arch (leading to Trafalgar Square and Whitehall), the Dominion Gates, the Memorial Gardens, and the surrounding stone piers and balustrades. Every element was designed by Webb and funded through donations raised in the United Kingdom, and the overseas realms and territories.
The task of applying the Palace’s new Portland stone façade was completed in just 13 weeks during the summer and early autumn of 1913, while King George V and Queen Mary were at their Scottish home, Balmoral Castle. A contemporary account records that 'in August 1913 ... the Forecourt of the Palace was handed over to the contractors, and suddenly became a vast deposit of building material.'
The blocks of stone had been prepared in advance and numbered before delivery to the Palace. New technologies, including electric hoists, tramways and arc lighting, allowed the contractors, Messrs. Leslie of Kensington, to work around the clock. At the conclusion of the project the King gave a dinner at the Holborn Restaurant for the hundreds of workmen responsible for such a remarkable achievement.