12 Fascinating Things You Never Knew About Buckingham Palace

Secret tunnels! War bombings! And 40,000 light bulbs!

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Edward the Confessor owned the village that stood there before the Norman Conquest, and Henry VIII reclaimed it for the Crown in 1531. When James I was on the throne in the early 1600s, he planned to plant a mulberry garden to rear silkworms, but used the wrong variety and had to abandon his grand idea.

John Sheffield (of the Tory party) became the Duke of Buckingham in 1703, and he built Buckingham House as a place to stay during his visits to London. It was given the ultimate makeover and transformed into a palace in 1820 by architect John Nash — who was subsequently fired for going over budget!

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George III paid $32,784 ($4.7 million now) to buy it for his wife Queen Charlotte, who gave birth to all but one of their 15 children there. However, Queen Victoria was the first monarch to name it as her official residence when she moved there after her coronation in 1837.

4. Queen Victoria was plagued by an unusually determined trespasser when she lived in the palace.

Known to the press as "the boy Jones," teenager Edward Jones was caught in the palace three times during Victoria's reign—but probably sneaked in more often than that. He stole food and pieces of her underwear, and claimed to have sat on the throne. The government eventually kidnapped him and sent him to Brazil. When he escaped and returned, they imprisoned him on a ship for six years, and then sent him to Australia. He worked there as a town crier before his death on Boxing Day in 1893.

5. The palace is not just home to royalty.

Over 800 members of staff live there, including a flagman, fendersmith, and clockmaker. The latter must keep busy, as the palace contains 350 clocks and watches! They're wound up every week by two horological conservators, who work full-time to keep them ticking along.

6. The grand Ballroom is the palace's pride.

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It's the largest room, at 36.6m long, 18m wide, and 13.5m high. The first event held there was a celebration marking the end of the Crimean War in 1856. The palace is not all ballrooms and banquet halls, though: There's also a post office, police station, doctor's surgery, cinema, and pool.

7. Part of it was temporarily transformed into an operating room.

Months before his coronation in 1902, Edward VII contracted peritonitis, a dangerous stomach infection. A room overlooking the garden was quickly adapted for surgery, which was fortunately a success.

8. The palace suffered through the Blitz with the rest of London.

During World War II, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth publicly refused to leave the palace, which made it an appealing target. The buildings and grounds suffered nine direct hits during the raids. The Queen Mother described one bomb as causing "a tremendous explosion" but cheerfully added that "everybody remained wonderfully calm."

9. They work hard to keep it light.

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The palace's 760 windows are cleaned every six weeks. That fabulous ballroom was the first room to have electricity installed in it, in 1883. Lighting was extended to the rest of the rooms over the next four years, and there are now more than 40,000 light bulbs—pass the stepladder!

10. It was the HQ for a Guide Company (the UK version of Girl Scouts).

In 1937, Princess Elizabeth joined the 1st Buckingham Palace Guide Company, alongside other royal children and the daughters of the staff. But being heir to the throne didn't guarantee her a leading role—she was the second in charge of her patrol! Although they suspended activities when World War II broke out in 1939, the Company reformed at Windsor in 1942.

11. It's built on secret tunnels.

As if a palace isn't exciting enough, there are passageways running beneath the surface that connect the building to nearby streets. Unsurprisingly, the Queen Mother and King George VI couldn't resist exploring. On one excursion, they apparently met a very polite man from Newcastle, who was living down there.

12. It's easy to tell if the Queen is home.

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Just look at the flag! The palace flies the Union Flag when the Queen is not in, and the Royal Standard when she is. You might also spot that latter one fluttering from Victoria Tower at the Palace of Westminster: This signifies the Queen is in Parliament.