Country houses for sale

An Isle of Wight ‘super-cottage’ built by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is up for sale

Queen Victoria's children and guests lived for years in the exquisitely detailed Osborne Cottage, which offers its buyer the opportunity to own a unique piece of British heritage.

‘You will I am sure be pleased to hear that we have succeeded in purchasing Osborne in the Isle of Wight,’ wrote Queen Victoria in 1845 to her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium. ‘It sounds so snug and nice to have a place of one’s own, quiet and retired.’

The Queen’s description makes Osborne House sounds like cute little beach hut rather than the fabulous palace that visitors today still marvel at. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to find that when the Queen asked for a guest cottage to be built in the grounds, the result was a 4,000sq ft masterpiece with a grand hall, library and spectacular cupola lighting up a winding staircase.

Osborne Cottage — let’s think of it as a ‘super-cottage’  — was finished in 1856, built by A. J. Humbert (the architect who created Sandringham) and overseen by Prince Albert, who masterminded the expansion of the Osborne Estate. Almost 170 years later it’s no longer a royal retreat, but a house on the open market which is for sale at £1 million via Fine & Country.

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The estate was created as a private maritime retreat for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert away from the pressures and struggles of court life, and it still retains the idyllic sense of separation from the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Yet the Isle of Wight is surprisingly accessible, particularly from spots like this near Cowes (one of the Country Life team commutes from there to London once a week), meaning that you can be half a world away, but in Central London in a couple of hours or so.

That makes the cost of Osborne Cottage seem reasonable for a home with four bedrooms, three reception rooms — including a stunning, airy library — and a lovely private garden. That’s before you even start to consider the history of a place that was essentially created as a guest house for the kings, queens and emperors of Europe: the Emperor and Empress of France, the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia and the Spanish Royal Family all stayed here when visiting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The cottage later became the home of Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria. The Queen relied upon Princess Beatrice immensely after the death of her mother in March 1861 and her husband in December of that same year. In The Shy Princess, a novel by David Duff, he describes how the Queen would often take Beatrice from her cot to her own bed where she ‘lay there sleepless, clasping to her child, wrapped in the nightclothes of a man who would wear them no more’.

She was loath to allow her ‘Baby’ and youngest child to marry, however finally gave her blessing to the marriage under the condition that Henry give up his royal duties in Germany and live permanently with her and her daughter at Osborne. With this agreed, the pair were married in 1885 in Saint Mildred’s Church at Whippingham, a mere 20 minute walk away from their future home.

The princess moved to Osborne Cottage after the successive deaths of her husband in 1896 and her mother five years later. The cottage was sold in 1913 after Princess Beatrice took up her right to residence of Carisbrooke Castle as the Governor of the Isle of Wight. Upon her death in 1944, she was buried beside her Henry in the church where they were married. The cottage has remained in private ownership since its first sale, while Osborne has been open to the public since the 1950s.

Osborne Cottage has undergone a huge refurbishment in recent years; not least to undo changes which saw it divided into separate residences, and thus the new owners have the opportunity to put their own stamp on this unique family home. The restoration has been, judging from these pictures, as sympathetic as it has been successful, with many of the historic features of this Grade II-listed property retained, including the magnificent sky lantern and galleried atrium which dominate the entrance of the house.

The stunning staircase provides another central feature to the cottage, cantilevered with scrolled iron balustrades, winding down to an elaborate brass lamp at the base.

The drawing room is covered in elegant scrolled plasterwork from floor to ceiling, while the library contains a lovely marble fireplace and French doors, which open to the quaint garden beyond.

Cottage by name, but by nature this is a grand family home that balances manageable size with all the charms and characteristics of a truly historic home.

Osborne Cottage is for sale through Fine & Country at a guide price of £1,000,000. See more details and pictures here.

Additional reporting by Ally Fraser

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