Queen Victoria Comes to Tea

The visit of Queen Victoria to Floors Castle Gardens in 1867

By Historic Houses

Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders (2019-10) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders

Floors Castle is home to the Innes-Ker family, Dukes of Roxburghe and sits on the banks of the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders. 

In 1867, Queen Victoria was on her way to her Scottish home at Balmoral and stopped off at Floors, arriving by royal train on the morning of 21 August.
 

Susanna, Duchess of Roxburghe, wife of the 6th Duke (1874) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Susanna, Duchess of Roxburghe (1814-1895)

Susanna, Duchess of Roxburghe was one of Queen Victoria’s “dearest, most valued, and most devoted friends” and acted as her Lady of the Bedchamber for over 30 years.
 

LIFE Photo Collection

Queen Victoria in the 1860s

 At the time of her visit to Floors Castle, Queen Victoria had hardly appeared in public since the death of her husband, Prince Albert, six years earlier. She wrote in her diary, “The feeling of loneliness, & arriving as a poor widow … made me very low & sad.” 

Queen Victoria's reception at Kelso (1867-08) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Queen Victoria's arrival in 1867

Queen Victoria’s visit to Floors Castle was a momentous occasion. Huge crowds lined the route between the railway station in Kelso and the castle while 50 young girls dressed in white scattered petals in the Queen’s path.
 

Queen Victoria with the Duchess of Roxburghe at Melrose Abbey (1867-09-01) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Queen Victoria and the Duchess of Roxburghe at Melrose Abbey

The large house party at Floors Castle included some of Queen Victoria’s children, the Innes-Ker family as well as a crowd of aristocratic neighbours and local dignitaries. They spent three days sightseeing in the locality.

Pot plants and exotics thrive in the glasshouses at Floors Castle by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Queen Victoria tours Floors Castle Gardens

A highlight of the first day was a stroll in the gardens of Floors Castle “At ½ p. 5 walked out with Lenchen (Victoria’s daughter, Helena) & the kind Duchess in the garden, where there are numbers of very fine hot houses …

The Head Gardener's house at the top of the hot border at Floors Castle by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Strolling in the gardens today

In the 1860s, the new hothouses at Floors Castle were the pride of the gardens whereas, for 21st century visitors, the herbaceous borders are the stars of today. Here the border leading to the Head Gardener’s House features only flowers in ‘hot’ colours, red, yellow and orange.

Floors Castle, Kelso, Scottish Borders (2018-01) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

The Queen's House in the corner of the Millenium Garden at Floors Castle (2016-05) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Taking Tea

While enjoying Floors Castle's impressive glasshouses, Queen Victoria"... took tea in a pretty little room adjoining them which is entirely tiled". This summerhouse was specially built for the Queen's visit and afforded a view of the glasshouses and gardens.

The lost Victorian glasshouses at Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders (1870) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Glasshouses at Floors Castle

In 1867, Queen Victoria could have walked from the Duchess’ tea table down 80 metres of Tropical Corridor connecting seven further glasshouses where hothouse fruits and flowers were grown for the castle by the head gardener, Mr Hector Rose. 

Apricots ripening at Floors Castle by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Fruit for the castle


The largest of the “very fine hot houses” that so impressed Queen Victoria in the heyday of the Walled Garden have been demolished but surviving Victorian glasshouses at Floors Castle still provide fruits and house plants for the castle.

Queen Victoria departs Floors Castle (1867-09-01) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Queen Victoria leaves Floors Castle in 1867

Queen Victoria’s party left Floors Castle with as much excitement as their arrival. The Queen cannot have been the most cheerful guest, recalling “I had been most kindly treated, had been very comfortable, & had enjoyed, as much as I can now, in my loneliness, all I had seen."

An enamelled bracelet given to Susanna, Duchess of Roxburghe by Queen Victoria (2019-09) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Queen Victoria's gift

Queen Victoria’s thank you gift to her friend Susanna was a handsome bracelet with her own portrait which is today one of Floors Castle’s treasures. An inscription reads “To the Duchess of Roxbughe from her affectionate and unhappy friend, Victoria”.

Letter of condolence from Queen Victoria to the Duchess of Roxburghe on the death of the 6th Duke (1879-04-24) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

Queen Victoria's friendship

Queen Victoria and her Lady of the Bedchamber remained close friends. When, in 1879, the Duke of Roxburghe died, the Queen wrote affectionately “I know no details, but I know the awful fact that you are now as I am and that your dear good husband is no longer with you!

The Queen's House at Floors Castle Gardens (2020-08) by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

The Queen's House at Floors Castle

Today the summerhouse Queen Victoria visited, the Queen’s House, has been refurbished as a wedding venue by the Dowager Duchess of Roxburghe, bringing in the garden with botanical prints and some of the Meissen china from which the Queen took tea in 1867.  

The Millenium Garden at Floors Castle in Scotland by Floors CastleHistoric Houses

The Millenium Garden, Floors Castle

The Queen’s House at Floors Castle no longer looks down the Tropical Corridor. The site of the lost glasshouses was brought up to date in 2000 with the creation of the Millenium Garden, a French-style parterre of euonymous and box which celebrates the Roxburghe family.

Credits: Story

Floors Castle  www.floorscastle.com
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
The Illustrated London News

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