Victoria's Beach Opens To The Public

Queen Victoria's private beach where she first took a swim in the sea is to be opened to the public for the first time this summer.

The stretch of seafront at Osborne, the monarch's seaside home on the Isle of Wight, has never been accessible to the general public.

But now English Heritage has restored Victoria's original bathing machine to the site prior to its opening on July 27.

Osborne House, near East Cowes, was a popular retreat for Victoria who enjoyed family holidays at the seaside mansion.

She wrote in 1845: ''We have quite a charming beach to ourselves.''

As well as being the first place that she swam in the sea, it was where her children learned to swim.

Writing of her first bathing experience, she said: ''I thought it delightful till I put my head under water, when I thought I should be stifled.''

Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: ''Queen Victoria is fixed in many people's minds as the grandmother of Europe, a queen who spent most of her reign in mourning for her husband.

''Opening her beach at Osborne lets us show another side to her - this was a Queen who collected sea shells with her children, who sketched the changing sea, and who swam sometimes twice a day.

''Osborne was her seaside retreat from the formalities of Buckingham Palace - now people can visit that seaside.''

The beach was a deciding factor behind the decision by Victoria and Prince Albert to buy Osborne House as their private home.

Albert likened the bay to Naples in Italy and Victoria wrote: ''It is impossible to imagine a prettier spot.''

The original wooden bathing machine, which ran down a ramp into the sea and from which Victoria would emerge in her swimming suit, her modesty preserved, has been returned to the beach.

It is more ornate than most of those used by aristocratic ladies in the 19th century and even has a plumbed-in toilet as well as a changing room and a verandah with curtains.

After Victoria's death in 1901, the bathing machine was removed from the beach and later used as a chicken shed before it was saved in the early 1950s.

Also restored is the Queen's Alcove, a small semicircular stone shelter which was completed in 1869 and Victoria personally agreed its interior decoration of large vibrant Minton blue tiles, decorated with small yellow starbursts with a timber bench supported by cast iron dolphins on a mosaic floor.

In 1902, Edward VII gave Osborne to the nation as a memorial to his mother and part of Osborne became a convalescent home for officers for whom the beach's original bathing pavilion was built.

During the Second World War, Osborne Bay was used to train soldiers ahead of the D-Day landings and during these exercises, the pavilion and both the bathing and landing piers were severely damaged.

In recent decades the bay was left undisturbed allowing vegetation to flourish including a strip of vegetated shingle which has been lost from many beaches on the island and is to be protected with a new boardwalk and fence.

The bathing pavilion is to be transformed into a seaside cafe and visitors will be able to enjoy a royal Punch and Judy show and play Victorian beach games such as skittles and hoops-and-sticks during the school holidays.