London - The reek of the past lingers still within its walls, although almost everything has changed as the decades slipped by. The colourful fabrics that were among its most infamous inhabitant’s few possessions have long since vanished, ripped out as though to erase an awkward and embarrassing episode.
But then the story of Queen Victoria and her exotic Indian manservant Abdul Karim, whose grace-and-favour home was Frogmore Cottage, was nothing short of a grand royal scandal. Indeed, the relationship between the two was considered so controversial by the Queen’s family that upon her death in 1901 they scrubbed his existence from royal history.
Now, with the news that it is to become the official home of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it is readying itself for a new chapter in that extraordinary history.
There are other places nearby with stronger claims to the past: Fort Belvedere for example, across Windsor Great Park, where Edward VIII signed away his kingdom rather than give up the love of Wallis Simpson.
Also in close proximity is the Royal Mausoleum where Victoria was interred next to the tomb of Prince Albert. But none, surely, can match the intrigue of Frogmore Cottage - not to be confused with its grander and more famous neighbour, Frogmore House, the fairytale Georgian pile where Prince Harry and Meghan held their wedding night party.
This is a place that already holds powerful emotional resonance for the newlyweds. The spot retains the enchantment intended by its creator, George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, of a magical glade hidden amid trees.
While Frogmore House itself was designed as a pavilion where the Queen and her daughters could pass their days painting away from the mad king, the cottage had a more humble purpose. It was built for her gardener so he could be close to the Queen’s glasshouses, where she grew the shrubs and trees that were planted out in the surrounding park.
Frogmore Cottage is a pretty modest way to describe a property with potentially up to ten bedrooms, though it is more likely to be five. It is currently sub-divided into flats to accommodate staff working for the Crown Estate.
By the time of its multi-million-pound refit, it will be transformed into a luxurious family home with a nursery, gym and yoga studio.
It has been a family home before, of course, but its most notorious incarnation was as the home of 24-year old Abdul Karim, known as the Munshi, or "teacher".
This mysterious figure gained extraordinary influence over Queen Victoria, for which few could account and even fewer could stomach. Members of the royal household loathed Karim and saw him as nothing more than a charlatan, but the Queen would not hear a word against him, even from her most senior courtiers.
In more recent times, the property has been used to house junior royal chefs. Darren McGrady, who started his career in the Buckingham Palace kitchens before becoming Princess Diana’s chef at Kensington Palace, lived there for a time.
While undoubtedly romantic, the cottage does seem an unusual place for Harry and his former actress wife to raise their family. But they are, I am told, drawn to the seclusion as well as the history.
Harry also dislikes the claustrophobia of Kensington Palace, where every exit gives on to a busy road and there is precious little space outside for children to play.
Frogmore’s position will allow them easy access to their Oxfordshire chums at Soho Farmhouse, while also being close to their other nexus of friends, Hollywood star George Clooney and his wife Amal, guests at the royal wedding, and near neighbours on the River Thames at Sonning.
Plus, it is handy for Heathrow, where Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland will arrive from LA and is expected to stay for extended periods when the baby is born in the spring.Daily Mail