Simon Perry
December 08, 2017 03:01 PM

As they plan for next year’s wedding, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been making themselves comfortable in the perfect starter home: Nottingham Cottage.

It was at the 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom home in the compound of Kensington Palace that they were cooking roast chicken when Harry got down on one knee and formally asked Meghan to marry him.

And it was there, this time last year, that they spent the holiday season together, heading out to Battersea, just across the River Thames, to buy their first Christmas tree so they could mark the holidays in style.

By royal standards, it is a relatively humble abode. Former police protection officer Ken Wharfe tells PEOPLE. “It’s a lovely, classic Victorian cottage. It’s probably two-up, three [rooms] down. It’s not very big, incredibly small.”

Since Harry started dating Meghan seriously in the summer of 2016, he has been sprucing it up, putting his own touches on the place to make her feel comfortable, and welcome, insiders tell PEOPLE.

PA Images/Getty; Inset: Samir Hussein/WireImage

 

Before then, it was very much his bachelor pad that had been vacated by his brother Prince William and sister-in-law Kate Middleton as they moved into the larger Apartment 1a.

And it is one of a few cottages within the compound. “They are well restored, typical country cottages and originally used for the estate workers. In the past 40 years or so they’ve been accommodation for senior members of the household,” Wharfe adds. “They’ll be updated but there certainly wouldn’t be room for servants. Not far from there are apartments, almshouses that housed some of Princess Margaret’s staff.”

For Harry, it is handy having William, Kate and their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte nearby – and it has enabled royal-to-be Meghan to get to know them in recent months. “Catherine has been absolutely . . . She’s been wonderful, amazing, as has William as well, you know, fantastic support,” Harry told the BBC.  And uncle Harry and Meghan have been bonding with the Cambridge children too.

As neighbors at Kensington Palace, Meghan has met the children on “many occasions,” a spokesman says. “They’ve been spending a lot of time together with the Duke and Duchess, prioritizing getting to know each other and welcoming them to their home.”

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For William and Harry, Kensington Palace is a familiar place as it is where they spent much of their childhood, living with mom Princess Diana. And now they base their public life there too, as their office and support staff work in part of the palace. Some of it, on the Kensington Palace gardens side, is also open to the public — and in fact, was the home of a special display of dresses from the late princess that runs until February 2018.

Nottingham Cottage, which was once the residence of Queen Elizabeth’s nanny Marion Crawford, gets its name from the original palace building. While known mainly for being the palace where Diana lived in the last years of her life, and where William and Harry were brought up, the palace was originally known as Nottingham House — a mansion that William III bought in 1689. He had been looking for a residence away from the River Thames. It was the main home of sovereigns until 1760, when George II died there. Queen Victoria was born and raised in the residence.

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Today, it comes with the ultimate security and — fittingly — it’s own heliport at Perk’s Field next to the palace buildings. William and Kate regularly take off from there– often watched by little George and Charlotte with their nanny Maria Borrallo Turrion — to undertake royal duties across the country and Harry and Meghan are sure to follow suit when necessary.

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