The story of Uranienborg

Roald Amundsen’s home, Uranienborg, is located by Bålerud quay at Svartskog in Nordre Follo municipality, Viken. The property sits on the Bunnefjord shoreline and consists of a main house, outbuildings, bathhouse, icehouse, gazebo, service house and other smaller structures as well as a jetty.

The property was originally a smallholding belonging to the Bålerud farm and known as Nedre Rødsten (lower Rødsten). In 1865, when the foundations for the house we know today as Roald Amundsen’s home were probably laid, the farm was owned by Peter Gill Enger, who had taken over its operation from his father. The original house built on the Nedre Rødsten plot had a living room and two smaller rooms. From 1865 to 1900, various farming families kept cows and sheep there, and the house was gradually expanded to include more rooms, a kitchen, and an open veranda facing east.

In the 1870s, Nedre Rødsten was split off from Bålerud farm and sold to merchant Peter Edvard Eriksen. Eriksen made several alterations to the main house and built a brewhouse, outbuildings, bathhouse and gazebo on the plot.

Eriksen went bankrupt towards the end of the 1870s, and in 1882 Nedre Rødsten was sold on to Julius Ytterborg. Eight years later, in 1900, the property was sold again, to brewer Nils Julius Ytterborg. In the years prior to Amundsen’s purchase in 1908, the house was further expanded. The veranda facing the sea was built in and an external flight of wooden steps installed. A small extension to the kitchen was built, with steps leading to a cellar below, and an extension to the house’s east side was built.

Amundsen’s life at Uranienborg

Roald Amundsen bought the property in May 1908 and renamed it Uranienborg. An extensive modernization was immediately begun in collaboration with the local architect Fridtjov Grann-Meyer and carpenter brothers Jørgen, Hans and Harald Stubberud. The floors and ceilings were replaced, new windows and doors were fitted, and the bathroom upgraded, with a pump installed to supply salt water from Bunnefjorden for Amundsen’s morning bath. Outside, the area around the house was levelled and roses were planted in the garden.

Amundsen’s new home at Svartskog then became something more. Several of his expeditions were planned here and the outbuilding served partly as an expedition store. The overwintering hut Framheim was set up and tested in the garden and the polar ship Fram was prepared in the fjord for departure in 1910.  After Amundsen’s former nanny moved in to what was originally the brewhouse, this became known as “Betty’s house”.

After returning from the Fram expedition in 1912, Jørgen Stubberud was engaged to further modernize Uranienborg. He extended the blue room to enclose what had been an open porch on the south-east corner of the house. He also installed a wall to divide the bedroom from the dressing room.

In 1913, Amundsen added to his property by buying the adjacent land above Uranienborg. This included the house that would keep the name Rødsten and become a home for Roald’s brother Leon and his family.

Amundsen had already considered selling Uranienborg several times before, when in 1923 the property was sold to consul Niels Gudde, complete with fixtures and contents for 60,000 kroner. The sale was arranged by the consul’s brother, lawyer Trygve Gudde, and the behind the scenes was their sister, Kristine Elisabeth Bennett. Kristine, or “Kiss” as she was known, was involved in a love affair with Roald Amundsen at the time. In practice, however, nothing changed; neither Kiss nor anyone else in the Gudde family ever claimed the property.

In 1924 Amundsen filed for bankruptcy. After a complicated settlement, the Svartskog houses Uranienborg and Rødsten were sold in 1926 from Amundsen’s bankruptcy estate to Herman Gade and “Don Pedro” Christopherson, who then granted right of use to Roald Amundsen. Leon and his family left the Rødsten house during this process, but only later did brother Gustav Amundsen and his family replace them.

This birthday film made in summer 1926 offers a unique insight into life at Uranienborg; many of Amundsen’s family and friends appear in it, along with crew members from his expeditions. Film: National Library of Norway.

In 1928, Amundsen set out to search for the Italian airship that had been reported missing in the ice north of Svalbard. He never returned, but left behind him a home full of stories about the life he had lived and the people around him.

When Amundsen disappeared in 1928, Gade and Christopherson were left legally responsible for the property.

Uranienborg after 1928

After Amundsen’s disappearance, Uranienborg was left rather abandoned and unguarded. In the spring of 1930, there was a burglary, in which, the newspapers said, thieves took glasses, crockery, decanters, bed linen and towels. In 1933, Uranienborg was donated to the State, while Rødsten was taken over by Gustav Amundsen and his family. Uranienborg opened to museum visitors in summer 1934 and was formally opened by King Haakon VII on June 20, 1935.

“Betty’s house” burned down in 1938 as a result of arson, and the woman who broke in and set the fire actually died in it. Hear the story of the “Betty’s house” fire here. (Norwegian)🔊 A new warden’s house was built on the site shortly afterwards, and until 2015 various families who kept watch over Uranienborg lived here.

In 1954 there was another break-in at Uranienborg, by three men on the run from Berg “workschool”, a detention facility for young offenders. According to the newspapers, they took a coat, a lusekofte (traditional sweater), two hats and a flat-iron, all of which they later threw out of the car on their escape from the police. In August 1980, uninvited guests were again inside Uranienborg, this time stealing the stuffed polar bear cub Marie and a polar bear’s head. These were later returned after being found lying in a bush in Østensjø, Oslo.

Uranienborg has been managed since 2003 by Follo museum, MiA, and was given protected status by Norway’s Directorate for Cultural Heritage in 2018.

Bastiansen, Johnny og Engsbye, Ibi (2014), Uranienborg : Roald Amundsens hjem på Svartskog
Stubberud, Jørgen (2011), Mitt liv og mitt yrke, in Kløver, Geir O.,ed., Mannskapets dagbøker (p. 197-223)

Related resources

Roald Amundsen born July 16
Starts at Otto Andersen’s School
Jens Engebreth Amundsen dies
1887 – 1889
Polar interest aroused
Starting university
Gustava Amundsen (née. Sahlqvist) dies
Mountain ski tour with Urdahl and Holst
Hunting in Arctic waters with the Magdalena
Ship’s Officer’s exam
Hardangervidda with Leon
1897 – 1899
Belgica expedition
Cycling from Christiania to Paris
Studying geomagnetism in Hamburg
1903 – 1906
Gjøa expedition
Polar bears as draft animals
Amundsen buys Uranienborg
1908 – 1928
The story of Uranienborg
The North Pole reached?
1910 – 1912
Fram expedition
Amundsen becomes a pilot
1916 – 1917
The polar ship Maud is being built
Maud expedition
Nita and Camilla move in
Uranienborg for sale
Amundsen goes bankrupt
To 88 degrees north
Norge expedition
Lecture tour in Japan
Latham flight
1934 – 1935
Uranienborg becomes a museum
Betty’s house burns down
A chest full of photographs is discovered
Roald Amundsen’s home goes digital