On Sunday’s walk, Gail and Bob from Canada were telling me that they’d visited Hampton Court Palace and how much they’d enjoyed it, which reminded me that I‘ve been meaning to write about it since I visited myself a month or so ago.
Visitors to London are spoiled with a choice of Historic Royal Palaces to visit and Hampton Court Palace can be found about 12 miles west of central London in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and in my humble opinion is well worth a visit and allocating the best part of a day to do so in the process. It effortlessly encapsulates a vast swathe of Royal history, buildings from numerous periods, a roll call of intriguing characters that have wandered its corridors and feasted in the Great Hall (where William Shakespeare and his troupe 'The King's Men' performed for King James I in the early 1600s) and the stories that inevitably accompany them.
Although the seeds of the site were sown much earlier, I’m going to begin my brief sojourn through its history with Cardinal Wolsey who had a palace built for himself in 1514. He held many influential posts, perhaps most significantly Lord Chancellor of England and as a close friend of King Henry VIII (reigned 1509 – 1547) served as his chief minister. Despite his considerable influence, Wolsey was unable to secure the King’s divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, which was ultimately his undoing. Hampton Court Palace was passed to King Henry VIII.
Henry didn’t hold back when it came to houses and had about sixty of them, but undoubtedly Hampton Court Palace was the most important, and the residence he held most dear. Not surprisingly, this period plays an important role in the experience given to visitors today, including the substantial kitchens, the Great Hall, the Royal Chapel and even the Royal Tennis Courts, which when I visited, was lucky enough to see people playing. Yes, it’s still used today.
It’s not all about Henry VIII of course, as there are still many more centuries of occupants to entertain, including the Stuarts in the 17th century, the arrival of William & Mary at the end of that period and the substantial alterations undertaken by Sir Christopher Wren which has resulted in two very distinct and contrasting styles of architecture; Tudor and Baroque.
After the death of Queen Anne in 1714 we have the arrival of the Hanoverians from Germany, who having a soft spot for the name George, kick-started the Georgian period (currently the subject of a series of events and exhibitions – The Glorious Georges). The Royal family ceased using Hampton Court Palace as a residence in 1737 and it was divided up in to apartments until Queen Victoria in the 19th century ordered that the palace be thrown open to the public.
As ever, this concise roundup doesn’t remotely begin to do Hampton Court Palace justice. Upon arriving it can be a bit daunting knowing where to start, but I’d recommend using the audio guides, which you can pick up as part of the ticket price. The palace is split up in to areas, or bite sized chunks of history and the audio information is really good, allowing you to pause or if you’re particularly keen, provide you with even more detailed information on particular subjects. I began in Henry VIII’s kitchens which fed over 600 people twice a day, then through to the Great Hall, then the apartments, followed by a wander around the gardens before returning for the Baroque additions. You might want to plan how to get there before leaving, but probably the simplest route if you’re in central London is to take a train from Waterloo station to Hampton Court. It takes about half an hour and Hampton Court station is only a couple of minutes walk from Hampton Court Palace itself. There's something to interest everyone. There were a lot of kids there when I visited, and I guess the maze is popular with the little people, keen gardeners will enjoy the gardens and a 240 year old grape vine, those with a sweet tooth will be thrilled with the Chocolate Kitchens and for people like me, there's everything else. Definitely worth a visit.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.