Wednesday 22 February 2012

Hampton Court Palace

I had a very enjoyable visit to Hampton Court Palace at the weekend, and thought I’d share some of the delights of one of my favourite historic sites with you. I didn’t take any photos at the weekend because I thought I had taken plenty the last time I’d visited. Turns out the photos I had taken previously were neither as numerous, nor as high in quality as I’d remembered, so I do apologise for that.

Hampton Court is one of those wonderful places where you are struck, not just by the majesty, and awe-inspiring size of the building, but also by how close to history you feel merely by being there. You can really imagine history happening there, and my goodness, did a lot of important history happen there. The palace is probably best known as a Tudor palace. I’ve always been under the impression that it was (well, the half of it that everyone thinks of as Tudor), and so I was most surprised to find that the initial archway, so emblematic of Hampton Court in all its Tudor glory is in fact a Victorian construction. Thanks to the wonderfully friendly and knowledgeable staff, I also discovered that Henry VIII’s palace would not exist at all had it not been for government turning down William III’s request for funds to finish his palace, a fact that physically makes me cringe at the thought of what would have been lost.

The whole visitor experience is fantastic, they have events every day to engage visitors of all ages with the history of the place, but there’s plenty of wandering to be done around Tudor kitchens, the private apartments of later kings and queens, and the stunning gardens. Whilst travelling through the Great Hall, admiring the impressive tapestries covering the walls that are currently having conservation work done on them, I found myself in the middle of a tour group. I’m not always the biggest fan of organised tours, but this particular tour guide had many an interesting tale to tell, including the sorry tale of the painted Tudor ceiling, the paint having been removed in the 1950s (I think) as they thought it was a Victorian addition. They realised half way through their mistake, but completed the job nonetheless, devastating! It makes me appreciate groups like Historic Royal Palaces, English Heritage, and the National Trust who take care of our heritage, and hopefully wouldn’t let such vandalism occur today.

Travelling through the Tudor courtyards to William and Mary’s section of the palace, it’s like travelling through time, such a stark contrast, both equally beautiful and fascinating in their own way (although the Tudor section is supposedly more haunted, seems we have Henry VIII to thank for that!). I was lucky enough to be there when there weren’t too many other visitors, and entering the Georgian apartments felt like stepping back in time. Through closed doors (which I was allowed to enter, honest), it felt like I was merely exploring my own personal palace. They have managed that difficult balance between giving enough information and not spoiling the atmosphere of history by putting up too many signs, etc. The audio guide was hugely informative, and there were plenty of members of staff to hand for any further questions.

The gardens of Hampton Court really are stunning, and you catch glimpses of them through windows as you walk around the palace. It would be easy to spend many hours soaking in the wonderful surroundings (and getting lost in the maze…). I also discovered that there is an exhibition about the garden there that I had not come across before.

An utterly marvellous palace, with such a fascinating history. I bought the guide book, and was interested to find that although it hasn’t been a royal residence for many years, and was opened to the public by Queen Victoria, there were still residents there, known as grace-and-favour residents. Imagine living in such spectacular surroundings…

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