“I’ve often thought I should like to live at Hampton Court. It looks so
peaceful and so quiet, and it is such a dear old place to ramble round in
the early morning before many people are about.”
One of my favourite humorous books of all time is “Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog)” by Jerome K. Jerome from which the above quotation has been taken.
Lucky me, last week I was able to stay a couple of nights in this 1,000 room palace and ramble around it out of hours when few or even no people were around. Since 1993 The Landmark Trust have run the two Hampton Court Properties on behalf of the Royal Palaces. We visited friends at The Georgian House two years ago and this year my sister and I stayed in the Fish Court apartment.
Fish Court and the door to the Apartment
Tennis Court Lane – The Georgian House is on the left and Fish Court on the right
Hampton Court Palace was built by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey during the years after 1514 when he first acquired the riverside site. In 1529 as a last-ditch effort to appease the king’s wrath he presented the sumptuous palace to His Majesty King Henry VIII. He had failed to obtain an acceptable result with regard to the king and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Soon after, all of his property was made forfeit to the King. And so the Palace became a favourite home of Henry and his children and his descendants and royalty until 1760 and the death of George II. Henry built and extended the Tudor Palace further and William III and Mary (1689-1702) brought about further rebuilding and remodelling.
There’s a huge contrast between the original west-facing Tudor building (top) and the newer East and South Fronts (above).
During and after the reign of George III the palace ceased to be used by royalty and was subdivided into a large number of dwellings and apartments. These residences were called ‘Grace and Favour’ homes. I have long known about there existence because I remember in the 1950s and early 1960s when I was a Brownie and later a Girl Guide one of the annuals featured a story about Lady Olave Baden-Powell, the widow of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the then Chief Guide, living in a Grace and favour apartment at the Palace.
“A celebrated and much-loved 20th century figure, Lady Baden-Powell, moved into her palace apartment in 1942. She was heavily involved in the Scouting Movement that her husband had founded. Lady Baden-Powell’s response following the offer of a palace apartment in 1942. “I was astounded; I had never dreamed of such a privilege being accorded me’. The apartment was ‘a bit dilapidated’ because of the war but most importantly would be ‘home’”. She described how, during the war, she survived a bomb, which exploded causing her ceiling to collapse in 1944.”
Taken from : Grace and Favour HCP
In the Fish Court Library I also found a book about the history of the apartments “Grace & Favour: the story of the Hampton Court Palace Community, 1750-1950”.
Staying at Hampton Court in January we still noticed lots of visitors during the day and even late into the evening at the temporary ice rink erected just within the main (Trophy) Gates.
The Temporary Hampton Court Ice Rink
Being residents we were able to enter the palace and join in any tours free of charge. We had to wear our passes all the time.
We only had one full day so we joined a costumed tour and visited two sets of apartments that we had missed on our previous visit. In the middle of the day it was so nice to just turn the key of our apartment door and have a bite of lunch and relax before heading out to the gardens and grounds and visit more of the Palace in the afternoon.
Actor playing the part of Thomas Seymour on the eve of Henry VIII’s death in January 1547
The most well-known feature in the grounds and probably in the whole Palace is its world famous Maze. I first visited Hampton Court Palace in the early 1960s and my top priority was to get into that Maze. I seem remember finding it a bit disappointing but loved Jerome K. Jerome’s witty description of his friend Harris’s earlier visit to the Maze:
“Harris asked me if I’d ever been in the
maze at Hampton Court. He said he went in once to show somebody else the
way. He had studied it up in a map, and it was so simple that it seemed
foolish—hardly worth the twopence charged for admission. Harris said he
thought that map must have been got up as a practical joke, because it
wasn’t a bit like the real thing, and only misleading.”
Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown was appointed Chief Gardener here in 1769 and lived in Wilderness House on the edge of the grounds near the Lion Gates. Just two years ago a blue plaque was unveiled by the present Head Gardener. Read about it here. It was very difficult to get a decent angle for a photo of either the house or the plaque.
Even in January the fountains are spurting water and the gardeners have their heads down preparing the ground for spring planting and some other people were also enjoying walking along the stony paths and terraces.
Pond Garden and Banqueting House
At the far end of the garden is the Great Vine planted by Capability Brown.
In the evening we could creep along passages and watch a game of Real Tennis still being played on the original court where Henry himself enjoyed a game or two!
Before returning to our very own private Royal apartment to plan the rest of our London visit.