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A Tudorific Day out
Lots to see and do for fans of history, palaces and stately homes
Garden exploration is seasonal
Is it worth visiting?Excellent
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As a member of the Historical Royal Palaces admission to Hampton Court Palace is free. If you are not a member you can expect to pay £17.60 for an adult, £8.80 for a child and £14.85 for students and OAPs. The Palace is open every day from 10am until 6pm. The Palace is five minutes walk from the mainline rail station of the same name, which can be accessed from London Waterloo. Trains run every thirty minutes.
As you arrive the ticket office and gift shop is on your left. You can also visit the Tiltyard Café without paying admission. There has been a property on this spot since the 14th century, but the earliest parts of the palace we see today were not built until 1494, although much of it was built when Cardinal Wolsey acquired it in the early 16th century. He expanded it in order to entertain his boss, King Henry VIII. When Wolsey failed to persuade the Pope to grant a Henry a divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon, his days were numbered, and Henry removed him and took over the palace. You enter into Base Court and from here you can access various exhibitions within the Palace. I recommend getting a guide book (£4.99) or an audio tour (I have not used the latter do cannot comment but they seem popular) to get the most out of your visit. Free maps and audio guides are available from the information room in the top left hand corner of Base Court.
MANTEGNA'S TRIUMPHS OF CAESAR
Part of the Royal Collection (the largest private art collection in the world), is this collection of nine paintings by Andrea Mantegna. Painted in the late 15th Century, and purchased by Charles I, these paintings show ...well... the triumphs of Caesar as understood in that period of time. They are (apparently) very famous, although I had not heard of them. They are situated in the Lower Orangery - follow the signs from the lower right hand side in Base Court. I don't think my visit was enhanced by seeing these paintings personally. There are many paintings in the palace itself, that I preferred.
There is a small exhibition of the early years of Henry VIII, newly married to his first wife, Katherine, and was happy with his chief administrator Wolsey. This area is known as the Wolsey Rooms, and would have been his private apartments in the early days of the palace. Across the other side of the Palace are the apartments that he would have used latterly. The Great Hall is an impressive room. Large, with ornate,
carved high ceilings, rich tapestries and many animal horns on the walls, this would be where banquets and balls would have been held. In fact, the lower ranked staff would have eaten here when the room wasn't required for other purposes as Henry's retinue contained up to 600 staff (eat your heart out Justin Bieber). Beyond here was the Watching Chamber where Henry's guards controlled access to him. His personal rooms were also off of here, but were lost during subsequent re-modelling. We can visit the processional route (towards the chapel) whch is also known as the Haunted Gallery allegedly haunted by the ghost of Henry's 4th wife Katherine Howard whom he beheaded for adultery. Off of here is the council chamber where a number of key political decisions are likely to have been made.
THE CHAPEL ROYAL
Built by Wolsey in the early 16th century, the magnificent ceiling was later added by Henry VIII and subsequently refurbished by Queen Anne. The Chapel regularly holds services so is not open at all times, this is worth checking on arrival and planning your visit accordingly. On Sundays it is open 12.30-1.30pm and 4.45pm onwards. Sadly you cannot take photos in here. The Royal Family did not sit on the lower level but in the first floor gallery, accessed separately via the Henry's apartments. There is a replica crown on the upper level. You cannot take photos in any part of the chapel.
HENRY VIII'S KITCHENS
A large part of the original kitchens either no longer exist or are not accessible, there is still quite a bit to see. Personally, this was far from my favourite section. You enter the kitchens from the Master Carpenter's Court which can be accessed from the corner of Base Court. The kitchen area was made up of many different 'departments' and have been mocked up with fake meats/fish alongside real herbs and vegetables. The replica foods and utensils are based on research by food historians. You will see various preparation and food serving areas. As you come out of the kitchen area you will see some wine cellars, ultimately leading to a shop.
WILLIAM III'S APARTMENTS
These were very attractive and well worth a visit. You get here from Clock Court and walk up the amazing King's Staircase, where the wall and ceiling and painted in a bright mural. This part of the palace was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren. Beyond the staircase the first room you come to is the Guard Chamber, where the King's gunsmith created the décor using 2,850 pieces of armour and assorted weapons, making a number of patterns. Next is the spacious King's Presence Chamber, where the king would sit and greet visitors. If he wasn't there, people would greet an empty chair. From here you go through to the King's Eating Room where he may dine on formal occasions, followed by the Privy Chamber. The next room, the Withdrawing Room was more private and then you have the Great Bedchamber, where the king may receive senior courtiers and ministers. The Little Bedchamber is where he may have had some privacy. Beyond here are his actual private apartments where only a few favoured courtiers would have been admitted in order to assist the King with any personal business as well as dining with close friends. Here his windows overlooked his Privy garden. All through this part of the palace you will see a lot of paintings and decorated murals on the ceiling.
MARY II'S APARTMENTS
Part of Queen Mary's (wife of William) apartments have become a special exhibition entitled Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber. Again, these are accessed via an attractive staircase (although William's have the edge for me). Mary died suddenly and the apartments were not finished, Queen Anne made some subsequent alterations and put her own style, plus Queen Caroline (wife of George II) also put her stamp on it. After the exhibition (see below) you still get to see some of the apartments such as Queen Anne's Drawing Room and the Queen's bed chamber (in Queen Caroline's style). Although these are the actual rooms, much of them have been given over to the exhibition temporarily.
SECRETS OF THE ROYAL BEDCHAMBER
This special exhibition is running from March - November 2013 and takes over part of Queen Mary's apartments (above). The exhibition celebrates an era when the monarch ruled from his bedchamber. A short film about this is shown in the first room - on the ceiling - and you lay on piles of mattresses to watch it. Certainly a novel and comfortable way to watch a film! The concept of ruling from the bedchamber was brought over by Charles II from the French Court in 1660. However as the monarch became less powerful, and Parliament held the political power, this practice was redundant by the latter half of the 16th century. You can view some of these beds here, including the last Great State Bed of Queen Charlotte's which was never used. There was
Pictures of Hampton Court Palace, London
Hampton Court Palace, London
also a TV documentary about it back in the summer.
Much of these were shut in preparation for a 2014 exhibition, although you can access part near the Queen's staircase. Mainly it is galleries available currently.
Hampton Court is famous for its gardens and holds a flower show each summer. If you wish to visit just the gardens alone then there is a charge during the summer, otherwise it is included in your Palace ticket. They are beautiful and well worth spending time in if the weather is obliging. The Rose Garden and Wilderness garden are free, but you will have to pay to go into the maze if you don't have a Palace ticket. The first time I went into the maze (four years ago) we got into the centre straight away and were a bit disappointed. This time we did manage to get a bit lost and it was more fun. The maze is the oldest one in Britain.
The dramatic cone shaped yew trees offer plenty of shade on summer days and are pleasant to stroll amongst but I much prefer the ornate Privy Garden (based on how it looked in 1702) and the bright, colourful Pond Garden. Also in the gardens is the world largest vine, in a glass house down one end. There is a small garden exhibition next to the garden shop.
There are a number of shops here, mostly selling different things. The main shop is by the ticket office. Most will have general gifts, such a guide books and pencils, but they seem to have different pencils in each shop for example. For food related gifts and recipe books go to the shop near the wine cellar (as you come to Base Court from Clock Court on the right hand side). Garden related gifts can be purchased in the garden shop (by the East Gate).
Food wise there are some ice creams available in the gardens, a coffee shop by the Kitchens/wine cellar and the biggest restaurant is the Tiltyard Café, which is outside the palace in the grounds by The Rose Garden. Here they have a range of hot foods, sandwiches, cakes, drinks and snacks. I had a spinach cannelloni, which was quite nice, but a hard and dry at the bottom.
There are a number of public toilets, all those that we used were fine.
I think Hampton Court is well worth a visit. The leaflet says to allow three hours but we were here five and a half. The time you spend will vary according to your level of interest, and the weather will impact your exploration of the gardens. If you love history, palaces and stately homes then this really is a must visit destination.