September 24, 2001
We are on the banks of the Thames at the boat launch, ready to go upriver to Hampton Court.
The boat ride takes about an hour and a half from Richmond, about half the length the journey will take if you leave from Westminster pier in London. We had our sandwiches and a drink and watched the lovely scenery as we passed by. The weather is variable, with a bit of sun and blue sky showing now and then. There are lots of parks, businesses and a number of prestigious looking houses and apartment blocks which probably wouldn't come cheap. This follows the traditional approach to Hampton Court which was always by Royal Barge along the river. The first part of the palace you see is a great gilded gate that backs the south front and Privy Gardens.
Some of the history of Hampton Court Palace: It was built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1515 as a means to show off his wealth and power. His power waned, however, when he was not able to obtain a legal method to rid Henry VIII of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon and when Henry strongly hinted that he REALLY liked the palace, it was donated although the writing predicting the fate of Wolsey was clearly on the wall. Henry
spent a lot of time here, and expanded the palace to the point where it could house and entertain nearly 1000 people, servants, court attendants, hangers on and favour seekers.
In the late 17th century, King William III and Queen Mary II planned to tear down the palace and hired Christopher Wren at the end of the 17th C. to rebuild it. About half way through the rebuilding process, Mary died and William lost heart. Lucky for us as that meant quite a bit of the Tudor section still stands albeit with renovations and alterations. The Palace was still lived in during modern times, for "grace and favour" apartments until a fire in one of them in 1986 caused a lot of damage to the King's Apartments. These were restored but I don't believe anyone lives here now.
Hampton Court would have been imposing and impressive at it's height in the 16th and 17th C. with gilded cupolas, brightly painted brickwork and a gate house that was two stories taller than it's current height. It was reduced in Georgian times for safety. All the old Tudor chimneys are different. There are about a half dozen sections to be visited including the Tudor State rooms, Tudor Kitchens, Stuart King's and Queen's Apartments, Georgian Rooms and Wolsey rooms with the Renaissance Galleries. The Privy and sunken gardens are open with the rest of the palace until 6 p.m. and the park is open until dusk.
Hillary led us first to the Tudor state rooms. We gaped up at the exquisite hammer beamed ceiling of the Great Hall, spotting the little painted faces peeking down. "Eaves" droppers! Most of the stained glass here is 19th C. but one window and section of the wall is believed to be original. The ceiling of one ante room is leather mache and gilded and there are Tudor roses everywhere in glass, in stonework and paintings and tapestries. The Royal Chapel has subdued lighting and is very peaceful. There are no photos allowed inside most of the Palace except the kitchens. There are actors/guides around in period dress who will stop to tell you about their manner of costume and what sort of person they are meant to represent for that period in time. We saw one man in a splendid doublet and tunic from Elizabethan times and another couple dressed in late 17th C. outfits and heard about the cost of their clothing and the type of people they would have represented.
Hillary took us next through the Stuart King's Apartments which are laid out identically to the Queen's apartments on the floor below though I didn't see that or the Georgian rooms. These rooms are much larger than the Tudor section with higher ceilings and wide sweeping staircases. There are lots of painted ceilings with Baroque decoration, plaster work and rich wall and bedroom hangings. My favourite room contained over 3000 pieces of armament decorating the walls in various patterns. Rifles, knives, swords, spears, etc. After this section our formal tour was over. Hillary was off with our applause and thanks and we had a couple of hours to look around on our own. I headed to the café by the kitchens first thing and then went to explore the kitchens, pretty much the last original Tudor part of the Palace, a series of rooms that are used for skinning game, plucking preparing fowl, baking, cooking etc with the old scarred wooden tables and huge ovens, high enough for a person to walk into.
There are a couple of gift shops and cafés in the complex. It's also interesting to explore some of the little courtyards. You can get an audio player to do a self-guided tour of various areas. I did go into the Wolsey rooms and Renaissance galleries as well. It's not known if Wolsey actually used those rooms but they are small, low ceilinged, and wood paneled and you can almost imagine him sitting at a desk by a window. There is supposed to be the ghost of Katherine Howard in one of the Tudor anterooms, too. On the grounds are a tennis court, a maze, the Great Vine which still produced wine every fall, the sunken garden and Privy Gardens and the huge park with it's pruned yew trees and fountains. When I was here in 1993 during a photo op stop of the gardens on the bus tour, the Privy and sunken gardens were in the process of being restored, using plants and shrubs that would have been there in the 17th C. The lowering sun cast long shadows along the garden paths and glinted off the decorated south front of the palace. I made my way to the train station across the river. I chatted to a couple on the train, two seniors who live in London. They told me about a documentary that was being aired on television, on the wives of Henry VIII. The second part was on tonight! What an appropriate way to cap off this day!
I bought a large tea and sandwich at a coffee shop in Euston station and settled in for a quiet night in the hotel after I made sure I had all my bits and pieces packed. I am checking out tomorrow and meeting Nikki
after work to finish out my week out in Essex in Leigh-on-Sea.