by Dave Allan-Petale
Hampton Court Palace has been on our travel list for a while so when we went to visit relatives in Surbiton we decided to make a weekend of it and sleep over to see the palace the next day.
The weather had been rainy and depressing all week but the Sunday was unusually clear – perfect to see the Hampton Court Palace and its grounds. Still, it was bloody cold and walking through the draughty old palace made us appreciate how lucky we are to live in the age of central heating!
So why visit?
1. To experience the history
Hampton Court Palace is famous as one of the places Henry VIII, the English monarch who divorced and executed his way through six wives, used it as a place to impress guests from Europe. Unlike Buckingham Palace where Carmen felt rammed by visitors in the few rooms, most of the spaces at Hampton Court Palace are open so you can get a real idea of what it would have been like to live there in Henry’s time.
2. To be spooked – it’s haunted!
A highlight was Wolsey’s closet, a small side room near the Royal apartments. Cardinal Wolsey was the force behind the first renovations at the palace for Henry VIII. (The palace was extended from a manor house on the site in the 1500s.) However, Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favour with Henry VIII after he failed to secure the Pope’s permission for the monarch to divorce one of his wives, Catherine of Aragon. The room has murals painted onto the walls that were uncovered in the 1960s during restoration work. There’s a priest hole, a small room at the side which was tiny and we were told it was the most haunted spot in the palace. Upon entry it felt as though someone was breathing down your neck, making me feel very claustrophobic. A black dog has also been seen near the fireplace by a number of women entering the room. Creepy!
3. To see how royalty lived
The palace tells Henry VIII’s story in great detail and as you wander through the Royal apartments all the elements come together. Henry is usually remembered as a fat, overbearing tyrant but the exhibitions attempt to show it wasn’t as simple as that. It struck me that in a lot of ways the palace was a bit like a prison – there was only one room that could be locked from the inside so the King could have some privacy and he was constantly surrounded by advisers pushing intrigue, gossip and politics. There was even a fellow whose job title was ‘Groom of the Stool.’ Take a guess what he did! No wonder Henry went a bit mad.
4. To enjoy the gardens
The history can get a little stifling so a walk in the gardens is a welcome relief. Hampton Court Palace’s surrounds are maintained by a dedicated team of gardeners, some of whom have been working there for decades and their fathers before them. The trees are sculpted into all sorts of shapes and ducks and geese wander freely on the grass and in the ponds. The world’s longest grapevine is kept in a hothouse and still bears fruit which is sold during the summer. We missed out on that treat but who knows, we may return when the sun is shining a little bit more.
We’ve been to Buckingham Palace and The Tower of London. I can honestly say Hampton Court Palace is my favourite old pile around London. We didn’t have to fight the crowds to get a look at anything (and we went on a Sunday!) and the majority of the palace’s rooms are open to the public. Old Henry would be pretty pleased to see how his house is looking these days, though it would be a good idea to keep a close eye on your partner…