Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

I’m a true history geek, and my favorite time & place in history is Tudor England. So Hampton Court Palace was very high on my list of places to visit when I went to London.

It is stunning from the minute it comes into view. Statues of heraldic animals holding shields line the main walkway to the palace gate. Large paned windows look out over the grounds as if standing guard. Ornate chimneys peek out from the rooftops.

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My biggest complaint about Hampton Court was that when we were there, we were not allowed to take photographs inside the palace, with the only exception being the Tudor Kitchens. Thankfully, that is no longer the case.

The palace was mostly built by Cardinal Wolsey, who spend an insane amount of money on outfitting it with lavish decor, beautiful gardens, etc. When he sensed that he was beginning to lose favor with King Henry VIII, he gave the palace to the king. Once Henry VIII took over, he began expanding it to make room for his court. He started by quadrupling the size of the kitchen.

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Next came the Great Hall and Tennis Court. The Great Hall took about five years to be completed and it was an impressive room!  Our guide told us that if we looked up at the eaves, we would find smiling faces looking down at us.  Sure enough, there were carved heads poking out at regular intervals.  We were told that the carved figures were incorporated into the design of the hall as a warning to guard your words carefully because the king had ears everywhere. These heads were the original eavesdroppers.

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We were also shown The Haunted Gallery. It is said that Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was then confined to her room for a few days before being sent to her execution at the Tower of London. Legend claims she briefly escaped her guards and ran through The Haunted Gallery to beg Henry for her life but she was recaptured. They say her ghost haunts the gallery and that her screams are occasionally still heard there today.

Heading outside, the most notable feature of the palace is the Hampton Court astronomical clock. Still working, the clock shows the time of day, the phases of the moon, the month, the quarter of the year, the date, the sun and star sign, and high water at London Bridge. The tide information was of great importance to those visiting  from London, who would need to take a barge in order to return to the city.

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The other significant era for Hampton Court Palace was the Stuart era, particularly during the reign of King William III and Queen Mary II.  By this time the palace was considered old-fashioned and out of style. William & Mary decided to rebuild the palace, one section at a time. Their intention was to tear down and rebuild every portion of the palace except the Great Hall.

Noted architect Christopher Wren was called upon to design a new Baroque style palace and grounds. One of the areas that he designed (which I loved!) was the Fountain Court.

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We managed to sneak in a quick photo of the King’s staircase, which was decorated with frescos and delicate ironwork. You can imagine how ornate and decorated everything else in this section of the palace was.

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The palace – both the Tudor area and the Stuart area – was stunningly beautiful. Costumed employees were around to provide information and answer questions. And as wonderful as the building was, the grounds were equally beautiful, symmetrical and neatly trimmed, with not so much as a single leaf out of place.

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Plus, you could hire a horse and carriage to take you for a ride around the gardens.

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If you closed your eyes you could almost imagine that you were in another time, and that it was your palace. Or maybe that’s just me.

Hampton Court is a great day out from London, family-friendly, and romantic for the childless. I highly recommend a visit!

Hampton Court Palace is located at Surrey KT8 9AU.  Telephone +44 (0)20 3166 6000.  It is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.  It is easy to get to if you take the Tube to Waterloo station and then a train to Hampton Court.

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