Hampton Court

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a former royal palace in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, south west London, England. The palace is located south west of Charing Cross and upstream of Central London on the River Thames. It is open to the public as a major tourist attraction. The palace's Home Park is the site of the annual Hampton Court Palace Festival and Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Along with St. James's Palace, it is one of only two surviving palaces out of the many built by Henry VIII. It is estimated that over 55 million people have visited Hampton Court Palace, and it is reserved as a well known landmark of South-East England.


Thomas Wolsey, then Archbishop of York and Chief Minister to the King, took over the lease in 1514 and rebuilt the 14th century manor house over the next seven years (1515–1521) to form the nucleus of the present palace. Wolsey spent lavishly to build the finest palace in England at Hampton Court, which he was later forced to give to Henry as he began to fall from favour.

Tudor sections of Hampton Court, which were later overhauled and rebuilt by Henry VIII, suggest that Wolsey intended it as an ideal Renaissance cardinal's palace in the style of Italian architects such as il Filarete and Leonardo da Vinci: rectilinear symmetrical planning, grand apartments on a raised piano nobile, classical detailing. Jonathan Foyle has suggested (see link) that it is likely that Wolsey had been inspired by Paolo Cortese's De Cardinalatu, a manual for cardinals that included advice on palatial architecture, published in 1510. Planning elements of long-lost structures at Hampton Court appear to have been based on Renaissance geometrical programs, an Italian influence more subtle than the famous terracotta busts of Roman emperors by Giovanni da Maiano that survive in the great courtyard (illustration, right above). Hampton Court remains the only one of 50 palaces built by Henry VIII financed from the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The palace was appropriated by Wolsey's master, Henry VIII, in about 1525, although the Cardinal continued to live there until 1529. Henry added the Great Hall — which was the last medieval Great Hall built for the English monarchy — and the Royal Tennis Court, which was built and is still in use for the game of real tennis, not the present-day version of the game. This court is now the oldest Real Tennis Court in the world that is still in use.

In 1604, the Palace was the site of King James I of England's meeting with representatives of the English Puritans, known as the Hampton Court Conference; while agreement with the Puritans was not reached, the meeting led to James's commissioning of the King James Version of the Bible.

During the reign of William and Mary, half the Tudor palace was replaced in a project that lasted from 1689–1694. New wings surrounding the Fountain Court were added, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Daily supervision of the building work was by William Talman (later Nicholas Hawksmoor fulfilled this role), and these housed new state apartments and private rooms, one set for the King and one for the Queen. Many famous artists were commissioned to decorate the rooms, including Grinling Gibbons, Antonio Verrio, Jean Tijou and Sir James Thornhill with furnishings designed by Daniel Marot. The King's Apartments face south over the Privy Garden, the Queen's east over the Fountain Garden. After the Queen died, William lost interest in the renovations, but it was in Hampton Court Park in 1702 that he fell from his horse, later dying from his injuries at Kensington Palace. In later reigns, the state rooms were neglected, but under George I six rooms were completed in 1717 to the design of John Vanbrugh and under George II and his queen, Caroline, further refurbishment took place, with the architect William Kent employed to design new furnishings and decor including the Queen's Staircase dated 1733 and Cumberland Suite dated 1737 for the Duke of Cumberland. The Queen's Private Apartments are open to the public and include her bathroom and bedroom.

From the reign of George III in 1760, monarchs tended to favour other London homes, and Hampton Court ceased to be a royal residence. Originally it housed 70 grace and favour residences — one of them was once home to Olave Baden-Powell, wife of the founder of the Scouting movement — but few now remain occupied. One of the warders at the palace in the mid-nineteenth century was Samuel Parkes who won the Victoria Cross in the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854.

In 1796, restoration work began in the Great Hall. In 1838, Queen Victoria completed the restoration and opened the palace to the public. A major fire in the King's Apartments in 1986 led to a new programme of restoration work that was completed in 1990.


The Palace houses many works of art and furnishings from the Royal Collection, mainly dating from the two main periods of the Palace's construction, the early Tudor (Renaissance) and late Stuart to Early Georgian period. The single most important works are Mantegna's Triumphs of Caesar housed in the Lower Orangery. The palace used to house the Raphael Cartoons now kept at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Cartoon Gallery on the south side of the Fountain Court was designed by Christopher Wren for this purpose, copies painted in the 1690s by an artist named Henry Cooke are now displayed instead. Other artists with work displayed include:

Apart from the paintings some of the rarest items on display are the tapesteries, these include:

  • The Story of Abraham - Flemish, set of 10 tapestries commissioned by Henry VIII in the early 1540s, 6 of which are displayed in the Great Hall.
  • Conflict of Virtues and Vice - Flemish, c1500, probably bought by Cardinal Wolsey in 1522.
  • The Story of Alexander the Great - Brussels, late 17th century, in the Queen's Gallery.
  • The Labours of Hercules & The Triumph of Bacchus - Brussels, purchased by Henry VIII in the 1540s, in the King's Presence Chamber.

There are also important collections of ceramics on display, including numerous pieces of blue and white porcelain collected by Queen Mary II, both Chinese imports and Delftware.

Much original furniture from the late 17th and early 18th centuries is displayed, including tables by Jean Pelletier, mirrors by Gerrit Jensen, chairs by Thomas Roberts and clocks and a barometer by Thomas Tompion, several state beds are on display as is the Throne Canopy in the King's Privy Chamber which also contains a crystal chandelier c1700 probably the first such in the country.

The King's Guard Chamber contains a large quantity of arms: muskets, pistols, swords, daggers, powder horns and pieces of armour arranged on the walls in decorative patterns, bills exist for payment to a John Harris dated 1699 for the arrangement, which is believed to be that which can still be seen today.


Queen Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward, the future King Edward VI at Hampton Court in 1537. She died there twelve days later, and her ghost is said to haunt the staircase in the Palace to this day. Queen Catherine Howard was arrested there in 1542 and is said to have run along the Long Gallery screaming for King Henry VIII to save her, before his guards caught her and dragged her away. A ghost is said to haunt the palace, sometimes screaming in the same hallway. Others report seeing the King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

In October 2003, a closed-circuit security camera at Hampton Court had recorded an "indistinct image of "a mysterious figure in a long coat closing the fire doors." According to one report, "a ghostly-looking figure in period dress suddenly appeared on the screen and closed the doors. A female palace visitor wrote in the visitor book that she may have seen a ghost in that area during this time, too. "We're baffled too -- it's not a joke, we haven't manufactured it," said Vikki Wood, a Hampton Court spokeswoman, when asked if the photo the palace released was a Christmas hoax. "We genuinely don't know who it is or what it is. Explanations for the phenomena have ranged from a psychology researcher's suggestions that it could have been a member of the public thinking they were being helpful by shutting the doors, to others' suggestion of thermal effects.

The Maze

Hampton Court is the site of the world-famous Hampton Court Palace Hedge Maze. Planted sometime between 1689 and 1695 by George London and Henry Wise for William III of Orange, it covers a third of an acre and contains half a mile of paths. It is possible that the current design replaced an earlier maze planted for Thomas Cardinal Wolsey. It was originally planted of hornbeam, although it has been repaired using many different types of hedge.

The maze is in of riverside gardens. It has been described by many authors, including Defoe, who inaccurately called it a labyrinth, and the humorist Jerome K. Jerome, who wrote in Three Men in a Boat:

"We'll just go in here, so that you can say you've been, but it's very simple. It's absurd to call it a maze. You keep on taking the first turning to the right. We'll just walk round for ten minutes, and then go and get some lunch."

...Harris kept on turning to the right, but it seemed a long way, and his cousin said he supposed it was a very big maze.

"Oh, one of the largest in Europe," said Rachael.

"Yes, it must be," replied the cousin, "because we've walked a good two miles (3 km) already!"

Harris began to think it rather strange himself, but he held on until, at last, they passed the half of a penny bun on the ground that Harris's cousin swore he had noticed there seven minutes ago.

Jerome exaggerates the hazards of the maze. The maze has relatively few places at which the path forks and at all but one fork (in Jerome's time) the wrong choice led to a dead end at the end of a short corridor. There are many larger and more elaborate mazes nowadays. Recently, three new forking places (not shown on the plan displayed just outside the entrance) have introduced more possibilities of walking closed loops within the maze. The maze can still, as Harris stated, be threaded from entrance to centre and back by the method of always remaining in contact with the wall on one's right. This method guides the traveller into (and then out of) some dead ends and is thus not the shortest path.

In 2006, arts group Greyworld were commissioned to create a permanent artwork for the maze. Their installation, a sound work triggered by hidden sensors embedded in the maze walls, is entitled Trace.

The Clock

The interior facade of the Main Gatehouse contains a fine early example of a post-Copernican astronomical clock.

Hampton Court Palace Ice Rink

Every year from the first weekend of December until the 2nd weekend of January, there is an Ice Rink in the forecourt of the palace. People can skate for up to an hour at a time and then enjoy traditional hot chocolate at the side.

There are several Ice Rinks similar to this one across London. Notably at the Natural History Museum, British Museum and Somerset House.

Image Gallery

See also


External links

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