Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Hampton Court Palace

Monday 4 August 2014

A sunny Monday, and Linda and I were off to Hampton Court, gearing up, I suppose, for Bring up the Bodies.  

So why are the first two pictures of the excellent bench outside Foyles in Waterloo Station? Well, arriving in good time for the 09.36 to Hampton Court, we we disappointed to see the word 'cancelled' on the indicator;  we were assured that the 10.42 to Surbiton would get us to a bus shuttle service, but when that, too was delayed, we opted for a train to Richmond and a nostalgic trip on the R68 bus.  This meant we arrived exactly an hour later than we had intended, at 11.15.

For both of us, it had been a long time since our last visit and so, bearing in mind King George's sage remarks about lavatories ('go when you can, not when you must') we headed on a long detour to find the loos, little knowing that once we got inside, we should find such conveniences round almost every corner.  Those we did find were camouflaged in a bosky dell, with three of the five wash basins out of order.... Hmm.

And so to the Palace, which was busy with visitors, including youth groups of various nations, but is big enough to accommodate them all without discomfort.  The paperwork offers several different visitor routes, after each of which you can return to the Base Court.

Around the Palace and the grounds, the 1914 centenary is being marked by brief lives of people associated with Hampton Court, who died in the Great War.  They were predominantly sons of gardeners, plumbers etc attached to the Palace and so living here, and were, as you might expect, pretty moving.  I had hoped to find them all on the HRP website, but no.

Linda and I started, socially speaking, at the bottom, with a tour of Henry VIII's kitchens.  They had done some good set dressing, with large lumps of meat, and real fire for the spits and, of course, lots of pies and bread in those pre-potato days.  Not much sign of the 5 a day, though.

Then we visited the Chapel Royal, before jumping a quarter of a century to the Fountain Court and the reign of William and Mary

The chocolate kitchens had recently been opened, so we paused there to admire fine silverware, and a video about the preparation of the expensive drink:  lots of grinding and sieving and stirring, as opposed to simply opening a sachet.

Then it was up the Grand Staircase to William III's apartments.  When we were at Kensington Palace, we had thought about the amazing spinning that turns an armed invasion by foreign troops into some kind of victory for liberty, and now we also reflected on what fun monarchy could be if the spouse of the monarch, with no shred of dynastic entitlement, always took over.

The rooms are as you might expect.  I am just back from a modest chateau-crawl in the Loire Valley, where the French have massively improved the presentation of their stately homes since we were last there 20ish years ago.  This meant that I was only slightly impressed with the flower arrangements here, and found the 'conservation' level of lighting a little dreary.  But a number of the pictures had wonderful Grinling Gibbons carved surrounds, and the views of the gardens were lovely.

The various Presence Chambers, Privy Chambers and Bed Chambers finished at the King's Stool Room, complete with, er, a stool for his stools.
 Next we made our way along the long gallery to a suite of slightly more domestic sized rooms, with a drawing room and dining room that one could imagine living in.  

As we got back to the Base Court for our next foray, we noted some Tudor ladies, who put us in the mood for the Henry VIII apartments route.  The Great Hall and the Great Watching Chamber both had impressive tapestries and fine ceilings.

At this stage, one can go into the gallery of the Royal Chapel, where they are also displaying a replica of Henry VIII's crown.  This was destroyed by the new government in 1649 as a political statement, which is interesting, since most of the rest of the crown jewels were sold by the Royalists to raise funds for their war effort.

By now, as 1.00pm approached, we were in need of sustenance, so went into the gardens to eat our sandwiches, before going to see Mantegna's Triumph of Caesar.  Because of the extensive renovation works around the place, access is only through the gardens.  And you need to walk the length of the gallery before starting to look, in order to get the procession in the right order.  Otherwise you feel like a Tour de France moto overtaking the whole peloton from the back.  The pictures are fairly interesting, though dim and dimly lit.  The commentary, which is on head phones attached to the benches, explains that from the start they were overpainted (to repair shipping damage) and cleaned and generally messed about with.  But they stand both as a statement of Henry VIII's 'Renaissance Prince' ambitions, and as his vision of himself as someone who might again divide Gaul into three parts.

All in all, this is a remarkable place and well worth a visit, preferably in sunny weather so that you can appreciate the gardens, about which Linda will write.

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