Whenever I visit historic buildings I like to see the areas where the servants lived, in preference to the ornate splendour of the state rooms. Because I know, had I lived in these historic times, it is far more likely the servants quarters is where I would have been living myself!
Sadly, most historic buildings open to the public seem to focus on the state rooms, and use the former servant’s quarters as offices or storerooms.
Happily, at Hampton Court Palace, the vast kitchens where servants worked during the time of Henry VIII are intact and fully on display, giving a real sense of the conditions the cooks and kitchen staff had to work in. The ceilings are high and the walls white washed, with very small windows. Great huge open fires must have made it an extremely uncomfortable working environment with heat, smoke and dust adding to the backbreaking work.
The sprawling kitchen complex once produced an astonishing 1,000 meals a day to satisfy the king, his guests and all those working there. Menus on display include beef, venison, mutton, swan, tarts, fritters and jellies. And there are whole rooms or areas dedicated to pie making, and the storage of raw meat, fish and utensils.
The kitchens of course are just one small part of a huge spread of buildings that together present what is in effect a village where hundreds of people lived and worked.
But Hampton Court is not only a Tudor palace. After Henry’s death it was lived in by many subsequent monarchs and when King William III and Mary II lived there it was massively rebuilt and much of the original Tudor palace was demolished including Henry’s state rooms and private apartments.
Later, George I and his son George II (the last monarch to live there) added their own touches, so that today Hampton Court Palace is a mix of architectural styles .
Highlights during a visit include the Chapel Royal (where Henry’s longed for son Edward was baptised, and where Henry married his final queen, Catherine Parr), the bedroom and bathroom of Queen Caroline (complete with open fire and screens), the historic real tennis court, the famous maze and the interactive Magic Garden opened two years ago on the site of Henry’s tiltyard.
There are a variety of places to eat offering everything from hot meals to sandwiches, plus plenty of ice cream, but most are expensive, and many families take picnics.
Some of the flooring,inside and out, is cobbled or pebbled, so bear this in mind if pushing a buggy or using a wheelchair.
The palace is situated in the borough of Richmond upon Thames on the side of the river and parking is available in the grounds, but cheaper parking is also available just a short five minute walk away and cost me £6 for the day.
In addition to looking around the palace there are other things to enjoy on a day out there.
On the day I visited, two beautiful English Shire horses were taking visitors on rides around part of the garden for £5 per person.
And, with a stop directly outside the palace, river boats run along the Thames towards Kingston and even as far as Windsor. I took a 35 minute (each way) return trip to Kingston for £9.
Entry to Hampton Court Palace is £25 for adults, £12.50 for children. Concessions and discounts are available. It is open every day from 10am - 6pm.
A Food Festival will take place at the palace over the Bank Holiday weekend from Saturday August 25 to Monday August 27.
For full details see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/