Sunday, 25 December 2016

Hampton Court Palace - fit for Tudor aspirations

Some kilometres out of London is an ex-royal palace brimming with history and tales of notable monarchs such as Henry the Eighth. Built around 1515 by Thomas Wolsley, Archbishop and advisor to King Henry VIII it was gifted to the king in the hopes of renewing waning favour. It didn't work. Henry had him arrested and he died of natural causes before he could be executed. Hampton Court is one of only two remnants of more than 60 royal palaces and houses that were used by Henry in his day, which have survived. The second remnant being Lambeth Palace which isn't open to the public and which has little more than the gatehouse remaining.

It was here that Henry's only son was born and also here that his third wife Jane Seymour died after giving birth to the future Edward VI. The tudor influence has been greatly diminished by monarchs William and Mary who demolished half the Tudor palace before they died.

You can easily distinguish the two architectural styles; the Tudor in rose-red bricks with black markings and elaborate chimney stacks, and the Baroque in plain pink bricks with white details. Henry built a hammerbeam Great Hall which still stands today. It's wonderful to look up at the workmanship and imagine the Tudor goings-on during meal-times and events.

After Anne Bolyn was executed the king ordered any references to her expunged but in one corner of this place they missed one and you can clearly see the initials of Henry and Anne.  There's an astrological clock that was installed during Henry's time. Incredibly it still accurately works after 500 years. It shows the time, the phases of the moon, star signs and high tide at London Bridge near the Tower of London, a key royal residence. One can marvel at the quality of ancient technology.

None of Henry's gardens remain but there are knot gardens outside a Tudor wing in the style. It's more of a kitchen garden really. The other garden areas are more modern and impressive.
A horticultural oddity is The Great Vine, planted in 1769. Incredibly it still gives a good harvest of grapes which are sold at the palace. I can't vouch for the flavour though.

 The day I visited there was an exhibition of beautifully crafted objects in very fine white paper. Representations of food and table decorations as well as period costumes were displayed in several rooms. They were quite exquisite and I couldn't imagine how they had been crafted. The interiors of the palace have some impressive contents but it lacks charm for its sheer size. It's easy to get lost here so allow at least 2-3 hours to explore inside and out. For more information go to and also

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Windsor Castle: when the Queen's away

Windsor Castle is one of the most important secular historic buildings in Britain and is the largest inhabited castle in Europe. I thoroughly recommend a visit to see the exquisite interiors but be sure to pick a time when the Queen's not in residence. Tours are not available when she's home.
No photos may be taken inside the castle, which is such a shame as it's the interiors that mark this place out as first rate.

It's immaculate despite its age of almost a thousand years. It clearly benefits by being an official home of the Queen so it's kept in top condition. It's gone from being a fortress to a medieval hunting lodge to a baroque masterpiece and then  the focus of the British Empire. Now it's the home of the Royal Collection.

Around 1070 William the Conqueror constructed this (and the Tower of London among other fortifications) motte-and-bailey castle. It commands a ridge overlooking the Thames. The castle has been developed, modified, restored and modernised through the ages by the rulers of England. The artistry is amazing. The details, superb art collection and furniture left me truly impressed. It's as good, in its way, as Versailles and contains some items from the Louis XIV period in France which now only exist in England. Many wonderful items from French history have made their home at Windsor while their original homes have been destroyed or eliminated in France. The relative stability of the English monarchy (other than the time of Oliver Cromwell) has meant that so much history has been preserved in a continuous line. Queen Mary's dollhouse is an interesting item, faithful in its smallest detail with operating lighting and an elevator.

In 1992 there was a devasting fire which destroyed a large part of the castle. Fortunately most of the furniture and artworks had earlier been removed for safe keeping from the fire-ravaged area while renovations were being done. A careless workman had left a spotlight on which ignited a curtain above the altar in the Private Chapel. The fire gutted the wonderful Saint George's Hall and many other key rooms. They have, with British craftsmanship, been completely restored to the highest level. As I gazed around me all I could think of was "It's perfect."

Having been impressed by the beauty and quality of the interior I came to a crashing disappointment with the gardens. The only thing to say here is - boring. I could do so much better. There are very few flowers or garden beds. It's monotonous and shows no imagination at all, in my opinion. For a castle of this importance it doesn't hold a candle to Hampton Court Palace which is NOT these days a royal residence. A few roses, mostly all the same variety in a couple of beds doesn't do it for me.

The day I visited there was a display of vintage cars in the courtyard. I don't know why.

The town of Windsor is quaint and used to having important dignaries passing through.
Check out a detailed history at: