My days in England just kept getting better and better. On June 16th, I went on a tour of Richmond and Hampton Court. I got to see things that have survived all these years against all odds, heard a fantastically morbid ghost story, and then was later given a heart attack by what I thought was an actual ghost hissing in my ear. It was an amazing day.
We started by taking the train to Richmond. We didn’t see a lot of Richmond; that part of the tour was mostly to show what was left of Richmond Palace. Richmond Palace had been a favourite of the royals during its time, but it was unfortunately mostly destroyed in the years of Oliver Cromwell, who went around trying to tear down everything related to the monarchy. All that remains of Richmond Palace today is the King’s Wardrobe, which is the part of the palace where the king’s belongings would have been stored when he was away at other palaces; things like tapestries and silverware that would only be pulled out when the king was living in Richmond. There’s also an entry gate left (pictured below) and I believe part of the kitchens.
Then it was all aboard the riverboat to travel along the Thames to Hampton Court! That was really cool. We got an amazing lunch on the boat, plus we got to take a lovely journey along the river, with great sights either side. Approaching Hampton Court by river was perfect, because that’s exactly how it would have been done during the time of Henry VIII. Our first view was his first view!
Hampton Court is an especially cool palace, because it is half Tudor, half Georgian. Hampton Court came into possession of Thomas Wolsey and he beefed it out as a truly spectacular Tudor spectacle. He “gifted” it to King Henry VIII, which is to say Henry made him give it to him because he was still pissed that Wolsey hadn’t supported his divorce to Catherine of Aragon. Hampton Court then became a favourite palace for the Tudors.
During the Georgian period, William III and Mary II took hold of the palace and began to rebuild it, wanting to update its architecture (Tudor architecture was rather boring compared to what the Georgians had come to expect from the Baroque period of buildings). Due to many issues, including the Queen’s death, which devastated the King, the rebuild took years and was never fully finished. This is great news for us because it means we get to see both parts of the palace, both Tudor and Georgian! (I am especially thankful that Tudor portions survived, due to something I found later.)
Arriving at Hampton Court, I was giddy as a schoolgirl. As you may have noticed, I have a slight obsession with the Tudor period, especially anything Anne Boleyn related, or Catherine Howard related, and Hampton Court gets both! So I was pretty much hyperventilating as I approached the castle. Had I been with anyone I knew, I would have been clutching their arm and shaking them with excitement.
Hampton Court was beautiful. I was absolutely blown away. My pictures do not do it justice. The Tudor side of the palace includes the kitchens plus servants corners, a spectacular dining hall, the chapel, and some other rooms on the second floor.
After seeing some of the outside and going into the inner courts, we headed into the dining hall. Picture an intricately carved high ceiling, with ginormous tapestries along the walls and long wooden tables going in lines across the humongous room. You’d find yourself in the outer dining hall, where lucky guests were invited to dine in the palace.
We entered the inner dining hall next, which is where the king would dine with his favourites. This was a smaller room, pure white, with gold carvings tracing the ceiling.
We got to view the chapel (although no pictures were allowed) and once again I was blown away by the ceiling. Unlike the outer dining hall’s ceiling, which was impressive for sure, the chapel ceiling’s paint had survived, and it was the brightest blue with amazing patterns in it. It gave me a pretty good idea of just how spectacular the dining hall would have been with its paint still in place.
We walked through the halls upstairs, where bedrooms would have been, and it was here that I heard my first Hampton Court ghost story. Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, is said to haunt the hallway here. When Catherine was being held before her execution, she was locked up in one of the bedrooms of Hampton Court. She managed to escape and she ran through the hall towards the chapel, where she knew Henry would be. She knew that if she could just get to Henry, she would be able to convince him she hadn’t done anything wrong and he would save her (which is exactly why she was locked up away from him – everyone who wanted her dead knew if she got the chance to talk to Henry he’d cave, because he was still head over heels with her). She got as far as the chapel doors, but here she was stopped by the guards and dragged, kicking and screaming and crying, back to her room. Not long after, she was executed. The people who work at Hampton Court now say she can be heard screaming, crying, and running through the halls at night. So, Anne Boleyn haunts the Tower of London, and Catherine Howard haunts Hampton Court. I think that’s morbidly excellent.
We went through the Georgian section next, which was beautiful, no question, but not quite as thrilling for me as getting to see the Tudor side. There were painted walls everywhere and it was all quite lovely to look at.
After this, our tour was over and we were left to our own exploration whims. I thought this was excellent, because it gave me a chance to go back to things I wanted to take closer looks at, and to see things we hadn’t gone to on the tour, like the gardens, instead of having to leave and go back to London straight away.
I used this chance to return to the dining hall and find the treasure I was seeking. Henry had had a symbol made for him and Anne Boleyn, to show people that they were happening and there was nothing they could do about it. It was their initials, A and H, entwined together with the lover’s rose. When they married, he had them plastered all over Hampton court. Then, three years later, when she was executed, he wanted all memory of her gone, so he had his workers remove all the symbols. But they missed some! And those were what I desperately wanted to see! Because for them to have survived, if you know anything about history, is a truly incredible thing.
I found a girl who worked there, and she pointed out the few that remained. That was a really happy moment for me, getting to see that symbol. High up on the back walls in the dining hall are wooden panels. At the top of some of the panels, there it was, the coveted symbol, Anne and Henry entwined together. It was too high up for me to get a proper picture of it, but just being able to see it was enough for me. And the coolest part was, once I knew where it was, it became obvious where it had been taken away from. The panels on the left side of the dining hall alternated between their symbol and another symbol. When I looked at the panels on the right side of the dining hall, there was the other symbol, then a gap, then the other symbol, then a gap. The gaps clearly used to contain Anne and Henry’s symbol. So that was pretty darn cool.
I explored around some more of the castle, going into the gardens to see them too. Here there is the UK’s oldest hedge maze, so of course I had to see if I could find my way through that (which I did – it was pretty easy).
There’s a lot to see at Hampton Court, and I think I pretty much got through it all, but of course, it wouldn’t be a true me moment without having the absolute dickens scared out of me. As the day went on, less and less people were around and there were places where it was just me, such as the super creepy servant’s hallway in the kitchen area:
At one point I was heading down a staircase, all on my lonesome, when suddenly I heard a voice whispering in my ear. Scared the friggin crap out of me until I realised it was a recording of a child reciting the nursery rhyme that was made up to remember the outcomes of all of Henry VIII’s wives: “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” It was so eerie and muffled sounding though, it took a bit of regaining my nerve before I could figure out what it actually was and calm down that I wasn’t about to be murdered by some angry palace ghost (of which Hampton Court has its share).
And that was pretty much my adventure to Hampton Court! A fantastically fabulous day I will cherish forever.