The 16th-century palace of Cardinal Wolsey can teach us a lesson: Don't try to outdo your boss, particularly if he happens to be Henry VIII. The rich cardinal did just that, and he eventually lost his fortune, power, and prestige, and ended up giving his lavish palace to the Tudor monarch. Henry took over, even outdoing the Wolsey embellishments. The Tudor additions included the Anne Boleyn gateway, with its 16th-century astronomical clock that even tells the time of high tide at London Bridge. From Clock Court, you can see one of Henry's major contributions, the aptly named Great Hall, with its hammer-beam ceiling. Also added by Henry were the tiltyard (where jousting competitions were held), a tennis court, and a kitchen.
Although the palace enjoyed prestige and pomp in Elizabethan days, it owes much of its present look to William and Mary -- or rather to Sir Christopher Wren, who designed and had built the Northern or Lion Gates, intended to be the main entrance to the new parts of the palace. The fine wrought-iron screen at the south end of the south gardens was made by Jean Tijou around 1694 for William and Mary. You can parade through the apartments today, filled as they were with porcelain, furniture, paintings, and tapestries. The King's Dressing Room is graced with some of the best art, mainly paintings by old masters on loan from Queen Elizabeth II. Finally, be sure to inspect the royal chapel (Wolsey wouldn't recognize it). To confound yourself totally, you may want to get lost in the serpentine shrubbery maze in the garden, also the work of Wren. More and more attention is now focused on improving and upgrading the famous gardens here -- the formal gardens are among the last surviving examples of garden methods and designs from several important periods of history.
The 24-hectare (60-acre) gardens -- including the Great Vine, King's Privy Garden, Great Fountain Gardens, Tudor and Elizabethan Knot Gardens, Board Walk, Tiltyard, and Wilderness -- are open daily year-round from 7am until dusk (but not later than 9pm) and, except for the Privy Garden, can be visited free. A garden cafe and restaurant are located in the Tiltyard Gardens.
Hampton Court, on the north side of the Thames and 21km (13 miles) west of London, is easily accessible. Frequent trains run from Waterloo Station (Network Southeast) to Hampton Court Station (tel. 0845/748-4950). Once at the station, buses will take you the rest of the way to the palace. If you're driving from London, take the A308 to the junction with the A309 on the north side of Kingston Bridge over the Thames.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Very Highly Recommended 2010
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- Hampton Court Road
- East Molesey, Surrey
- East Molesey KT8 2EU
- Gardens year-round daily 7am-dusk (no later than 9pm). Cloisters, courtyards, state apartments, great kitchen, cellars, and Hampton Court exhibition Mar-Oct daily 10am-6pm; Nov-Feb daily 10am-4:30pm
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