Hampton Court Palace is a royal palace in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, Greater London, in the historic county of Middlesex, and within the postal town East Molesey, Surrey; it has not been inhabited by the British Royal Family since the 18th century. The palace is 11.7 miles (18.8 kilometres) south west of Charing Cross and upstream of central London on the River Thames. It was originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a favourite of King Henry VIII, circa 1514; in 1529, as Wolsey fell from favour, the palace was passed to the King, who enlarged it.
The following century, King William III’s massive rebuilding and expansion project intended to rival Versailles was begun. Work halted in 1694, leaving the palace in two distinct contrasting architectural styles, domestic Tudor and Baroque. While the palace’s styles are an accident of fate, a unity exists due to the use of pink bricks and a symmetrical, if vague, balancing of successive low wings.
Along with St. James’s Palace, it is one of only two surviving palaces out of the many owned by King Henry VIII.
Today, the palace is open to the public, and is a major tourist attraction, easily reached by train from Waterloo Station in central London and served by Hampton Court railway station in East Molesey, in Transport for London’s Zone 6. The palace is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown.
Apart from the Palace itself and its gardens, other points of interest for visitors include the celebrated maze, the historic real tennis court (see below) and the huge grape vine, claimed to be the largest in the world.
The palace’s Home Park is the site of the annual Hampton Court Palace Festival and Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
The grounds as they appear today were laid out in grand style in the late 17th century. There are no authentic remains of Henry VIII’s gardens, merely a small knot garden, planted in 1924, which hints at the gardens’ 16th-century appearance. Today, the dominating feature of the grounds is the great landscaping scheme constructed for Sir Christopher Wren’s intended new palace. From a water-bounded semicircular parterre, the length of the east front, three avenues radiate in a crow’s foot pattern. The central avenue, containing not a walk or a drive, but the great canal known as the Long Water, was excavated during the reign of Charles II, in 1662. The design, radical at the time, is another immediately recognizable influence from Versailles, and was indeed laid out by pupils of André Le Nôtre, Louis XIV’s landscape gardener.
On the south side of the palace is the Privy Garden bounded by semi-circular wrought iron gates by Jean Tijou. This garden, originally William III’s private garden, was replanted in 1992 in period style with manicured hollies and yews along a geometric system of paths.
On a raised site overlooking the Thames, is a small pavilion, the Banqueting House. This was built circa 1700, for informal meals and entertainments in the gardens rather than for the larger state dinners which would have taken place inside the palace itself. A nearby conservatory houses the “Great Vine”, planted in 1769; by 1968 it had a trunk 81 inches thick and has a length of 100 feet.It still produces an annual crop of grapes.
The palace included apartments for the use of favoured royal friends. One such apartment is described as being in “The Pavilion and situated on the Home Park” of Hampton Court Palace. This privilege was first extended about 1817 by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn, to his friend, Lieut General James Moore, K.C., and his new bride, Miss Cecilia Watson. George IV continued this arrangement following the death of Prince Edward on 23 January 1820. The Queen continued the arrangement for the widow of General Moore, following his death on 24 April 1838. This particular apartment was used for 21 years or more and spanned three different sponsors.
A well-known curiosity of the palace’s grounds is Hampton Court Maze; planted in the 1690s by George London and Henry Wise for William III of Orange. It was originally planted with hornbeam; it has been repaired latterly using many different types of hedge.
Inspired by narrow views of a Tudor garden that can be seen through doorways in a painting, The Family of Henry VIII, hanging in the palace’s Haunted Gallery, a new garden in the style of Henry VIII’s 16th-century Privy Gardens, has been designed to celebrate the anniversary of that King’s accession to the throne. Sited on the former Chapel Court Garden, it has been planted with flowers and herbs from the 16th century, and is completed by gilded heraldic beasts and bold green and white painted fences. The heraldic beasts carved by Ben Harms and Ray Gonzalez of G&H Studios include the golden lion of England, The white greyhound of Richmond, the red dragon of Wales and the white hart of Richard II, all carved from English oak. The garden’s architect was Todd Langstaffe-Gowan, who collaborated with James Fox and the Gardens Team at Historic Royal Palaces.