Hampton Court Palace
Originally the kitchens for George, Prince of Wales, The Georgian House was built in 1719 at Hampton Court Palace. Begun by Cardinal Wolsey, the palace was enlarged by Henry VIII and is a labyrinthine of corridors, gardens and courtyards. The Georgian House is sufficiently imposing to be mistaken for a garrison commander’s house, but was in fact built as a kitchen in 1719 for George, Prince of Wales. Its near-twin at St James’s Palace is thought to be by Vanbrugh. Later it became two houses, for the Clerk of Works and the Gardener. You can stay in the eastern one, with a private walled garden into which the morning sun shines and, in season, wisteria blooms. The main rooms are handsome, the attics have a fine view of the palace roofs and their decorative, twisted brick chimneys, and in the kitchen is a huge blocked arch, once a royal cooking hearth.
On the same side of the Palace as the Georgian House are the Rose Gardens, Maze and Henry VIII’s Real Tennis Court. The Georgian House also reminds us that monarchs besides the ebullient Henry VIII made Hampton Court their Palace: William and Mary left their mark and so too, as here, did the Georgians. Waiting inside the main Palace for you to enjoy lie the elegant courts, halls and chapel where these grander folk led their own, often less predictable, existences.
A Secret Life Beyond Public Gaze
Just as it always would have been, Hampton Court Palace is a large and thriving community. Very few residents now share it with its institutions and day visitor areas, but the sense of a secret life beyond the public gaze survives – of doors leading to invisible staircases, of figures disappearing up a staircase with a briefcase or basket. Staying here, you become part of this life, passing the security barrier and making yourselves at home in a palace. You are free to explore the magnificent gardens and most of the courtyards and the public rooms of the palace during opening hours as often as you like, and the friendliness of the palace staff will help you feel even more part of the scene. It will be an unforgettable experience.
‘To be part of history for a short time has been not only a really great pleasure but an immense privilege.’
A latecomer to Hampton Court
The building known as the Georgian House is a latecomer to Hampton Court, and caught only a brief glimpse of the palace as an active royal residence. It belongs more to the time when Hampton Court was first of all a palace in waiting, then a home for the great and the good, "the quality poor-house", as it was christened by William IV. At the same time, the palace remained part of the royal household, with its own organisation and officials.
It is to this palace organisation that the Georgian House chiefly belongs. From 1785 it housed the Foreman of the Gardens and from 1834 the Clerk of the Works as well; the one providing fruit and vegetables on a large scale for the royal tables at Windsor, the second maintaining the fabric of the palace under H.M. Office of Works.
A role as official residence does not come as a surprise, since from the outside, the house looks very like the plain and dignified buildings, officers' quarters perhaps, at contemporary defence establishments such as Chatham. Its origins are much more unexpected, because it was in fact built as a kitchen, in 1719, for the then Prince of Wales. As a detached kitchen, it again highlights the links between a palace and a military or naval base, the feeding of large numbers being common to both. In such circumstances, it becomes practical to give the kitchens their own building. It also harks back to the Middle Ages when, because of the risk of fire from their great hearths, kitchens were often kept separate.
Associations of this kind arise in other aspects of palace life, too. Parallels are often drawn between Oxford and Cambridge Colleges and the great households of the past, with their complex, crowded and inward-looking populations. Palaces, too, have a continuity with the past. Hampton Court still houses, as it always has, a varied but structured society, with its own customs and conventions, a strong sense of community and not much individual privacy. Though mostly left to its own devices, there is the feeling of a place well-run on behalf of an owner who, while not necessarily present, might be without much warning, and for whose benefit the place exists.
So must it have been in any one of a series of castles or palaces belonging to a great medieval, Tudor, or even Stuart, lord, to which he might pay a single annual visit. Each had its permanent population, for whom life went on throughout the year regardless. Today it is the flow of day visitors for whom standards are kept up, but they too are only an interruption to the palace's real, more hidden, existence.
Grace and Favour
Few officials now live in the Palace and since 1977 there have been no new warrants for Grace and Favour apartments. More of the Palace has been made available to the public, such as the kitchens. The idea arose in 1991 of making a limited number of apartments available for holidays. The Palace did not have the organisation to do this on its own. Instead it approached the Landmark Trust, which has both the organisation and the experience of furnishing and letting historic buildings, with the suggestion that it act as an agent for Historic Royal Palaces.
Two apartments were proposed, No. 43a in Fish Court, which occupies the upper floor of the Tudor Pastry House; and No. 65, in the eastern wing of the Georgian House, which had recently been vacated by the former Superintendent of the Palace, Mr Ian Gray. Both apartments needed some alteration and repair. This work was supervised by Fielden and Mawson, the architects employed throughout the Palace, in consultation with both Landmark and Historic Royal Palaces. Landmark was to choose the decorations and provided all the furniture and equipment, as with its own properties.
Fish Court needed less work, so was ready for visitors early in 1993. The Georgian House turned out to be a rather more complicated job. Not only is it larger, but a number of problems were found, such as rotten floors joists, which had to be dealt with. The large south-west bedroom had been divided into two rooms, and was put back as one. Its fireplace was unblocked and provided with a new surround. This was copied, in timber, from a stone surround fitted in the north-east bedroom, salvaged from the Palace store.
The main rooms, dating originally from 1719, but only converted to domestic use in 1834, have been decorated with more of the later period in mind. Clues can still be found to the building's curious past, however, and the way in which a conventional dwelling was fitted into a structure designed for quite another purpose. This becomes most obvious as you pass through into the central space, where the modern kitchen sits inside its royal predecessor. It now has a stone floor once again, and the great arches of the fireplaces can be seen in the walls, blocked on the east, but providing space for cloakrooms and cupboards on the west. The final task was to renew the rather functional pergola on the east front to a more decorative design. Meanwhile, the Palace gardeners had been at work in the garden, making it ready for the first visitors in early March.
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