The Palace is not a single building but is an almost chaotic collection of wings, extensions and outhouses dating from various eras. The various wings surround a number of internal courtyards, and the palace itself is surrounded by both formal and informal gardens, the gardens in turn giving way to the open grasslands of the park that was once a royal hunting ground. Surprisingly, the palace is constructed almost entirely of red brick and is probably one of Britain's largest brick built structures (and certainly one of its most handsome).
Not a great deal of Wolsey's original structure survives, though it was known to be extensive. Much of what we see is the accumulation of later rebuilding and refurbishment, a process began by Henry VIII around 1630. He reputedly spent a sum equivalent to eighteen million pounds in today's prices on rebuilding works, adding state rooms, lodgings, a great hall, kitchens, gardens and tennis courts and even a water supply. Other extensions and refurbishments were added on a piecemeal fashion by the later Tudor and Stuart monarchs until William and Mary succeeded to the throne. In 1689 they commissioned Christopher Wren to rebuild much of the palace from scratch, and what we see today dates largely from that time. Perhaps the most handsome part of the palace is Wren's southeast wing, to which the formal Privy Gardens are immediately adjacent. Once George II abandoned Hampton Court as a royal residence it was largely used as a complex of "grace and favour" apartments and tended to be let to minor Royals, aristocrats, diplomats, military officers and others who had "given great service to crown and country". Among its more famous residents have been Michael Faraday and Capability Brown. It was as recently as 1970 that the practice of re-letting these apartments ceased, and some of them are still occupied. During the 160 years that the Palace has been open to the public, a continuing series of renovations has taken place.
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Main entrance and west exterior
Views of the west-facing main entrance and some of the later additions to the west wing
The Palace's West Front has the main entrance, the Trophy Gate, as its centrepiece. This part of the palace was built for Henry VIII and is therefore one of the oldest parts still in existence.
Various views of the Base Court, Clock Court and Fountain Court
Further views of the Fountain and Clock courts, and one of the minor kitchen courts
Chapel Court and one of the kitchen courts
Clock Court and Base Court, including a view from one of Henry VIII's state rooms
The bulk of the palace is built around the three internal courtyards of Base Court, Clock Court and Fountain Court, and the wings that surround these internal spaces comprise the various state apartments of Henry VIII, William III, Mary and the so-called Georgian Rooms, as well as lesser complexes such as the Cumberland Rooms and Wolsey Rooms. Wren's cloistered Fountain Court is perhaps the grandest. Off to the north side of the palace stand the Chapel, the Tudor Kitchens and various outhouses, and these surround further internal spaces of which the most handsome is the Chapel Court.
Formal (south) gardens and Thames frontage
Knot Garden and Pond Gardens
Knot garden, pergola and Tijou screen
The Privy gardens
To the south of the palace are the private gardens, the most formal of which is William III's Privy Garden and which complements Wren's massive south front. The garden is much as William would have seen it, excepting that there wasn't a mobile phone mast on the Surrey bank of the Thames in those days. The Thames itself is fronted by an 18th century wrought iron screen designed by Jean Tijou. Further west are the Box Garden, Pond Gardens and Lower Orangery, which front the outer walls of the Wolsey rooms.
East gardens and water features
The East or Great Fountain gardens
Further views of the Great Fountain gardens
William III laid out these gardens, dominated by their semicircular pattern of lakes and fountains, around the turn of the 18th century. Avenues of yew trees radiate from the main fountain outside the east gate of the Fountain Court, the rest of the gardens being laid out as lawns and flower beds. Stretching further to the east is the Long Water, a lake constructed for Charles II in 1660 and one of the few features of the surrounding park.
North (informal) gardens
The "Wilderness", tea lawns and informal gardens
Laying north of the kitchens, workshops, indoor sports facilities, private apartments, offices and other non-public areas of the palace are the Northern gardens, laid out in a hotchpotch of styles but generally far less formal than those to the south and east of the palace. Among the northern gardens are the "wilderness", rather an area of mixed hedges, herbaceous borders and tree cover than a wildlife area; the Tiltyard, an area originally used for jousting and now divided up into rose gardens, tennis courts and a cafeteria; and the world famous Maze (not pictured here), a complex pattern of paths enclosed by hedges and laid out in 1720. Adjacent to the maze is the north gate, opposite which is the huge but relatively unknown Bushy Park.
Gardens north of the Palace
North gardens and the North Gate
Hampton Court Park
Deer and open grassland
Outwith the formal Palace gardens is Hampton Court park, or Home Park, an area of nearly 3 square km comprising little other than grassland and the odd clump of trees. The park is walled and has only two entrances, one from the Palace itself and one at Hampton Wick in the opposite corner. The park has a golf course on its southeastern corner and boasts one lodge (enclosed private cottage) slap in the centre of the park; apart from these, and the Long Water, the park has no facilities whatsoever. A herd of deer roam free, a legacy of the park's former use as a Royal hunting ground. The lack of both access and facilities explains the scarcity of people in the park - despite it being a public open space you will rarely see another human soul within the grounds. The rightmost image above is interesting, not for what it shows, but for what it doesn't - there is absolutely nothing to see except an expanse of rough grass and some distant trees. And this is part of London.
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This page last updated 22nd December 2002