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Hampton Court Palace

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Lying on the western banks of the River Thames sits one of the largest and most beautiful palatial residences in the United Kingdom: Hampton Court Palace. Originally built by Cardinal Wolsey in the 16th century, King Henry VIII took over the Palace and it has remained in the hands of the Crown ever since. A popular visitor attraction for first-timers and those who already know London alike, Hampton Court is one of the most magical destinations in London.


In the 13th century, the site that Hampton Court sits on was used as an administrative base for the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, who used the location to store supplies for their crusades to the Holy Land. In 1514, the land was bought by Thomas Wolsey, one of King Henry VIII’s closest advisors, almoner and Lord Chancellor. Originally, Cardinal Wolsey built a manor house on the site, but as Wolsey became extremely rich during his tenure with the King and he began to add more and more to his manor, eventually completing a building a household that employed over 500 people and had rooms for 280 guests. Shockingly, however, was that this massive complex was actually larger than any home of the King himself! Hampton Court became the wonder of Europe and Henry, realising he was being out shown by somebody, who was effectively an employee! He asked Wolsey why he had built a palace that would outdo the Kings’ largest home – Richmond Palace. Wolsey reputedly replied, “To show how noble a place a subject may offer his sovereign.”

A clever statement – and one that would prove unfortunately prophetic. When Wolsey fell out of favour in 1529, Henry seized the property for himself. He spent £62,000 (around £18million today) remodelling and updating the complex and also added the country’s first ever covered tennis court here in 1532.

After Henry’s death, the Palace was used by all three of his children: King Edward VI, Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I. They did not have their fathers’ taste for ostentatious building and the next sovereigns to update and refurbish the Palace were William and Mary. In 1689 they commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to redesign parts of the Palace and Wren added buildings done in a French Renaissance style – which still stand today, alongside some of the original Tudor buildings.

The last king to live at Hampton Court was King George II, who moved in in 1727. Once his wife died, George turned most of the building into grace and favour apartments for the widows of peers and distinguished public servants, including notable names such as Lady Baden-Powell and the daughter of Alexander III, emperor of Russia. It remained such until the reign of Queen Victoria, who handed the running of the Palace over to the government. Today, it is run by English Heritage.


Today the Palace is open to the public. It is home to a large collection of art belonging to the Royal Collection, including both paintings and furnishings. There is also a large collection of arms kept here: pistols, swords, gaggers, muskets, etc. which are arranged on a wall in the King’s Guard Chamber. The Chapel Royal at the Palace is considered to be one of the most important plaster ceilings in all of Britain and the area where past monarchs like King Henry VIII and Queen Anne would have attended church service.

Surrounding the Palace are amazing grounds, laid out in grand style in the 17th century. A hedge maze, water fountains, tree-lined avenues and statues all come together to provide one of the most beautiful and atmospheric gardens in the country.

Fact or Fiction?

Many people know the following rhyme:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

But it is believed that the origins of this rhyme may lie here at Hampton Court. Queen Mary II and her husband William III, took great interest in Hampton Court and added a lot to the grounds. They were also interested in the planting of exotic plants from all over the world and Hampton Court began to gain a reputation for having a large collection of rare and unique plants. This could explain the reference to the garden, and silver bells and cockle shells.

As for the pretty maids – King William III commissioned the painting of a number of ladies at court to hang in a hallway at Hampton Court. This collection of paintings of beautiful women became known as the ‘Hampton Court Beauties’ and the portraits of these ‘pretty maids’ are all displayed down the hallway – in a row! The best part is that the paintings – and the gardens – are still available for the public to visit.

Visitor Information

Opening Dates and Times: 10am - 4.30pm (winter); 10am-6pm (summer)

Ticket for the Palace, Maze and Garden:

Adult - £18.20, Concessions – £15.40, Children Under 16 - £9.10, Children Under 5 – FREE, Family - £46.80

Special rates are available when booking ONLINE -

Nearest Rail Station: Hampton Court Rail Station [Trains depart from London Waterloo every 30 minutes)

Bus Routes: 111, 216, 411, 461, 513


About The Author

Stephen Pickhardt

Stephen is the CEO of Free Tours by Foot and has overseen the transformation of a local walking tour company into a global tour community and traveler’s advice platform. He has personally led thousands of group tours in the US and Europe, and is an expert in trip planning and sightseeing, with a focus on budget travelers. Stephen has been published and featured in dozens of publications including The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Yahoo,, and more.
Updated: November 2nd, 2014
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