Hampton Court Palace: Henry VIII’s Great Hall was the largest hall in England at the time and features giant, wall-to-wall tapestries of exquisite artistry and condition. Even if you’re not into tapestries (because I’m not), it’s a gobsmacker of a room; the chic floor pillows are emblematic of Historic Royal Palaces, the caretaking organization of Hampton Court Palace, and wouldn’t look out of place in a house today; extremely elaborate napkin and fabric folding was an art form during the Tudor period; headless paper sculptures representing various courtiers flesh out the tableaux of court life within many of the rooms within the Palace and are, in and of themselves, wonderful masterworks of contemporary paper craft; while the palace is crammed with portraits (too many to notice after a while), the best paintings are exhibited in the Cumberland Art Gallery, which boasts many true masterpieces by Van Dyck, Holbein and Rembrandt. The quality of the artworks displayed in this wing (where photography is prohibited) is a definite cut above the rest of the palace’s paintings and one of the high points of Hampton Court Palace; the chapel garden (with its unfortunate green and white striped railings) boasts a series of colourful metalwork animals perched at the top of decorative, heraldic posts.
The undisputed artistic, decorative and creative highlight of my visit was the Guard Room in William III’s apartments, because of the bold geometric arrays of weapons — 3000 fully operational, impeccably polished and maintained ones — lining the upper walls of the chamber. The jaw-dropping display, originally conceived to impress and intimidate visiting generals and dignitaries, undoubtedly achieved its desired effect then — and now, if my own reaction is any indication.
I was so wowed by this room that I made a separate short clip about it for Instagram; each chimney at Hampton Court Palace has a different design. The brickwork of the Palace is maintained by a neighbouring business, 300-year old Bulmer Brick Yard located a stone’s throw away from our house; the yew trees at the Palace make you feel like a mini Alice in Wonderland; we were treated to a game of “real tennis” which, based on casual observations, combines tennis, squash and net goals. (My tennis coach told me later that there are courts and a league quite close to Little Henny but that it’s easy to injure yourself because the balls are rock-hard and, therefore, tennis elbow is a real risk.)
To sum up the highlights: 1) The Guard Room in the apartments of William III; the Cumberland Art Gallery; the gardens; and real tennis, provided there’s an actual match going on. (Without the animation of a live match, it’s just a narrow room with nets.); Sadly, our banner day at Hampton Court was marred by the nightmarish logistics of getting back home! We arrived at Liverpool Street Station and discovered that virtually all the trains on our line were canceled. Consequently, we took a train to Stansted and then an Uber to the car park of Colchester train station. Lesson learned: NEVER expect or plan to take a train on Sunday!