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A Visit to Hampton Court

WMF’s collaboration with the Palace Museum for the conservation of the Qianlong Garden has included a series of site visits to review the variety of ways in which historic sites provide visitor access and interpretation plans for spaces that must, by necessity, have only limited public access. In April 2015, a delegation of representatives from WMF and the Palace Museum visited Hampton Court Palace. Located in the London borough of Richmond, Hampton Court is one of six palaces now owned and managed by Historic Royal Palaces, a charity dedicated to preserving some of the United Kingdom’s most notable historic sites. Approximately 4 million visitors go to Historic Royal Palace properties each year—600,000 of them visit Hampton Court.

The group met with members of HRP to discuss site management, site interpretation, and visitor access after a tour with David Packer, State Apartment Warder Team Leader. The team’s extensive knowledge and commitment to HRP’s mission—coupled with Packer’s years of experience and skills as a storyteller—impressed everyone on the tour and represented one of the group’s main findings from the site: dedication to and investment in training for guides and opportunities for public education offer an invaluable personal experience for visitors to sites of historic and cultural heritage.

Records indicate that Hampton Court was in royal use as early as the 14th century. Additions and alterations to the site occurred with each successive group of residents. The site is now a blend of two palaces representing distinct styles of architecture, art, and interiors: the Tudor palace of Henry VIII in the 16th century and the Baroque palace constructed under William and Mary.

Site tours begin with an entry through the first courtyard, where visitors can hear the ringing of the same tower bell that Henry VIII would’ve heard. Highlights of the tour include: the Great Hall with its 16th-century hammer-beam roof and walls adorned with tapestries commissioned by Henry in the 1530s to commemorate the birth of his son Edward; the Chapel Royal, a still-functioning chapel where visitors can see the ornate and meticulously researched reproduction of the royal crown (the original was melted down in the 17th century); and Henry VIII’s kitchens, where palace workers once prepared meals for over 600 guests twice daily (and where HRP now offers live cooking events).

A courtyard separates the Tudor buildings from the Baroque ones, where visitors proceed to a tour of William III’s apartments, progressing from the public spaces like the guard chambers into the more private areas, like the privy chamber and bedchamber. Hampton Court features many additional points of interest throughout the site, including over 60 acres of estate gardens.