Every one of the forty Society members who took part in this, the last of our summer season excursions, will have returned home with many different impressions of this wonderful building.
Shepherded very capably by our leader Joyce Peck, we assembled at the West Front of the Palace and were given into the hands of two very knowledgeable guides. My particular group guide, Sara Burn Edwards, earned 'Brownie points' right from the start when she acknowledged that we would not require any instruction on the life and background of Cardinal Wolsey!
Wolsey had developed the manor house of Hampton, which he acquired in the early 16th century, into an episcopal palace and the centre for his administration of affairs of state as Henry VIII's Chancellor. On Wolsey's fall from power in 1528, the Palace passed into the hands of the King, and from that time on, like Topsy, the building just growed, and what we see today is an amalgam of changing fashion in architectural styles, and the taste and preferences in decoration and furnishings of subsequent royal inhabitants from William and Mary through to Victoria.
Henry VIII has left us his Great Hall with its superb hammerbeam roof and Flemish tapestries, and his Chapel Royal with the finest Tudor fan vaulted ceilings. And who could not fail to be impressed by the exuberance and skill of the Tudor bricklayers seen in the wonderful chimneys on the buildings surrounding the two great courtyards.
Impressions of the new palace- the Baroque architecture of Wren for William and Mary - centre on the Grinling Gibbons carvings on overmantels and friezes: Ionic columns, decorative plasterwork ceilings, white and gilded paintwork, the homeliness of the private apartments - or as homely as royal living allowed - the small private dining room, the drawing room, the Little Closet (bedroom) of King William. After the fire of 1986 in this part of the Palace, these rooms have been restored to become again as William and Mary knew them. Particularly memorable will be the restoration of the Cartoon Gallery - a 'phoenix' indeed risen from the ashes of 1986. This was one of the first purpose-built picture galleries in Britain, designed by Wren to house the Raphael Cartoons - drawings depicting Acts of the Apostles - intended as designs for tapestries. The original cartoons are now in the Victoria and Albert Museum: what we see are copies dating from 1697 made when the originals were first hung in the Gallery.
King's apartments, Queen's apartments, Georgian rooms, Tudor kitchens - something will be remembered from each of them, but for me the most abiding impressions will be not of architecture or furniture or interior decoration but of paintings, paintings, paintings, all part of the Royal Collection spanning over five hundred years. In the Wolsey Rooms and the Renaissance Gallery - a series of original Tudor rooms thought to have been part of the private accommodation of Wolsey - while the world milled around outside, I enjoyed in splendid isolation the company of Titian, Lotto, Brueghel, Correggio, Gentileschi, and in the Communication Gallery which joined two sets of royal apartments, admired the beauty of the court ladies in Lely's portraits known as the Windsor Beauties. In the King's dining room another series of court ladies, this time painted by Kneller, were in great contrast, in dress and style, though only thirty years apart in time.
Two final little impressions that will remain - one concerning the erudition of one of our party, who very knowledgeably spotted the deliberate mistake in a painting of Henry VIII with his wife Jane Seymour and his three children, Mary, Elizabeth and Edward - the 'mistake' being the inclusion of Jane Seymour who was long dead when the picture was painted. She did not survive the birth of Edward, who is shown as about six years old in the painting. Producing a son got her into the picture! And finally a little story from our guide of the humour of Elizabeth I -her enjoyment of a practical joke played on guests whom she had assembled in the Fountain Courtyard to admire the sculpture of a fountain, before having the water turned on! No doubt they had to enjoy the joke as well! Then, as now, a happy day at Hampton Court Palace!