On the 21st of March, 2015, Hampton Court Palace opened its doors to a group of people for a From Dusk til Dawn sleep over.
It was part of their 500 year anniversary celebrations, and I KNEW I had to go. It was about a month before I was moving to New Zealand, and it would be a perfect way to farewell one of my favourite palaces.
I was nervous however, firstly because I would be going on my own, and secondly, because, well…. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but I am willing to be proven wrong..
On arrival we were directed to the Cartoon Gallery where we would be sleeping the night.
The Cartoon Gallery was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and is on the south side of Fountain Court.
It used to house the Raphael Cartoons and was built as part of William III’s new state apartments in 1689. William III used the room to hold meetings with his Privy Council up until his death in 1702.
By now, I was practically pinching myself, (who gets to see Hampton Court after hours?!) and it was only going to get better, with a champagne reception with Cardinal Wolsey.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was Henry VIII’s chief adviser during the early part of his reign and is the founder of the palace. (I wrote more about the history of the palace here)
By 1528, he had fallen from favour due to the fact he was unable to secure the divorce from Katharine of Aragon that Henry had demanded and he gifted the palace to the King. The actor playing the Cardinal was excellent, you had to blink a few times to realise you were still in the 21st century.
During the champagne reception some kind people took me under their wing and it became clear that some people had really made an effort to come in Tudor dress. There was even a rather accurate Henry VIII!
Then to dinner! We were escorted to Queen Elizabeth 1’s kitchens, and enjoyed a meal with dishes from different periods of history.
The kitchens are within the Tudor part of the palace, and you had to casually stroll past the Chapel where Jane Seymour laid in state, Edward VI was christened, and where Henry received a note that his ‘Rose without a Thorn’ was not as virtuous as he thought… and I was overcome with the privilege of getting to walk so close to history.
Dining with the Court
I felt that if I opened the door to the chapel, I would walk straight into the 16th Century
After dinner, we were escorted into the Great Hall to meet William Shakespeare, and we
were encouraged to participate in a production of King Lear.. a rather rushed production but heaps of fun 🙂
William Shakespeare’s company performed for King James I in the hall over Christmas in 1603-4.
The Great Hall at Hampton Court is one of its finest jewels and was even valued by William and Mary who were determined to pull down the entire Tudor palace, save the hall.
It was added to the palace in the mid to late 1530’s and is where Henry VIII held court, under the magnificent hammer beam roof, surrounded by priceless tapestries.
Whilst the Great Hall was renovated in Victorian times, Henry would still recognise it today. In fact, his tapestries are still on the wall!
The door through which he would have walked to get to his private quarters is still in the same position. It is times like that that make me want to travel back in time, just to see what it was like!
Henry had a court of around 1000 people, it must have been ear splitting and lively to be in when there was a special occasion or banquet.
After this, we spent time in the Great Watching Chamber and were given a talk on the
history of the palace.
The Great Watching Chamber is a state room designed for entertaining courtiers with a high rank.
It was also used as a waiting room for those hoping to gain access to the coveted private apartments of the monarch.
The door to the private apartments remains, but unfortunately they were knocked down during the reign of William and Mary.
On Sundays and religious occasions, Henry VIII would process with his court to the Chapel Royal through this very room.
Like the Great Hall, it is also covered in tapestries, and the ceiling is stunning, covered with gold and still bears the badge of Henry’s 3rd wife, Jane Seymour.
By now, it was past midnight, and I knew we were close to the Haunted Gallery.
To get to the chapel from the Great Watching Chamber, you have to pass through the Haunted Gallery and it is said to be haunted by the ghost of Katherine Howard who, legend says, ran screaming though the gallery to the chapel, desperate to talk to Henry after allegations of her adultery were made.
She never saw him, and was dragged away by guards.
It was quiet in the Haunted Gallery. A portrait of Henry looms large on one of the walls, and if you look in his eyes, it feels as though he looks back.
It was probably the hour and the occasion. Or the champagne… 🙂
Next post: cont: After Midnight at Hampton Court Palace
If you would like to see more photos of my visit to Hampton Court, please visit my flickr