The clock tower straddles the entrance between the inner and outer courts
Hampton Court Palace is a former royal place on the north bank of the River Thames in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames about 12 miles (19 km) southwest and upstream of Central London, nowadays open to the public and a major tourist attraction for visitors to the London area. The palace gardens and nearby Bushy Park host the Hampton Court Flower show annually.
The Knights Hospitaller had operated a farm on the site since 1236. In 1505, the Lord Chamberlain, Sir Giles Daubeney, leased the property and used it to entertain Henry VII.
Thomas Wolsey, then Archbishop of York and Chief Minister to the King, took over the lease in 1514, and rebuilt the 14th century manor house over the next seven years (1515 - 1521) to form the nucleus of the present palace. The few remaining Tudor sections of Hampton Court, which was later overhauled and rebuilt by Henry VIII, suggest that Wolsey intended it as an ideal Renaissance cardinal's palace in the style of Italian architects such as Filarete and Leonardo da Vinci: rectilinear symmetrical planning, grand apartments on a raised piano nobile, classical detailing. Jonathan Foyle has suggested (see link) that is likely that Wolsey had been inspired by Paolo Cortese's De Cardinalatu, a manual for cardinals that included advice on palatial architecture, published in 1510. Planning elements of long-lost structures at Hampton Court appear to have been based on Renaissance geometrical programs, an Italian influence more subtle than the famous terracotta busts of Roman emperors by Giovanni da Maiano that survive in the great courtyard.
The palace was appropriated by Wolsey's master, Henry VIII, in about 1525, although the Cardinal continued to live there until 1529. Henry added the Great Hall, which was the last medieval Great Hall built for the English monarchy, and the tennis court. (This was designed for the game of real tennis, not the present-day version of the game.)
In 1604, the Palace was the site of King James I of England's meeting with representatives of the English Puritans, known as the Hampton Court Conference; while agreement with the Puritans was not reached, the meeting led to James's commissioning of the King James Version of the Bible.
During the reign of William and Mary, parts of Henry's additions were demolished, a new wing was added (partly under the supervision of Sir Christopher Wren), and the state apartments came into regular use. Half the Tudor palace was replaced in a campaign that lasted from 1689-1694. After the Queen died, William lost interest in the renovations, but it was at Hampton Court in 1702 that he fell from his horse, later dying from his injuries at Kensington Palace. In later reigns, the state rooms were neglected, but under George II and his queen, Caroline, further refurbishment took place, with architects such as William Kent employed to design new furnishings. The Queen's Private Apartments are still open to the public, and include her bathroom, bedroom, and private chapel.
From the reign of George III in 1760, monarchs tended to favour other London homes, and Hampton Court ceased to be a royal residence, although it continued to house grace-and-favour residences until the late 1970s, one of them home to Olave Baden-Powell, wife of the founder of the Scouting movement.
In 1796, restoration work began in the Great Hall. In 1838, Queen Victoria completed the restoration and opened the palace it to the public. A major fire in the King's Apartments in 1986 led to a new programme of restoration work that was completed in 1995.
Queen Jane Seymour gave birth to Prince Edward, the future King Edward VI at Hampton Court in 1537 and died there twelve days later, and her ghost is said to haunt the staircase in the Palace still. Queen Catherine Howard was arrested there in 1542 and is said to have run along the Long Gallery screaming for King Henry VIII to save her, before his guards caught her and dragged her away. A ghost is said to haunt the palace, sometimes screaming in the same hallway. Others report seeing the notorious King Henry VIII.
In December 2003, it transpired that in October a closed-circuit security camera at Hampton Court had recorded an indistinct image of "a mysterious figure in a long coat closing the fire doors." According to one report, "the palace... maintained that the footage provided conclusive evidence that ghosts exist."  (http://www.hrp.org.uk/webcode/content.asp?id=854) A female palace visitor wrote in the visitor book that she may have seen a ghost in that area during this time, also. Explanation for the phenonomena have ranged a psychology researcher's suggestions that it could have been "a member of the public thinking they were being helpful by shutting the doors" to other researchers suggesting thermal effects.
Hampton Court is the site of the world-famous Hampton Court Palace hedge maze. Planted sometime between 1689 and 1695 by George London and Henry Wise for William III of Orange, it covers a third of an acre (1300 mē), and contains half a mile (800 m) of paths. It is possible that the current design replaced an earlier maze planted for Thomas Cardinal Wolsey. It was originally planted of hornbeam, although it has been repaired using many different types of hedge.
The maze is in 60 acres (243,000 mē) of riverside gardens. It has been described by many authors, including Defoe, who inaccurately called it a labyrinth, and Jerome K. Jerome, who wrote in Three Men in a Boat:
- "We'll just go in here, so that you can say you've been, but it's very simple. It's absurd to call it a maze. You keep on taking the first turning to the right. We'll just walk round for ten minutes, and then go and get some lunch."
- ...Harris kept on turning to the right, but it seemed a long way, and his cousin said he supposed it was a very big maze.
- "Oh, one of the largest in Europe," said Harris.:"Yes, it must be," replied the cousin, "because we've walked a good two miles [3 km] already."
- Harris began to think it rather strange himself, but he held on until, at last, they passed the half of a penny bun on the ground that Harris's cousin swore he had noticed there seven minutes ago.
Jerome K. Jerome exaggerates the hazards of the maze. The maze has relatively few places at which the path forks, and at all but one fork (in Jerome's time) the wrong choice led to a dead end at the end of a short corridor. There are many larger and more elaborate mazes nowadays. Recently, three new forking places (not shown on the plan displayed just outside the entrance) have introduced more possibilities of walking closed loops within the maze. The maze can still, as Harris stated, be threaded from entrance to center and back by the method of always remaining in contact with the wall on one's right. This method guides the traveller into (and then out of) some dead ends and is thus not the shortest path, nor will it necessarily reach the centre.
- Hampton Court Palace (http://www.hrp.org.uk/) - Historic British Royal Palace court.
- Jonathan Foyle: "Hampton Court: the lost Palace" 2002 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/society_culture/architecture/hampton_court_01.shtml)
- The Hampton Court Flower Show (http://www.rhs.org.uk/hamptoncourt/)