Hampton Court Palace - reviewed for What to do with the Kids

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Hampton Court Palace

By Claire, Amelia (8) and Charlie (5) Paye

‘When can we come again?  I loved all of it’ was Charlie’s reaction to his day spent travelling back in history in Hampton Court Palace.  How do you cram five centuries of history into one day?  With enjoyable difficulty is the answer.  There is so much to see and do at Hampton Court that it’s hard to know quite how to begin, although for Amelia and Charlie it was with the maze.  Having done extensive research on Hampton Court Palace, by way of reading Paddington and the Marmalade Maze, we knew that we had to tackle the maze first.  The maze is deceptively simple, but it took us a few goes to find the centre, which rewarded us with fascinating facts about the maze.

Our foray into the palace itself was equally haphazard.  Suitably decked out in Tudor/Georgian cloaks, very handy for keeping the centuries-old drizzle off us as we wandered through the various courtyards, we attempted to visit the Chocolate Kitchen, but got waylaid by a Georgian lady rushing past, in search of a husband.  We followed the lady and found ourselves on a brilliant tour of William III’s apartments.  The array of courtiers interviewing us to assess whether we were of a sufficient quality to progress through the various chambers to meet the King, complete with a glimpse of the King waiting for his chamber pot, gave us a fantastic sense of the intricacies of court life, even if we weren’t entirely sure who was who.  

Our visit to the very impressive Henry VIII’s kitchens was slightly hampered by my inability to work out the audio tour handset, but we got the gist that everything was very large. We didn’t manage to catch a cookery demonstration, which apparently takes place at times.  The tour of Cardinal Wolsey’s apartments in search of the young Henry VIII (we expected him to pop up at this point, but it was just a metaphor) revealed what it was that had made Henry great and provided a welcome historical background to his life, although it was a bit dry for the children. 

We spent the end of our day where we should have spent the beginning, in Henry VIII’s apartments.  This provided a brilliant array of historical and cultural information about the era.  The Great Hall bears out the Palace’s aim of providing ‘history with a twist’.  Amelia and Charlie embarked on a digital draw and tell video story to be uploaded to YouTube, which they absolutely loved completing.  Their worksheet included details to look out for and draw, including matters of etiquette, which were amongst many facts imaginatively written on the place settings at the tables.  Our favourite one was the advice not to move the buttocks from side to side as though releasing wind.  We were directed to the haunted gallery and saw a replica of the King’s crown.  Having wised up to the quality of the tours, we made sure we joined the one in Henry VIII’s apartments.  The day took on a slightly surreal quality as we were regaled with a ghost story in his Privy Council rooms, followed by a topical sing along back in the Great Hall.  I won’t reveal how the tour ended as it would spoil the surprise, but it brought a charmed smile to everyone’s faces and certainly can be said to have brought history to life. 

We had a truly memorable and unique day at Hampton Court Palace.  It’s one place which undersells all it can offer.  The tours were brilliant and really worth joining, but you wouldn’t glean that from the descriptions on the ‘Plan your day at Court’ leaflet.  It’s worth starting with Henry VIII’s apartments partly so that you have enough time to take everything in, but partly because it provides an excellent introduction to the era.  The security staff/guides in each room are very smartly dressed and can provide a wealth of knowledge, such as the background to some of the ghost stories, if asked. 

I’d recommend reading more than Paddington’s Marmalade Maze as a preparation for visiting – I was somewhat embarrassed by how patchy my knowledge of the kings and queens of the past 500 years obviously is.  It’s worth reading into all the options for the day.  There is a wealth of activities for children, from handy activity guides to preparing a medical sachet from various herbs.  I’m not sure Amelia and Charlie have a historical timeline in mind now, but they certainly have a feel for life at court under Henry VIII and William III and it will no doubt form the reference point for all our historical discussions from now on.  Amelia’s reflection on the day was that ‘there are so many questions to ask about it.’  I’d better start brushing up my history.  

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