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Hampton Court

The Hampton Court area is a much sought-after holiday destination. Situated thirteen miles south west of London, not only is it within walking distance of the magnificent edifice that represents Hampton Court Palace itself, but it is also within ‘striking distance’ of a number of other interesting sites. Hampton Court Palace is described as being ‘the finest of England’s royal abodes’.

Built on the banks of The River Thames in 1516 by Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, it is an edifice that’s rich in history. And, following Wolsey’s fall from favour, Hampton Court Palace became Henry VIII’s Palace. And a special exhibition is now in existence at Hampton Court Palace, which bears the title ‘Young Henry VIII Exhibition’. And visitors are invited to ‘come to Hampton Court Palace and meet the ‘pin-up’ prince before he became fat and old Henry VIII’…….. ‘Meet the Tudors’ is a focal part of the Exhibition’s theme – and there to be ‘met’ are three ‘Tudor’ personalities – young Henry VIII himself, his first wife Katherine of Aragon, and Thomas Wolsey………

Visitors are invited to ‘step back in time’ as activities are staged that are designed to bring to life ‘the world of the Tudors at Hampton Court Palace’. And these activities are staged on a daily basis. Period costumed historians lead the guided tours of the main Tudor apartments, and a scene from the life of Henry VIII is re-enacted every afternoon, while each week-end ‘The King’s Musicians’ play some of Henry VIII’s own music. Even ‘Tudor Cookery’ comes under scrutiny, with a selection of the dishes that ‘tickled the Tudor taste buds’ being revealed! And this ‘Tudor Cookery’ event is staged on the first week-end of each month.

In the context of food, it is interesting to note that Hampton Court Palace’s ‘Tiltyard Café’ – described as ‘a large, open space with a great choice of food and drinks, where the food is home-made and changes seasonally’ – was an area that was originally used for jousting by Henry VIII.

Built in 1537, Tiltyard was once a large tournament arena – Henry VIII being a lover of sports. But one brick tower is the only survivor of the original edifice. And it’s claimed that from this tower – and others like it- spectators obtained marvellous views of the tournaments that were enacted there. Described as being amongst ‘the most rewarding sight-seeing attractions are: ‘Henry VIII’s State Apartments’ – which incorporates The Great Hall; ‘The King’s Apartments’ – remodelled by William III; and ‘The Tudor Kitchens’ – which are particularly large in size.

This special ‘Young Henry VIII Exhibition’ has been organised in order to present a programme that features a series of on-going events held to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry’s accession to the throne, which will come into effect in the year 2009. Hampton Court Palace is, of course, the venue for numerous events, including a Cancer Research ‘Run’, held at the end of September. And ‘Ghost Tours’ are being introduced this year, which are scheduled to run until March 9, 2008.

Halloween Night sees the start of these ‘Ghost Tours’, which take place in the evenings on Fridays and Sundays. Under the title of ‘See Hampton Court Palace in an eerie new light’, the event includes visits to the palace’s alleged ‘most haunted rooms’ – which are never visited by day.

And Henry VIII’s State Apartments, together with the renowned ‘Haunted Gallery’ are also featured in the tour – as are the deserted palace courtyards. Presumably Katherine Howard – Henry VIII’s fifth wife – would be a likely candidate to make a ghostly appearance at the event since she is reputed to have raced down a particular palace corridor prior to her execution…… For a time I was a regular visitor to Hampton Court Palace, but I went there not in the role of a sightseeing tourist but as an actor – taking part in a ‘costume drama’ production which was being filmed within the confines of Hampton Court Palace.

And, strange as it may seem, the historical drama that the production portrayed bore no relation to Tudor times. But, as might be expected, past members of the royal family featured largely in the film. My role was not that of an aristocrat, and most of the ‘period costumes’ that I was allocated to wear, were of a somewhat drab description. But, by and large, they were relatively warm, for we were filming in the middle of winter. And most of the filming was done in the Palace’s ‘Outer Courtyard’, which although ‘walled’ on all four sides, claimed the winter sky as its only ‘rooftop’! I always remember driving to Hampton Court for my first day’s filming. A marquee had been set up in an area near the river-side, and it was an area that also ‘doubled up’ as a car park.

My ‘call-time’ was 6.00 a.m., and I can recall standing beside the marquee entrance with a mug of coffee in my hand, watching the dawn rise over the river, lighting up the distinctive contours of the Hampton Court Palace walls. Filming within the precincts of Hampton Court Palace was certainly a memorable experience. Being in the depths of winter, we commenced at dawn, and didn’t finish until the last vestige of daylight had finally filtered into the darkening sky.

On one occasion in the course of the filming, we were besieged by a violent thunderstorm, and had to take refuge within the portals of Hampton Court Palace itself. Lit by lightning, the palace’s ‘Outer Courtyard’ looked particularly awesome – as if illuminated by the powers of the past! One day followed the other – each one commencing at 6.00 a.m. And Hampton Court Palace took on the role of a ‘work location’…… But it was a ‘work location’ that was singularly unique – with both the present and the past becoming infused. Re-enacting the past no longer involved a ‘film set’. By being at Hampton Court Palace, it was as if we had ‘returned’ to the past……

And tourists visiting the palace seemed to regard us in the same light. For on numerous occasions we were asked to ‘pose’ for photographs beside these visitors. One visiting foreign contingent in particular were exceptionally persistent – obviously refusing to be influenced by the fact that we were merely members of the acting fraternity…… For me, Hampton Court Palace will always seem ‘special’! And I can well understand why tourists flock from far and wide to visit its atmospheric precincts……………

Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.