Exploring the drawings of Hampton Court Palace’s past

Hampton Court Palace is the greatest surviving Tudor palace. For over a hundred years – since Queen Victoria opened to the palace ‘to all her subjects’ in 1838 – visitors have walked through its rooms and gardens, amazed by its Tudor and Baroque architecture and marvelled at the stories of Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII, Catherine Parr and many more. However, some of its more recent tales are less well-known and the Architectural Drawings Collection helps to bring these to life. You may think you know the Tudor palace well, but an exploration through its archive uncovers some hidden corners of the palace’s long past.

Design for a proposed ‘Tudor’ Garden, 1903 (HCP/56/024). © Historic Royal Palaces

The sunken gardens near the Lower Orangery are today associated with Queen Mary and her collection of exotic plants. But this proposal for a ‘Tudor’ garden – while at first glance appears to be a plan for a Tudor swimming pool – actually recalls the original fish ponds. These ponds may have been used for breeding and storing fish to feed the Court. As well as a pair of fish-shaped fountains, the design features heraldic beasts on poles decorated with a green and white colour scheme, similar to those that visitors can see today in Chapel Court.

Ground floor plan showing Grace and Favour apartments, 1852 (HCP/02/002). © Historic Royal Palaces

George II was the last monarch to host the royal court at Hampton Court Palace. From the second half of the 18th century the palace became home to a new set of permanent residents who were granted accommodation at the grace and favour of the monarch.

This plan of the palace’s ground floor shows the location of each of the ‘grace and favour’ apartments and includes a list of residents who were living at Hampton Court in the mid-19th century.

Survey of the Chapel ceiling, 1920 (EH/HCP/2670). © Historic Royal Palaces

Sometimes drawings present us with things that are normally hidden from view. This unfamiliar view of the ceiling in the Chapel Royal, for instance, shows the structure in plan and section, with its criss-crossing lattice of timbers.

The timbers of the famous Tudor ceiling come from Windsor Forest and were shipped down the River Thames to Hampton Court. This survey shows how the original, worm-eaten oak beams had to be reinforced in the 1920s with wrought iron straps to prevent the ceiling from deteriorating.

Proposal for strengthening the unicorn on Trophy Gate, 1980s (EH/HCP/149). © Historic Royal Palaces. Reproduced under licence from The National Archives.

This cheery looking unicorn has greeted visitors to Hampton Court Palace from its position on top of Trophy Gate for more than 300 years. In this drawing from the 1980s we get an x-ray view of the unicorn’s skeleton. The statue, which was designed by the sculptor Grinling Gibbons and cast in lead, had to be strengthened by filling it up to the neck with concrete.

Design for alterations to the Wilderness lavatories, 1912 (EH/HCP/225). © Historic Royal Palaces

Queen Victoria opened up the gardens of Hampton Court to the general public in the 1830s. As visitor numbers grew in the succeeding decades, amenities such as toilets and cafés became an essential requirement. In this drawing the facilities in the Wilderness could be mistaken for a quaint cottage with its pitched roof, chimney and ringing bell above the door. It goes to show that even a drawing of a toilet can be a work of art!

What to explore more from the archives? Discover some drawings of the Tower of London

Tom Drysdale
Curatorial Archivist

One thought on “Exploring the drawings of Hampton Court Palace’s past

  • Dear Tom,
    Thank you for these posts which have whetted my appetite for more! I will get in touch to follow up with you several aspects of this fascinating collection of what was, what is and what might have been.

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