Palace People

To celebrate #museumweek, Historic Royal Palaces is celebrating the Palace People that helped to build these national treasures, the people whose work exerts such attraction for generations of visitors. From Artists to architects, kings to commoners, each of these people has made a concrete and lasting impact. If we’ve missed your favourite palace person, let us know about them @hrp_palaces #peopleMW

Edward III – Tower of London


Edward reigned as King of England from 1327 – 1377. He made various improvements to the Tower of London during his reign, extending the wharf part way along the riverfront to help with loading and unloading goods, especially military supplies for the Hundred Years’ War.

The need for storage space was such that crossbows and armour were kept in former royal lodgings in St Thomas’s Tower, where the Medieval Palace is now.

Duke of Wellington – Tower of London

Palace Person
The Duke of Wellington

The ‘Iron Duke’ served as Constable of the Tower of London for 26 years. The Waterloo Barracks, where the Crown Jewels are now on display, was built while he was Constable and named after his famous victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Wellington made a number of improvements to the Tower itself. By 1841, in the words of the Surgeon-Major, the moat was ‘impregnated with putrid animal and excrementitious matter… and emitting a most obnoxious smell’. Several men from the garrison died and 80 were in hospital due to the poor water supply. Local cholera outbreaks were blamed on the moat. The duke drained it and created the dry ditch, or fosse, that visitors see today.

Besides draining the moat, where possible Wellington adapted the fortress for modern warfare and a more professional army. He closed the Tower pubs in favour of an army canteen, built purpose-built barracks for 1,000 soldiers and a new officers’ mess. He demanded the closure of the Royal Menagerie at the Tower and the removal of all the animals following a series of vicious attacks. Under his command, the number of visitors soared, despite his reservations about public access to a military site.

Grinling Gibbons – Hampton Court Palace

Grinling Gibbons
Grinling Gibbons

Born to English parents in the Netherlands, Gibbons learned his trade with the eminent Quellin family before coming to London seeking work after the Great Fire. Initially he found work carving decorations for ships in Deptford.

It did not take long for his craft to attract attention.  Sir Christopher Wren employed him to work on St Paul’s Cathedral and also made an introduction to Charles II. Soon Gibbons found himself named Master Carver to the crown with commissions for work in Windsor Castle and Hampton Court Palace.

If you’d like to find out more about Gibbons Gibbon’s work, be sure to visit Hampton Court Palace.

William Kent – Kensington Palace

William 'Kentino' Kent
William ‘Kentino’ Kent

How does Bridlington in Yorkshire connect to Italian Baroque palatial style? It is thanks to the talents of artist and architect William Kent, or ‘Kentino’ to his friends.

‘Signor’ divided opinion even in his own time. Horace Walpole noted that he was “an oracle… much consulted by all those who affected taste” and yet he also admitted that Kent’s Portraiture “bore little resemblance” to the sitter, and the artist William Hogarth thought ‘Kentino’ was a “contemptible dauber”.

‘Kentino’ studied for years in Italy and he brought a passion for Italian styles back to Britain. His rise in popularity coincided with George I desire for an artistic style that differentiated his reign from the Stuarts. Soon Kent was commissioned to decorate George I’s apartments at Kensington Palace and royal patronage increased his influence still further.

Inigo Jones – Banqueting House

Inigo Jones
Inigo Jones

Inigo Jones found himself drawn to Italy, where he studied and learned his trade. The style that he later brought back to Britain has labelled him the father of ‘New Palladianism’ and he put his skills to good use building for his king. Jones career was cut short by the outbreak of Civil War. As a prominent member of the royal court, his work was ignored by the Commonwealth. Very few of his building survive to this day. Luckily one of the greatest examples of his work is Banqueting House.

Jones was a fixture of the court and was well known as an artist and an ardent supporter of the court Masques. Jones would design both costumes and sets for these extravagant mixtures of ball and fancy dress.

Samuel Fortrey – Kew Palace

Kew Palace
Kew Palace

Fortrey was born in France but in the turbulent period of religious conflict around his birth, the Protestant Fortreys were soon driven out and found themselves in England. It was here they set up business as silk merchants near the Tower of London.

Samuel Fortrey built the ‘Dutch House,’ later known as Kew Palace, in 1631 and its quirky, ostentatious decoration reflects his taste in architecture. In his will, the house was left to his son, but he gave the best furniture to his daughters.

William Gorton – Kew Palace

Kew Palace
Kew Palace

William Gorton was a former tax officer. In 1873 he was appointed Clerk of the Kitchen at Windsor by the Lord Steward of the Household.

At first William Gorton was unsatisfied with his new royal appointment as Clerk of the Kitchen, particularly that he didn’t have his own dining room. However when he threatened to resign his conditions were improved.

When the Royal Family stayed at Kew, William had offices above the kitchen. As Clerk, William had the huge responsibility of feeding the Royal Household every day. One of his jobs was to record all transactions in his ledger which sat permanently on his desk. He was ultimately responsible for expenditure and no food could be ordered without his authority.

Wills Hill – Hillsborough Castle

Hillsborough Castle
Hillsborough Castle

Wills Hill was the first Marquess of Downshire and built a modest country house in the 1770s – a house which was to become Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland. The house itself is set in the heart of Hillsborough village, in view of the original Fort and the Court House. At their height, the Hill family were the largest landowners in Ireland. Members of the family held official positions. Wills Hill himself was Secretary of the American Colonies during the 1770s. He was also Comptroller of the Royal Household during the 1750s and may have spent time at Kensington Palace during the reign of George II.

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