Wednesday, May 15
We got out of town today and the change of scenery and slower pace was just the thing. I’d made a reservation to take a tour of the Royal School of Needlework which is located at Hampton Court Palace to the southwest of London. The train ride took about forty minutes and it was fun to just sit and relax and sightsee a little.
Hampton Court Palace is the oldest Tudor palace in England. From hrp.org.uk: “In 1514, Thomas Woolsey began building a vast palace complex at Hampton Court…transforming a grand private house into a magnificent bishop’s palace.” In 1528, the palace became the property of Henry VIII and over the course of ten years, he spent more than 62,000 pounds (nearly thirty million dollars in today’s economy) rebuilding and extending it. The palace was also occupied by James (Stuart) I and Charles I. When William III and Mary II were in power, they employed the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren to add the Baroque façade. In 1838, Queen Victoria opened it to the public. The palace is known for its enormous Tudor kitchens and Home Park, 800 acres of gardens, parklands and a maze.
We arrived early for my 11 a.m. spot on the tour so we walked around the grounds for a while before heading inside. Lawns were neatly clipped and wisteria climbed the garden walls.
The vines covering this walkway were just starting to bloom. It will look incredible in a month.
These early alliums are plants I want to try to grow in my own garden.
The very British Kings Arms Hotel was just outside the palace.
We saw some fanciful creatures at the palace including this unicorn and dragon.
At eleven o’clock I joined my tour. We started with a short introduction to the school. They maintain a collection of historic and contemporary embroidery and teach hand embroidery in day classes and certificate and two-year degree programs. They work on restorations and new commissions – including Kate Middleton’s wedding dress!
We weren’t allowed to take photos in the studio but there are small photos here and there on their website. I took notes and made a few sketches before realizing a fountain pen probably wasn’t the best writing instruments to take into a room with so much white silk.
On display in their meeting room and their focus for the tour were ecclesiastical garments. They also had some older pieces that had been donated to the school but were still researching their provenance. A commission from 1982 was a large coat of arms that was five feet by eight feet. The recipient later donated the piece back to the school. Our guide pointed out a tiny snail embroidered in one of the corners that indicated that the project took a long time.
Also in their collection was a series from Mayfield Convent in East Sussex. The beautiful gold and black stitching looked like illustrations from a book of fairy stories. I bought a packet of postcards with photos of the pieces. All images © RSN 2013. Clockwise from top left: Consolatrix afflictorum (Comforter of the afflicted), Salus infirmorum (Health of the sick), Mater amabilis (Mother most amiable) Regina Sanctorum omnium (Queen of all saints).
After I finished up at the school, I met Jim back at the café for lunch. The palace and grounds didn’t seem too crowded so we decided to go ahead and buy tickets and spend some time walking around.
On the east side is the Great Fountain Garden with tidy flower beds interspersed in the grass.
There was a family of ducks in the Great Fountain pool. Some thoughtful soul had installed a ladder so the little ones could get out.
One of the little guys fell off the ladder and peeped anxiously until he figured out he could swim around and climb back up to mom. The ducklings hung around with her while their handsome father stayed close by.
These Eurasian coots were building a nest in the middle of the fountain.
Extending east from the Great Fountain Garden is the canal known as the Long Water – one of my favorite place names in the UK. There were swans and ducks gliding around and a herd of antelope on the lawn nearby.
On the south side is the formal, symmetrical Privy Garden. This is a view back to the palace.
At the far end of the Privy Garden is a tall wrought iron fence with ornate gates. Beyond the fence is the River Thames.
Walking southwest to the Pond Gardens, we found a series of incredible gardens with elaborate and colorful planting schemes.
Even the hedges were sculpted into decorative shapes.
As beautiful as these gardens were, my favorite spot was this ancient wisteria growing up the red brick wall.
At the end of the Pond Garden was the Great Vine, a grape vine planted in 1768 by King George III’s head gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown. There is a large empty bed outside the building housing the Great Vine. It is kept unplanted to prevent any plants from competing for moisture or nutrients.
Next time on SLWS, inside Hampton Court Palace.