London Day Three, Part One – Royal School of Needlework, Hampton Court Palace and Home Park

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 “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.

Hampton Court Palace

The vines covering this walkway were just starting to bloom. It will look incredible in a month.

Hampton Court Palace

These early alliums are plants I want to try to grow in my own garden.

Hampton Court Palace

The very British Kings Arms Hotel was just outside the palace.

Hampton Court Palace

We saw some fanciful creatures at the palace including this unicorn and dragon.

Hampton Court Palace          Hampton Court Palace

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).

Mayfield Convent Embroidery 1     Mayfield Convent Embroidery 2

Mayfield Convent Embroidery 3     Mayfield Convent Embroidery 4

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.

Hampton Court Palace

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.

Hampton Court Palace

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.

Hampton Court Palace

These Eurasian coots were building a nest in the middle of the fountain.

Hampton Court PalaceEurasian Coots      Hampton Court PalaceEurasian Coots

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.

Hampton Court Palace

On the south side is the formal, symmetrical Privy Garden. This is a view back to the palace.

Hampton Court 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.

Hampton Court Palace

Walking southwest to the Pond Gardens, we found a series of incredible gardens with elaborate and colorful planting schemes.

Hampton Court Palace

Even the hedges were sculpted into decorative shapes.

Hampton Court Palace

As beautiful as these gardens were, my favorite spot was this ancient wisteria growing up the red brick wall.

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

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.

Hampton Court Palace      Hampton Court Palace

Next time on SLWS, inside Hampton Court Palace.


2 thoughts on “London Day Three, Part One – Royal School of Needlework, Hampton Court Palace and Home Park

  1. Barbara

    This is one of your best blogs. So much to comment on:
    the cute ducks,
    the wonderful formal gardens that make me think Alice in Wonderland should be wandering through.
    And wouldn’t it be fantastic to take some of those stitchery classes? I followed a link and it seems they even teach people who fumble when they stitch, people like me. 🙂 Those four example of stitchery from the Mayfield Convent are wonderful and, as you said, they look like illustrations from some fairy tale. I’m wondering who the queen is on that ornate gate–she must be a queen to top a fancy gate like that.
    The wisteria on that one wall has the most tangled vine I ever saw–now that looks like it should be surrounding an ogre’s den!
    Great job on keeping track of the things you and Jim saw and experienced.

  2. Kate Post author

    Yeah, those ducks were pretty fun to watch. And if we go back there any time soon, I may try to time fit in a class at the school.


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