Sunday, 16 October 2011

Apartment 39 Hampton Court. September 2011 (Revised)

To make the most of Open House London the Brimstone Butterfly had to plan her weekend with all the rigour of a military campaign.  Consequently, I realised that with judicious planning I could cram in a trip to Hampton Court Palace along with a visit to York House and still have time to make a repeat journey to the elegant 18th century Marble Hill House.

I arrived at Hampton Court just moments before the start of one of the timed tours. To allow as many people as possible to view this normally private part of the palace, the tours were at double quick time. There was little chance to linger and so my impressions are perhaps briefer than usual. Apartment 39 is located on the south-west wing of the West Front of Hampton Court Palace. Having its own separate entrance we did not need to pass under the main gateway to gain access. Instead, we went through a small iron gate and walked around the side of the building to a secluded private garden. The latter was dominated by a mature false Acacia tree festooned with mistletoe.  Having viewed the tree from a distance in the past, I had always thought there were birds’ nests hanging from its branches, which shows the paucity of my knowledge regarding all things botanical.

We were told by the guide that this part of the palace was built in 1536, the year of Anne Boleyn’s death. I am not sure if she would ever have seen it. Mind you, given that the Great House of Ease, a communal lavatory was also sited here, it was unlikely to have been on Anne Boleyns list of places to see before she died. The two storey House of Ease was designed to accommodate 28 men at a single sitting as it were. The Guards in the Great Watching Chamber had their own garderobe in a small room off the main one. When I went to the palace in June there was a pictorial representation of what it would have looked like complete with its own door, affording a degree of privacy which seems at odds with the Great House of Ease, which eschewed such signs of modesty. The wooden seat of the garderobe would have been built over a shaft directly above a brick vault, which some poor soul had to empty on a regular basis, along with the night soil from all the garderobes. By contrast the contents of the House of Ease emptied directly into the moat around the palace. The moat in turn was part of the tidal waters of the Thames. The garderobe in the Great Watching Chamber was later converted into a fireplace. In one of the present day Ladies can be seen through glass a section of the extant Tudor drainage system. A more fanciful suggestion, as was claimed at Chenies Manor House, is that these drains were secret passageways. Or perhaps the two theories could be combined into a Tudor version of the Shawshank Redemption.

In subsequent centuries the new Tudor lodgings became the Lady Housekeeper’s apartments. There were five post-holders in all: starting with Mrs. Elizabeth Mostyn, then Mrs Mary Keete,Lady Anne Cecil, Lady Elizabeth Seymour and finally Lady Emily Montague. They were all drawn from the upper echelons of the aristocracy. As well as being given one of the largest grace and favour apartments in the palace they received a very generous stipend In return their duties consisted of little more than showing visitors around the palace, from whom they would receive an additional sizable tip for their trouble. On the death of the last post-holder, Lady Emily Montague in April 1838, Queen Victoria ended such a lucrative sinecure when she created the post of Superintendent of the Palace, available to men only. However, that did not signal the end to the tradition of the grace and favour apartments at Hampton Court. It was a practice that had been observed for centuries and indeed is still carried on today. Sovereigns had always arranged for senior courtiers and royal favourites to be granted accommodation close by them at court. The real difference at Hampton Court Palace was that the practice continued long after the monarchs had ceased to live there, following the accession to the throne of George III in 1760.  Not surprisingly, there was always a huge demand for such apartments.


There are still various reminders dotted around the palace of the lucky residents who managed to secure a place, from the pump in Clock Court to the name plates on one wall. In the Tudor Kitchens part of an upper floor is still in place from when the chamber was converted into Grace and Favour apartments. Until very recently there were grace and favour apartments within the main palace itself. There might even be a few left today, although the current policy has been not to grant further tenancies whenever apartments fall vacant. This has enabled more of the palace to be opened up to the wider general public.

When I looked through my photographs for the nameplates on the walls at Hampton Court Palace. I became curious to see if I could discover more about those particular residents. Audrey, Mrs Kingsley Foster, it transpired was the widow of Lt Col Kingsley Osbern Nugent Foster, DSO, OBE. Her husband had been a career soldier and commanded the 7th Manchester Regiment when it invaded Holland at Wallacheren. The Dutch people later awarded him the Order of the Golden Lion for his efforts in freeing their country. After the war rather than take a desk job he gave up his appointment as a full Colonel so that he could command a regiment again on active service. He was killed in action in Korea in 1951.On his death Audrey had been granted a grace and favour apartment in the palace.

Lady Peake’s husband, like Mrs Kingsley Foster, was the widow of a much decorated war hero although Sir Charles Brinsley Pemberton Peake had been on active service during World War One. Afterwards he entered the diplomatic service and became an ambassador in Belgrade and Athens. He died on April 11th 1958 and his widow moved into Hampton Court in 1960. In the months following her husband’s death Catherine Peake was writing travel articles for the Glasgow Herald but I have yet to discover if she contributed the occasional article or wrote on a more permanent basis. 

Mrs H H Baily was the widow of another army office, Brigadier Michael Henry Hamilton Baily. Elizabeth Helena Baily’s husband died in 1950 and she moved into Hampton Court in 1954. There are lifts around the palace today but when Mrs Baily first moved in she had to climb 86 steps to get to her own front door. When she was in her 70s Mrs Baily found herself caught in the fire which had engulfed the Wren wing of Hampton Court Palace on Easter Monday 1986. It had been caused by a naked flame in her neighbour’s, Lady Gale’s, apartment. At the time of the fire, Lady Daphne Gale was the 86 year old widow of General Richard Gale, once the deputy supreme commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization military forces. According to the Los Angeles Times “the local member of Parliament, Conservative Toby Jessel, explained that she was incapable of taking care of herself and "used candles in order to obtain light." Lady Gale had died in the resulting conflagration but Mrs Baily had been rescued, like me, in her dressing gown and was escorted to safety by a fireman.  When I sought to discover more about the fire I came across an account of it in the New York Times. At first I was flabbergasted that only £10,000 of damage had been caused although 40 rooms had been damaged by fire and water.  I also thought it strange that the fire had been started by an oil lamp when I had always been led to believe it was a candle. Then I realised the article was dated 20th November 1886, almost a hundred years before the fire which Mrs Baily was caught up in. The New York Times article also mentioned that another fire had broken out on December 14th 1882 when £30,000 of damage had been inflicted. Again the fire had started in the private apartments. Little wonder that the current curators are keen to see the grace and favour apartments kept to a minimum.  In my posts I have only referred to those residents at Hampton Court whose former apartments I have visited or else whose nameplates I have come across. To help me in my initial researches I have made use of a comprehensive handbook of former residents of the grace and favour apartments written by Sarah E Parker on behalf of Historic Royal Palaces..

There are some people who are singularly ungrateful. Princess Frederica Sophia Maria Henrietta Amelia Theresa, daughter of the King of Hanover, and her husband, Baron Luitbert Alexander George Lionel Alphonse Freiherr von Pawel Rammingen, were two such people. Having been granted the former Lady Housekeeper’s Lodgings in 1880 they were forever complaining that it was not big enough for their needs or perhaps to cram in their joint names by the doorbell. Frederica’s cousin, Queen Victoria, finally agreed that they could have more space if they in turn allowed the stables and coach house at the back to be redeveloped into two storey accommodation. It seemed to do the trick and stopped their complaints.
Viscount Wolseley
The next tenant of note, if only because of the changes wrought to Apartment 39 as a consequence, was Viscount Garnet Joseph Wolseley and his wife Louisa. Wolseley was one of the leading army officers of his age. He took a keen interest in earlier soldiers of distinction such as the Duke of Marlborough (whose London house I had visited the day before) to the extent of writing a biography on the hero of Bleinheim. A grateful nation had paid for the monumental Bleinheim Palace to be built for the Duke. Lady Wolseley had more modest ambitions to commemorate her late husband, following his death in1913. She gained approval to turn Apartment 39 into a shrine dedicated to Wolseley’s memory. Thus, she arranged for a new marble floor to be laid in the entrance hall which incorporated her husband’s family crest. On an upper floor she had his initials, coronet, baton of office and oak wreaths worked into a plaster ceiling. But it was on the ground floor that her memorial reached its zenith. She transformed a turret room into an oratory, which listed her husband’s most eminent military campaigns as well as the decorations he had received. I came across an interesting snippet from the Newfoundland and St John’s Evening Telegram for 29th November 1906 explaining just why the general and his good lady had landed up at Hampton Court. The article states:

“Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley, the hero of Tel-el-Kebir and a hundred other fights, whom a grateful country rewarded with $275,000 and a peerage, is now in such dire straits for money that he is compelled to sell his magnificent collection of ancient arms and armour. The collection, which includes some fine English armour from the times of James I and Cromwell, besides many savage weapons which Lord Wolseley collected in the Sudan, Egypt and South Africa, will be sold at a London auction room this month. Being a soldier and not a financier, Lord Wolseley had lost steadily in reckless commercial enterprises with which he has occupied himself since vacating his position as commander-in-chief. Mortgages have been piled upon his country house Glynde in Sussex and he has been compelled to accept the king’s (George V) grant of apartments at Hampton Court Palace, which is a kind of royal almshouse.”

The Brimstone Butterfly has not occupied herself with reckless commercial enterprises. Nevertheless, I only wish I too could wind up in such a royal almshouse. I fear tis the workhouse for me.

Lady Maude, the widow of another general, moved into Apartment  39 in 1920. Some enlarged sepia images of her servants at Hampton Court were on display as we toured the apartment. Having been expressly forbidden to photograph indoors, the only images of the interior I could obtain came from the photocopied fact sheet handed out at the beginning. As a result the quality is rather poor.

Having walked along the lawn in front of the bay windows, we turned the corner by the former stables that had been converted into additional staff accommodation to pacify the demanding Princess Frederica of Hanover. 

We then passed through a door into a staff kitchenette. Some sepia images of Lady Maude’s servants were displayed on a counter. From the kitchenette we stepped out into a small inner courtyard. 

Now enclosed behind glass, one side originally offered cover for staff as they moved between the different parts of the building. We were shown a modern manhole between the cobblestones. In Tudor times the waste drained straight into the moat and was then washed out into the tidal river.  One of the visitors pompously told me we were not allowed to take pictures indoors. I pointed out that we were not allowed to take pictures of the interior of the house but at that precise moment we were standing outside in the courtyard. Later, the woman had the grace to apologise and said she had got just got fed up with the way so many Americans flouted the rules on photography.

On our way to the Linenfold Room we saw the Victorian bathroom complete with an extant Victorian lavatory. The blue and white porcelain toilet bowl encased in a wooden box and with a handle to the side was similar to the one at Ham House and also the one next to Queen Victoria's bedroom at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.

The Linenfold room was named after the Tudor style panelling which dates from the 19th century and includes sliding shutters at the stone mullioned windows. The room contained a large arched alcove and a Tudor style fireplace, lined with 19th blue and white Delft tiles. Once a drawing room the chamber is now used as a training room for palace staff.

From this room we took the Tudor spiral staircase in one of the turret towers to the first floor.

Here were the first signs of Lady Louisa’s memorial to her husband in the low plaster ceiling decorated with his initials, baton of office and coronet. It seems she sought to commemorate her own residence in the apartment by having Tudor roses adorning the plaster ceilings of one of the rooms.   The walls of the two rooms, now turned into one, were painted a light yellow. The marble fireplace with its inlaid tiles added to the overall charm of the two former chambers. The guide pointed out the ornate cast iron radiators at the side of the room. 

We then passed through to the CEO’s office. It contained a large table with dining chairs plus two sofas and an armchair by the fireplace. The walls were decorated with green and white roundels of flowers. It was these roundels that I had glimpsed in the past as I walked along the towpath at the side of the palace. The desk placed in front of the large bay windows looked out over the lawns and the false Acacia tree.  I preferred the marble fireplaces in the other rooms and found this one with its overmantle and mirror too ornate for my tastes. Amongst the pictures on display, all drawn from the Royal Collection, was one of Queen Victoria as a young girl.

A smaller office had pictures of more obscure 19th century European royalty. From this office we assembled on the landing of the hallway designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It was here that we learned about one of the most famous former and apparently current residents of Apartment 39. On the landing were two locked doors. Behind them were former bedchambers which were now used as offices. From the 19th century onwards ghostly incidents have been attributed to this part of the palace. The current Lord Birdwood recalls sleeping in them as a child  and described them as being ‘thoroughly infested’  with the supernatural and that he had  witnessed ‘actively unpleasant’ events there. In the 19th century Lady Emily Ponsonby recalled how a female visitor had talked to a housemaid only to see the woman disappear before her very eyes. The Lady in Grey is thought to be the shade of Dame Sybil Penn. She had acted as the dry nurse to Henry VIII’s son Prince Edward and helped care for Henry’s youngest daughter, Queen Elizabeth, when she fell ill with smallpox. Unfortunately Sybil caught the disease herself and died. Elizabeth no doubt arranged for the splendid tomb to be built for Dame Sybil in nearby Hampton church. In the 1820s her tomb was damaged and that was when she began to be seen around the palace. A guide told me that current staff insisted that they still saw Dame Sybil even today. The others in the group seemed alarmed at the news and were keen to descend the staircases lest Dame Sybil dropped by. I was sorely disappointed that she didn’t.     

We passed down the staircase and into the Board Room. This contained the famous oratory dedicated to Viscount Wolseley in a converted turret room. I thought it had a very pre-Raphaelite feel to it. But it did seem odd to place such a memorial it in an apartment, which would go on to be lived in by other families.

From the Board Room we went back into the Sir Christopher Wren hall with the marble floor  unlaid with the family emblem of  Viscount Wolseley. That constituted the end of our brief tour of Apartment 39 other than to step back into the inner courtyard.

This time I had the chance to ask what the hooks had been used for and to take pictures with impunity. It seems they were bell wires to summon servants. I was told that similar bell wires can still be found beneath the floorboards of Brimstone Butterfly Towers. 

At Apartment 39 the covered passageway, lined with flagstones. led out of the building to the balcony  above the drained moat and the steps leading down to the lawn in front of the palace.

Although it was a brief tour, I am glad that I got the chance to view in person one of the most impressive of all the grace and favour apartments at Hampton Court Palace. For that I have once again to thank the good offices of Open House London 2011. Long may they continue with their splendid and inspiring work!