William III and his wife Mary II became King and Queen in 1688, ousting the last of the Roman Catholic kings, James II. They did not want to live in the centre of London – after all, only 20 years before, the Great Plague had wiped out over 100,000 people, and the couple considered London to be dirty, noisy and smelly. They loved the countryside around Hampton Court and thought the country air was good for William’s asthma but they hated Henry’s Tudor palace.
So, as you look around the stone palace built for William and Mary by Sir Christopher Wren, the big-named architect of the age, you will notice a stark contrast between the soft red brick of Henry’s palace and the intricacy of Wren’s white stone Baroque building designed to rival the best the French had to offer.
Hobnob’s tour of William’s apartments starts at the top of his ceremonial staircase, impressively surrounded by the artwork of Antonio Verrio but entering the Guard’s Chamber, the equally impressive display of weaponry will take your breath away. Imagine having to clean 3000 individual items once a year – that job fell to William’s gunsmith, a chap named John Harris.
As we walk on through William’s apartments, each room is more sumptuously decorated than the last with ever more luxurious drapes, longer mirrors or pier glasses and larger, more ornate, chandeliers. The master craftsmen were much in evidence during William’s reign as the intricate lime wood carvings by Grinling Gibbons and the paintings by Godfrey Kneller would testify.
Hobnob will explain how all this grandeur was nearly destroyed by a fire in 1986 when burning lead and timbers came crashing through the ceiling of the Privy Chamber and its adjoining rooms – hear how many of the contents were saved and restored and how the Queen opened the apartments just 6 years after the disaster.
William’s rooms are fun – there are tales of Royal meanness, and Royal oddness, to savour and a couple of optical illusions that will have you foxed! There really is something for everyone with this tour.
A pleasant wander through William’s apartments will take about an hour leaving time to enjoy the Great Fountain Garden on the East Front designed for William by the Dutch landscape gardener, Daniel Marot. For more information about prices, please click on the ‘Tour Prices’ tag.