“Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made by singing ‘oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade” - Rudyard Kipling
Thomas Wolsey, Chancellor and confidant to King Henry VIII, chose a site on the north bank of the Thames, easily accessible by barge from London, for the construction of a new palace. This became Hampton Court, transformed by Wolsey from a medieval manor house to the most significant palace of the Tudor Age.
However, Wolsey’s unrivalled access to the king made him many enemies at court. In time, Henry too became suspicious of the power wielded by his once trusted adviser, and shrewdly, Wolsey gifted him the palace in 1528.
A year later, Henry began his own programme of improvements which would last some 10 years. The kitchens at the palace were expanded to feed at least 600 people and ‘royal’ tennis courts and bowling alleys were constructed along with lavish gardens.
Henry VIII contributed to the British passion for formal gardens. Henry’s private or ‘privy’ heraldic garden at Hampton Court was full of playful visual references to lions, dragons and other symbolic beasts. Later royal gardeners continued the trend: Charles II had a canal created to rival that at Versailles, whilst in the late 17th century William and Mary made two parterres, or formal gardens one of which, the Privy Garden, has recently been carefully restored.
The gardening tradition continues to this day with the Hampton Court flower and vegetable show held each year in July.
Real tennis, sometimes called ‘Royal Tennis’ is the original indoor raquet sport from which the modern game of lawn tennis is descended. Henry VIII was said to be an enthusiastic player. The court for real tennis is in a substantial building. It is wider and longer than a lawn tennis court and has high walls on all four sides and a ceiling high enough for lob shots. Around the walls are small galleries for spectators.
Unlike lawn tennis, a buttress intrudes into the playing area, off which shots may be played, a little bit like playing off the court walls in the game of squash.