In June 2005 I visited the palace with Terry, who is acquainted with Hampton Court's gamekeeper, Les. Terry and Les are old friends, and Les has worked at Hampton Court Palace since he was 16 years old. He's now in his fifties, and he has been honoured by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the Crown in September. And he was able to tell us things about the Palace not necessarily known to most members of the public. He also told us some of his own personal experiences during his tenure at Hampton Court Place, and they were very interesting!


Today the only residents of Hampton Court Palace are those who work there - like Les and his wife. At one time it was used by "grace-and-favour" residents, i.e people who were granted rent-free accommodation "by the Grace and Favour of the Sovereign". These were usually people or their dependents who had given great service to the Crown or the country. There are still a few "grace-and-favour" residents in occupation at Hampton Court Palace today.


Our first stop was the kitchens. They are massive, and they needed to be, because Henry's entourage of 1,300 courtiers traveled everywhere with him. Imagine feeding and housing that amount of people when appliances like dishwashers, microwaves and tumble dryers were even  Taxis Hampton court more of a pipe dream than electricity! In the kitchens there were a couple of chefs at work. One was preparing a typical meal from Henry's Tudor period exactly the way it would have been prepared in the years of his reign - 1509 to 1547.


That meant manually mincing the meat, grinding the spices and herbs by hand, picking the mushrooms from the woods and cooking on a wood fire. A large lump of beef was roasting on a spit being turned by two teenagers, and the juices from the meat dripped down into a roasting pan full of potatoes cooking on the embers. A second chef was preparing the same meal using products bought at the local supermarket branch of Tesco's - so everything was already minced, crushed and marinaded and was being cooked in a microwave or on a gas stove! At the end of our tour we went back into the kitchens to see if there was indeed any variance in the flavours - hoping to perhaps be offered a tiny taste. Apparently both tasted very similar, but both chefs said the main difference was the flavours from the traditionally cooked Tudor meal, which lasted longer than the modern day meal. Our mouths were watering as we looked at the slices of rare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with crisp roast potatoes appetizingly arranged on a beautiful ceramic plate. Sadly, despite our very obvious hunger we didn't get offered any!


There's a beautiful Chapel at the place, and marriage ceremonies are still conducted there today. It features a blue ceiling decorated with gold stars and gold painted ornate ceramic figures. The dark wood paneling is beautifully carved, and lends an air of nobility to the Chapel. The King had his own entrance into the Chapel, and the ceiling and walls are covered in paintings of cherubs and nymphs floating around beautiful blue skies interspersed with water, lush green flora and sprightly fauns and deer. Sadly the Chapel, the King's and Queen's apartments, the Great Hall and a few associated rooms are all that remain of Henry VIII. William III and Mary II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild Hampton Court Palace at the end of the 17th century. It's a shame, because the Tudor architecture is magnificent, rich and very regal. The rest of the court is impressive, but lacks the absolute "royalty" Henry's rooms so vividly demonstrate.


The rooms are filled with massive tapestries and paintings of various courtiers and hunting scenes. Some of the Queen's famous art collection is kept at the palace, but this is not on public display. All the palace rooms are huge, and there are fireplaces in almost every single one. There are more than 1,000 fireplaces in the whole palace, and the chimney's over the Tudor sections all feature different brick designs.


Being an old palace one would expect the residents to include a ghost or two, and we were not disappointed. Henry VIII's fifth wife Catherine Howard was imprisoned in her lodgings at the palace. She'd only been married to Henry for 15 months, and was sentenced to death for adultery. Before she was taken to the Tower of London to be executed the story goes that she escaped from her rooms and ran to the Chapel door where the King was attending a Church service. She wanted to beg him for her life, but as she reached the door guards seized her and dragged her screaming back to her rooms. People at the palace claim she ghost still runs screaming along the gallery leading to the Chapel door.