Monday, 20 June 2011

The Golden Gates of Hampton Court - and Cinderella!

I have just taken a cycle trip from London to Wales, and up the Welsh borders.  On the way out of London, I passed Hampton Court Palace, and saw something new.  This 16th century door in the wall has acquired golden flowers, and if you look carefully you will see that the wooden door is also covered in flowers.  It looks like the entrance to some enchanted place.

The golden flowers echo my favourite Hampton Court feature - the beautiful ornamental gates which guard the entrance from the River Thames.  For many centuries, the roads were so bad that travel was difficult, and so the Royal Court would travel by boat.  These gates mark the spot where they would embark and disembark, and through them you see the palace and the Privy Gardens in which royalty would wait.

The gates were created by a master blacksmith called Jean Tijou, who came over to Britain with William II.  They consist of several screens linked with ornamental work and were installed in 1701.  I have searched in vain for a commentary on them, so I don't know the meaning of all the symbols, but here is the thistle of Scotland

This looks to me like the Irish harp, from the days of the Kingdom of Ireland.  

I don't know who the imp (below) represents!  Grotesque figures like this were popular at this time, though.

However, I am very sad to see that these gates are, in general, not well maintained.  When I first saw them, as a teenager, they were a magnificent sight and you could really imagine William and Mary stepping ashore from their royal barge and proceeding up towards the palace. Today, the unity of the gates has been ruined, because some of the decorative work has not been gilded when it should have been.

You will also notice that some of the surrounding ironwork is black, and some is grey, as if it is an undercoat - there seems to be no sensible reason for this.  At first, I thought the gates were in the process of being repainted, but actually there is rust appearing here and there, so this clearly isn't the case.

Worst of all, some ugly modern railings have been added. For security? Hardly possible that they couldn't find a better way of securing these fine works of art.   I had to poke my camera lens through the ugly modern railings, but this is what you really see when you approach the gates.

If they had tried their very, very best to create ugliness from beauty, they could hardly have been more successful.  And it's strange, because the rest of the palace has had great care lavished upon it. You'd almost think that these gates have been singled out as the Cinderellas of Hampton Court.

 I'm going to write to Historic Royal Palaces, which now runs Hampton Court, and see if I can get an explanation.   I'll keep you posted ....

PS. That was quick! They responded to say that they're about to undertake a ten year programme of conservation on the gates.  Which explains the motley appearance, rust, etc.  And they have promised to send me further information about this. No explanation so far about the ugly railings, but I suspect I may get some answers if I try  the SPAB who take a keen interest in old buildings.


  1. If the new railings are to protect them from vandals they should be higher. It doesn't look like that would be the reason. So long as they maintain the gates the modern damage can be undone if necessary.

  2. How sad these beautiful treasures have not been maintained properly. I hope you get some answers and await your updates.

  3. it's a pity that such beauties are not well-maintained. love the intricate carvings of the gates though.

  4. Thanks for the photos and the history. I love thinking about the Royal Court arriving by boat at the gates. Hope you find out why/what about the lack of restoration.


  5. That's really sad - I wonder if they'll get back to you. I hope so. If it's a cash flow issue, perhaps we could start a fundraising campaign to restore them...? (Now would be the perfect moment to take advantage of our royal history for an international fundraiser!)

  6. Your comparison with Cinderella is so true! I really like the first door, with golden leaves and flowers.
    We are some bloggers who post doors every wednesday, feel free to join usor to look at the pics!
    There's a beautyful blog about doors, "The door hunter" , about doors and gates of Prague.

  7. it looks like a fabulous place anyway! first gate is my favorite too!
    thanks for commenting on my paraphernalia : )

  8. I'm glad that they've apparently got plans to restore the gates, and I'll post a bit more here when I hear the details. I remember these gates when I was a teenager, they were the most beautiful thing you have ever seen in the morning mists by the river. That's before they put those ugly railings in front of them. There's more to investigate here, for sure, but I'm so pleased they're not just being left to decay!

  9. I adore Hampton Court Palace. On all of my many trips to London, I've only been once. Next time we're there, I am definitely going. I want to see these golden flowers...

  10. Maintaining historical architecture without spoiling the original appearance must take lots of time and money and proper sense of value. It's good you got the quick response from the people concerned. I hope they'll keep you informed.
    Thank you for sharing, Jenny.


  11. It was so interesting to read about the history of these gates and I am as thrilled as you are that they are about to be restored. That was good news. Something that beautiful and ancient needs to be preserved.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog recently. I am so glad you did.

  12. You lucky duck - now I see you live over there!!!!!

  13. I really enjoyed seeing those golden flowers around, and on, the door.
    I was taken aback too at the way the security fences were erected - very ugly indeed.
    Enjoyable post Jenny.


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