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.
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.