Question time!

Question time!

It's question time with Hampton Court State Apartment Warders, Sheila Dunsmore

Tell us a bit about the origins of this incredible building…
Hampton Court Palace, as we know it now, began to emerge in 1514 when Thomas Wolsey came to survey the land. Wolsey was then the Archbishop of York, and wanted to build a country estate away from London, but close enough to the capital to attend the King and court regularly. It had to be grand enough to entertain the young Henry VIII and the other important visitors he received as Archbishop.

What are the oldest parts of the palace that still remain today?
The Tudor Kitchens are the oldest part of the Palace. The Great Fire dates back to before Wolsey’s tenure, when Sir Giles Daubeney lived at Hampton Court. Sir Giles Daubeney was Lord Chamberlain to Henry VII. He acquired an 80 year lease on the property from The Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem, who had owned the site since the 13th century. The bell in the tower above the Astronomical Clock is also said to have come from the Knights Hospitallers’ original manor house.

Hampton Court's 500 years of history spans so many notable eras of British history, from the Tudors to the 21st century. Which is your favourite period and why?
My favourite era is the 1660s when Charles II came back to England to take up his rightful place as King. Although visitors do not really associate Charles with the Palace, he did spend time here, most famously his honeymoon!

Do you have a favourite anecdote from the palace's history?
I love the story of Horace Beauchamp Seymour, a dashing military Hero who had fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He came to live at the Palace in 1827 and as a handsome eligible widower he caused quite a sensation amongst the ladies, especially when he joined the Sunday services at the Chapel Royal. It was not long before a series of fainting episodes began, with the strategically placed young lady fainting into the arms of the dashing Horace, who then proceeded to carry the lady out and stay with her until she regained her composure. After a third successive Sunday of fainting’s, the epidemic was brought to a swift halt by the aunt of Mr Seymour, herself also a palace resident. The feisty old lady pinned a sign to the chapel door warning any lady feeling faint that forthcoming Sunday that Bransome the Dustbin Man would be carrying her out. Needless to say the fainting ceased!

What is your favourite part of the Palace?
I love the West Front façade - it just looks so imposing and mysterious. Whether you are driving or walking past it it’s guaranteed to draw you in under its spell!

A complex of buildings dating back as far as 500 years obviously requires considerable upkeep. What are the greatest challenges in maintaining the palace?
The biggest challenge has to be raising money to keep restoring and conserving this historic palace. To do this, teams across the palace work on creating exciting exhibitions, immersive events and guided tours that capture the imagination and interest of visitors. We have to make sure people, from local families to international groups, have a memorable experience and want to visit again and again.

Are there any 'secrets' about the palace you can reveal to us?
Unsurprisingly for a palace so huge and historic, Hampton Court has a wealth of mysteries. The fire at the Palace in 1986 was devastating, but restoration revealed some of the palace’s hidden secrets. Hand prints and sketched designs of the palace made by builders were found in the plaster behind the wood panelling in King William’s rooms. Most exciting was an object discovered downstairs in King William’s private dining room – a gun was found behind the panelling. The gun dated back to the late 1800s and was found with a regimental dinner menu wrapped around it. We don’t know where the gun came from or why it was hidden – perhaps further conservation might reveal its secrets in the future!

Which parts of the palace would you suggest visitors shouldn’t miss?
That’s a difficult one! Though it does depend on the individual (and the weather!), I recommend getting introduced to the palace through a performance from our costumed interpreters, which helps you get in the Tudor spirit. If it’s a bit chilly, you can pick up a cloak to wear – you can choose between dressing as a Tudor or Georgian courtier! Once you’re inside the palace, I’d start in the Tudor State Apartments to discover the rich opulence of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, then visit the recently opened Cumberland Art Gallery, which contains masterpieces by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Van Dyck. Next I’d take in the baroque splendour of the Queen’s State Apartments, then explore Maze, East Front Garden and Privy Garden (weather permitting!). After a spot of lunch I’d suggest visiting the Mantegna Gallery, then the Young Henry exhibition which explores the early life of Henry VIII, before finishing the day in King William III’s apartments.

Woods Coaches have an Excursion to Hampton Court Palace including a 2-course lunch on Sunday 31st January 2016. Please click here for more information or to make a booking. 


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A day in the life of a Globe Theatre Guide…..

A day in the life of a Globe Theatre Guide…..

Meeting visitors of all ages and nationalities, then showing them around the Globe Theatre, is an incredibly satisfying endeavour.

Hello, I’m Anthony Lewis; tour-guide, video-historian, voiceover artist and recently, Globe Guide trainer.

I joined the Globe family eight years ago. Originally, this stemmed from a love of Shakespeare and enjoying the Globe productions so much. As the years rolled by, I ultimately became passionate about history, architecture and human endeavour. As well as keeping abreast of the current theatre season (the ‘Justice and Mercy’ season is nearing its glittering final call), I can also be found studying timber-framed buildings in Suffolk, making history documentaries and contributing to the rich online world of heritage blogs and podcasts.

Tour guiding is a rather exacting science. It blends together the disciplines of raconteur, historian, traffic warden, stand-up comedian and security guard. Possibly the opposite of a desk job, the chance to work outside (even when ‘in’ the theatre) is certainly welcome and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting people from all over the world, including, conjoined twins, footballers, Lords and Ladies, even Prince Philip!

A typical guiding day at the Globe begins with a briefing by the Duty Manager of all the activities taking place in the theatre. What makes the Globe particularly challenging to guide is the dynamic environment of the theatre itself. As the shared focal point of a major performance venue, educational facility, cultural hub and tourist attraction; the Globe is an incredibly vibrant, ever-changing space. A given day in the theatre may have rehearsals in progress, photocalls, interviews, costume tests, fight training or the spectacle of a lavish set under construction. Not to mention a plethora of other tours in progress at the same time – public groups, tour parties and schools of all ages, nationalities and requirements.

That the Globe is a bustling space is an understatement! But for all the logistical challenges this presents; it’s also a thrilling, kinetic and inspiring environment. True to Sam Wanamaker’s original remit of this being a working theatre and not a rarefied museum piece.

It means that there’s no such thing as a ‘standard tour’ and no chance of ever guiding a tour on auto-pilot.  While this ensures that each tour is a unique experience, it also means I have had to take extra care to be adaptable and versatile: modifying the tour routes and content on the fly, as well as responding to events in a value-enhancing manner. Witnessing a ‘Lively Action’ school workshop on stage, for example, becomes a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate Globe Education, our community outreach and the sheer fun of having some young Shakespeare actors in action on the Globe stage!

The next step of a guiding shift at the Globe is to report to a member of staff called Tour Point. It is their job to assign daily activities to each guide. That means a varied rotation of tasks -along with traditional theatre tours; a guide may find themselves performing all manner of demonstrations to entertain our visitors.

Clothing demonstrations are a fun way to involve visitors; inviting audience members to take the exhibition stage and then dressing them up in Elizabethan garb. The Ophelia costume from ‘Hamlet’  is an opportunity to demonstrate the full range of fashions on the taller women (and men!) in the audience, while the Mopsa outfit from ‘The Winter’s Tale’ illustrates the resourcefulness of Elizabethan working folk in their attempts to replicate the fashions of the court.

I helped write and create the Printing Press demonstrations: another fun activity the tour guides host. Using a working replica of an Elizabethan Printing Press, I enjoy creating ‘quarto’ format pages of Henry V; demonstrating movable type, the compositing stick and the true reasons behind the strange, inconsistent spelling of the Elizabethan age.

As well as the main Globe experience, there are two other tours for more advanced areas of interest. The Bankside Tour takes guests to the other Shakespearean sites along Bankside; including the original site, the locations of the bear-baiting arenas and the archaeological site of the Rose Playhouse - where Shakespeare had his first plays performed. The other type of tour is to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse where visitors can enter our new Jacobean-style indoor theatre.

In recent years, I have had the honour of recruiting and training new Globe Guides. It is with pride I send them off to lead inspiring tours to visitors from around the world. As they continue to experience the Globe’s varied activities, they’ll soon be gaining wonderful new experiences and anecdotes to enrich their tours even further!

Please click the link below for The Globe Theatres video:

This excursion departs with Woods Coaches on Thursday 19th November 2015. Please click here to book. 


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