Hampton Court Palace, Greater London

12 09 2004
The palace is a red-brick building

The palace is a red-brick building

The anticipation is over. Time travel is here at last. It is a reality. Einstein and his followers were probably right but they failed to see the easier solution to many a physicist’s problem. One cannot blame them for the solution lies not in physics but elsewhere. Thinking way out of the box is probably not a physicist’s strongest attribute.

I have just returned from the 16th century, travelling my way through 450 years of English history – from the Tudor times of King Henry VIII through James I of the Stuarts and the period of King William III and Queen Mary II. It is not a journey simply of history but of culture, drama, etiquette and royal living. The costumed tour guides bring to life the events of the times by taking the visitor to the past rather than bringing the past to the visitor. It is a colourful journey in vivid details. At the same time it leaves much to the imagination.

We are in the Great Hall, built between 1532-36, at midsummer’s day having a dinner feast while musicians in the gallery entertain us; and why not for it is believed that music aids digestion. On another occasion Shakespeare is busy at work and the spectators are immensely enjoying the staging of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Yet on another occasion, the celebrated and priceless Abraham tapestries are displayed on the walls to impress upon a special visitor the wealth of the English monarchy. The visitor is impressed for the tapestries woven in fine threads of gold and silver catch the light streaming from the glazed windows and shimmer to a three-dimensional effect.

Let us now move to the modern 17th century apartments of William and Mary. The decorative patterns on the walls are unique and not easily missed. They are formed from a few thousand pieces of weaponry including pistols, muskets, bayonets, rifles, daggers, swords and spears, all neatly and meticulously arranged. This is the guard room, a meeting point for networking although not many get past this to the next room. However, we are fashionable, of good fortune and quality. These are sufficient tickets to be allowed to pass into the next room. We have to follow the protocol of the day with curtseys and three reverences although the king is not present. Having managed this far and done the mandatory formalities rather gracefully we are allowed into the next chamber.

Baroque music of the period fills our ears, a harmony of flute, cello and harpsichord. A harpsichord is shaped like a piano but it is more of a harp since the strings are plucked rather than struck. It comes 700 years before the piano, an instrument we haven’t seen or heard yet. The cello brings out a mellowed soft sound: the bow is different and metal strings are unheard of in every sense.

Thus one room leads to another along a straight corridor lining the large glass windows that open up the view to a delightful garden in full summer bloom. Portraits of dukes and duchesses, counts and countesses, kings and queens, prince and princesses line the walls. Chinese and Japanese blue and white ceramics called delftware are from the collection of Queen Mary. Embroidered wall hangings and Flemish tapestries of the 18th century with exquisite details have to be scrutinized to the finest thread to be justly appreciated. One notable tapestry in the Queen’s Gallery depicts Alexander the Great meeting the barrel-philosopher Diogenes. Let us not miss the Tudor kitchen re-created in form and figure to great likeness to the time of King Henry VIII.

The gardens at Hampton Court Palace

The gardens at Hampton Court Palace

Coming back to the present day, the visit has been memorable. Not everything has been described in these few lines. Two interesting places have to be mentioned. One is the “real tennis” court. Real Tennis is the forerunner of the game of tennis as we know it today. The other is the maze. It is rather small yet confusing. It took me 20 minutes to get through it. It consists of a left and a right section. One must get to the centre of the maze and come back to the entrance. The entrance leads into the left section but the only way to the centre is through the right section. The difficulty lies in getting out of the right section which has plenty of loops to keep one moving around in circles. More amazing about this maze is that it was conceived in 1690.

As I leave Hampton Court Palace, after a wonderful tour of the gardens, it is time to look at the souvenir shop. There is a book titled “A taste of history: 10,000 years of food in Britain”. It is a rather thick book running into a few hundred pages. I am sure it’s an interesting history but the British have made little progress on the subject.

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