Travel: come ye to Hampton Court

Hampton Court Palace, the favourite of kings and courtiers, remains well worth a visit today, says Matthew Partridge

“Why come ye not to court?” asked 16th-century poet John Skelton, who noted that, while the King’s court “should have the excellence”, Hampton Court, then owned by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, “hath the pre-eminence.” So it’s perhaps little surprise that Wolsey was in due course “persuaded” to hand it over to Henry VIII.

Today, you can take a tour of the former royal palace, encompassing both the original Tudor buildings (including the kitchens), and Christopher Wren’s baroque wing that was commissioned by William and Mary. You can also see the gardens where William of Orange met his nemesis in the form of a mole, who would become famous as the “little gentleman in velvet” whose mound was the cause of his downfall and eventual death while horse riding.

Bushy Park: wildlife haven

King Henry VIII did not just take over Hampton Court, but also established three nearby parks – Hare Warren, Middle Park and Bushy Park – for hunting. Today’s Bushy Park encompasses all three sites, and is the second-largest royal park in London, at 1,100 acres. Although the only private hunting allowed today is from the barrel of a telephoto lens, it’s estimated that the park has around 320 deer. It is also home to a variety of wildlife, avenues of mature trees and a 60-acre woodland garden, and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Red deer stag

© Matthew Partridge

Hampton Court may have been the house of kings, but if you’re interested in the “sport of kings” then you should pay a visit to Sandown Park Racecourse, a short taxi ride away. On a typical year Sandown runs 26 meetings, including both flat and jump racing. Bookmaker Barry Johnson, which has been operating for 55 years, says that Sandown is “famous for the quality of racing and the stiffness of the ground, which you need to take into account when reading form”. The nearest station is Esher, from which regular trains run to London Waterloo.

Mitre Hampton Court: a charming inn

By the 17th century Hampton Court had become such a centre of royal life that the number of courtiers and visiting dignitaries was more than it could accommodate. As a result, King Charles II ordered that a “hostel for visitors to the Palace” be created opposite. Today, the Grade II-listed inn is known as the Mitre Hampton Court. Bought at the start of 2020 by The Signet Collection, founded by Hector Ross and Ronnie Kimbugwe, the inn was refurbished during the first lockdown, with the help of internationally acclaimed designer Nicola Harding. Harding’s aim was to create a hotel that combined tradition and modernity, with the standards that today’s luxury travellers expect in the bedrooms and public areas, while “retaining the best of British hospitality”, as Francois Plougonven, the front of house manager, puts it. Looking at the room I stayed in (named after Henry’s son, King Edward VI), they have certainly succeeded. It has a charming country house design, complete with a mini library, bath and shower room. There were also plenty of little touches, including an invitation to enjoy a complimentary drop of ginger liqueur.

1665 and the Coppernose: two excellent restaurants

The inn has two restaurants, both the brainchild of Kimbugwe, who trained under Gordon Ramsay, and run on a day-to-day basis by senior sous chef Simon Dyer, who was the executive head chef on Richard Branson’s Necker Island. The 1665 restaurant is the more formal riverside eaterie, ideal for a dinner at the end of a day’s sightseeing. I was impressed by the tempura whitebait followed by a pan roast Cornish monkfish with truffle and parmesan fries, washed down with an elegant glass of house white. 

If you were looking for somewhere to take your family on a Saturday night, however, you might want to consider the Coppernose, the relaxed, dog-friendly café and wine bar. It’s also a great place to enjoy a hearty English breakfast while reading the morning papers. Its full English, available in either half or full portion, consists of crispy streaky bacon, wild boar and apple sausage, roasted mushrooms and slow-cooked baked beans. 

The Mitre is also available for parties, weddings and business events, with the Orangery accommodating up to 70 guests for a wedding breakfast and evening reception. It also hosts a monthly supper club. 

Matthew was a guest at the Mitre Hampton Court. Classic rooms start from £200 a night, mitrehamptoncourt.com

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