Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hampton Court Palace

In 1236, The Knights of Hospitaller of St John Jerusalem acquired the manor of Hampton. A medieval Catholic military order, later to become the Military Order of Malta, The Knights of Hospitaller of St John Jerusalem, used the site of Hampton as a grange.  Serving as an agricultural centre the Knights stored and kept accounts at the site.  Later, in 1494, the property was leased and modernised by Sir Giles Daubeney to facilitate him being closer to London.  A soldier, courier, diplomat and politician Daubeney worked for Henry VII, the monarch and his wife being frequent guests at the peaceful Hampton residence of Daubeney. 

Cardinal Wolsey aquired Hampton Court in 1514 and began renovations a year later.  Wolsey was a churchman, statesman and a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1509 Wolsey became King Henry VIII almoner serving as a chaplain to the king and among his tasks he was in charge of distributing money to the poor.  By 1514 Wolsey was the controlling figure in matters of the state as well as being powerful in the church. Wolsey set about transforming Hampton Court into a Grand palace that was decorated with rich and opulent furnishings and decorations.  Wolsey used the property to entertain and its exuberance inspired John Skelton, HenryVIII former tutor, to comment that "The Kings Court should have the excellence but Hampton Court hath the pre-eminence". In 1529 Henry VIII took over the works at Hampton Court. 

Following issues with the Catholic Churches denial of an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon due to her inability to produce an heir, Henry VIII turned on the Catholic Church and Wolsey fell from favour.  Wolsey was then made the Archbishop of York.  In 1530 Henry VIII and his councillors sent the first of several threatening letters to Wolsey from Hampton Court.  Wolsey was summoned to return from York and died enroute. 

In 1537, following a marriage to Anne Boleyn and her subsequent execution, Henry VIIIs third wife, Jane Seymour gave birth at Hampton Court. The baby, Prince Edward, was baptised in the chapel at Hampton Court but died soon after of complications. Following the difficult birth Jane Seymour died of an infection.  Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves but then decided he wanted to marry another woman and the marriage is annulled.  Anne of Cleves is given the title "The King's Sister" after signing the divorce papers in Hampton Court.  In 1540 Henry VIII married  Catherine Howard, his fifth wife and she was proclaimed Queen.  Following accusations of an early sexual liaison she was placed under house arrest in Hampton Court.  She was said to have run screaming through the palace looking for the King to plead her innocence after breaking free from the guards.  Henry VIII ignored her cries and she was dragged back to her rooms shrieking before later being executed at the Tower of London.  In 1543 Henry VIII married  his sixth and final wife, Kateryn  Parr, in the Chapel Royal in Hampton Court.  

During his time at Hampton Court Henry VIII created a pleasure garden for recreation and a hunting park of more than 1100 acres.  He added tennis courts, bowling alleys, a chapel and a huge communal dining room.  He created the Great House of Easement, a lavatory that could seat 28 people. The kitchens of Hampton Court covered 36000 square feet. In August of 1546 Henry VIII was said to have feted and feasted the French ambassador, his 200 men and 1300 members of his Court for six days.  The palace was surrounded by an encampment of gold and red velvet tents for the occasion. 

Each of Henry VIII three children spent time at Hampton Court.  Between 1558 and 1603 Elizabeth I visited Hampton Court regularly.  Court masques, theatrical events and court entertainment were held at Hampton Court.  In 1603 William Shakespeare and his company "The Kings Men" performed plays in the Great Hall for Queen Elizabeth's successor James I.  Originally from Scotland where he was King James VI, James I made the palace a party palace of sorts and called the Hampton Court Conference which commissioned the King James Bible.  Jame's wife Anne died at Hampton Court.  

James' son Charles I continued working on Hampton Court.  Charles I built new tennis courts and dug Longford River.  He was a well known art buyer and bought Mantegnas "Triumphs of Caesar". In 1645 troops seized the palace and began selling the treasures.  Oliver Cromwell who became Lord Protector during the civil war spent his weekends at Hampton Court even holding his daughters wedding at the grand palace.  In 1647 Charles I was held prisoner at Hampton Court.  After managing to escape he was caught and executed. 

By 1660 the monarchy was restored and Charles II ascended the throne.  He chose to spend his time at Windsor but used Hampton Court to house his mistress, Barbara Villiers, the Countess of Castlemaine  and her children.  When William III and his wife Mary II ascended the throne they commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to remodel Hampton Court. Wren was one of the most highly acclaimed architects of his time.  With the assistance of William Talman, architect and landscape designer, Wren drew up elaborate plans for a huge Baroque palace centred around two courtyards. During this work much of the Tudor palace was replaced and Henry VIIIs state rooms were removed. The east and south facade of the palace were completely transformed and the Tudor towers were replaced by elegant Baroque chimneys.  They constructed two Royal suites of equal beauty, reflected the unique situation of the shared sovereignty of William and Mary.  Beautiful Frescos adorned the staircase painted by Antonio Verrio, an Italian born artist who served the British monarchy for over thirty years.  The railings were created by French Huguenot ironworker, Jean Tijou.  The furnishings were designed by Daniel Marot, a French architect, furniture designer and engraver.  A Chocolate Kitchen was built for King William and Queen Mary as part of the Baroque renovations 

Following the death of Queen Mary, William lost interest in Hampton Court and all renovations were stopped.  After falling from his horse in Hampton Court Park in 1702 William died and his sister-in-law became Queen Anne.  The renovations of Hampton Court began again under Queen Anne, who particularly enjoyed hunting at Hampton Court.  When Queen Anne died in 1714, the Stuart line ended and her successor, George I began new renovations on Hampton Court.  He commissioned John Vanbrugh, architect and dramatist, well known for his designs such as Howard Castle, to design six new rooms. George I also bought a personal chocolate maker to Hampton Court who had his own rooms in the palace.  The chocolate maker, Thomas Tosier already owned a Chocolate House in the famed Chocolate Row in Greenwich. Thomas and his wife, Grace were so famous because of their chocolate house that they were mentioned in social pages.  In 1721 they even added a room just for dancing in their personal chocolate house.  A painting of Grace done by artist Bartholomew Daindridge hangs in the Hampton Court Chocolate Kitchen depicting her with a flower in her bosom, one of her trademarks. The  Chocolate Kitchen was located off the Fountain Court at Hampton Court, along with a spicery and a confectioners.  The Fountain Court was said to have smelled wonderful. 

When George II was made king he and his wife Anne of Ansbach commissioned architect William Kent to refurbish the furnishings and design of the Queen's Staircase and the Cumberland Suite.  George II was the last monarch to reside at Hampton Court.  George III never set foot in the palace, apparently associating it with a humiliating experience where his grandfather struck him for a seemingly innocent remark.  In 1796 further restorations were carried out with Queen Victoria completing the restorations. 

Throughout the 20th century Hampton Court has become a major tourist attraction as well as housing  fifty Grace and Favour residences.  These residences are given rent free to a person as part of an employment package or in gratitude for services rendered.  In modern times Hampton Court  has been used in films and in 2012 it was the site for the Road Cycling Time Trials for the Summer Olympics. In 2015 Hampton Court celebrated its 500th anniversary and in 2016 the Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury held the first Catholic service in Hampton Court in 450 years. 

With such a long and colourful history it is not hard to see why there are many reports of alleged hauntings in Hampton Court.  The 'haunted gallery' as it has been dubbed was the scene of Catherine Howard's desperate escape from her guards and run to find the King, Henry VIII, her husband and beg for clemency.  She was recaptured and imprisoned and eventually executed.  Her ghost is said to frequent the gallery.  There have been reports of women fainting in the same spot where Catherine Howard ran.  Grace and Favour residents have reported screams in the gallery when it is supposedly empty.  A white figure, thought to be Catherine Howard has been seen floating down towards the Royal Pew before turning with a look of despair on her face, shrieking.  

Around 1829 the ghost of Dame Sibell Penn, a servant to four Tudor Monarchs, started appearing as a grey lady. She purportedly died in 1562. Her ghost was said to have begun appearing around the time her tomb was disturbed and moved to facilitate the rebuilding of a church near Hampton.  Her ghost is said to be linked to the sounds of a spinning wheel, one which was discovered in a walled up small room.  Her ghost is seen, even in modern times, wandering in the Tudor courtyards and cloisters. 

In the beautiful Clock Court a figure, believed to be Henry VIII third wife, Jane Seymour has been seen carrying a lighted taper.  She died of an infection after the birth and death of her son Edward.  

A spectre dubbed the Wolsey dog has been seen by several people in the Wolsey closet.  In October 2003 a very strange and spooky event was caught on CCTV.  Palace officials have no idea what or who this figure is. Watch the link and decide for yourself.

I loved my visit to Hampton Court.  It was so beautiful.  The architecture and design is magnificent and it isn't difficult to feel transported back in time.  I particularly loved the courtyards. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Fairmont Royal York

The Fairmont Royal York Hotel is located in downtown Toronto.  The original site of the hotel consisted of four brick houses built by Captain Thomas Dick.  Born in Scotland, Thomas Dick went to sea at the age of fourteen and by the age of twenty three he was first mate and had travelled the world.  After getting married, he and his wife Christiana Bell, traveled to New York and on to the new city of Toronto. For a few year Thomas Dick worked in Niagara on the Lake with fellow Scots who pretty much controlled the ship building industry in the area.  Within five years he was part owner of a wooden paddle ship called the City of Toronto.  The ship primarily transported passengers between Kingston and Ontario.  Thomas Dick commissioned architect John Howard, Canada's official surveyor and civil engineer, to design and build a humble row of Georgian style houses. The four houses were built in 1838.

The row project was first occupied by Knox Theological College. The group arrived in Toronto from Kingston where after a Theological disagreement they had separated from Queen's College. The College remained until 1856 when refurbishments were made and the row were converted into Sword's Hotel.   Named after the hotel owner, Patrick Sword, the hotel was intended to cater for the surrounding parliament buildings.  When Sword moved to Quebec in 1859 he sold the hotel to B.J.B Riley who renamed the property Revere House.

In 1862 Captain Dick bought the property back and after some refurbishment opened the Queen's Hotel. With 210 rooms, a restaurant, a private garden and 17 private parlours, the Queen's Hotel offered a new level of luxury in the quickly growing city of Toronto. Growing in popularity the hotel was even said to be the site of Sir John A MacDonald's meeting with American Civil War sympathisers who were plotting retaliation.

Following the death of Captain Dick at the Queen's Hotel in November 1874 the hotel was sold to Thomas McGaw and Henry Winnett, hoteliers from Upper Canada who already owned Queen's Royal Hotel in Niagara on the Lake. Following McGaw's death, Winnett took over the hotel and after his death the hotel was sold to the Canadian Pacific Railway.

After purchasing the Queen's Hotel in 1927 The Canadian Pacific Railway announced they intended to demolition the beloved Toronto Hotel and build the biggest hotel in the British Commonwealth. The last guest to check out of the Queen's Hotel was long term guest Charles Bland.  The closing of the hotel was marked by an extravagant dinner with an orchestra playing Auld Lang Syne as the hotel doors closed for the last time.

Despite the shocked response of Toronto residents to the plans for the Queen's Hotel, the hotel was demolished and the Canadian Pacific Railway began construction on a new hotel situated conveniently across from Union Station.  On June 11th 1929 the hotel was officially opened as The Royal York. It was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth and set a new standard in luxurious hospitality.

There were 28 floors in the new Royal York, each beautifully designed and decorated in opulence.  The 1048 rooms each had a private shower, bath tub and a radio.  The hotel boasted a 12000 book library, a 12 bed hospital, and ten ornate passenger elavators.  Also spanning across the 1.5 acres of public rooms was a concert hall with a stage and elaborate pipe organ, a glass enclosed roof garden and a bakery that was able to bake 15000 French rolls a day.  For the further convenience of guests the hotel had its own band and a 66 ft long manned switchboard with 35 telephone operators.

It was decided that the hotel would also provide a golf course for guests that wanted to play some relaxing golf.  The golf club was established by Robert Home Smith, a friend of Edward Wentworth Beatty, the man leading the construction of the hotel.  Famed golf course designer, Stanley Thompson was asked to design the course.  The course opened in 1929 and under the name the Royal York hosted the Canadian Open in 1933. In 1946 the name of the course changed from The Royal York Golf Club to St George and Country Club.  It remains one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world.

In 1956/57 the addition of rooms bought the hotels room count to 1600. From 1988 to 1993 a 100 million dollar renovation of the hotel took place. The rooms were refurbished, a skylit pool was added as well as a health club. The hotel created the first ever American Express Travel Service Centre. Three bee hives, with 350000 bees, were installed on the fourteenth floor roof in 2008. A rooftop garden provides the hotel with fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers.

The hotel is opulent and luxurious, with elevator 9 still carrying illustrious guests such as the Queen to their beautiful rooms.

The Fairmont Royal York has had many reports of paranormal activity. Children are heard running the hallways when there is no one visible while the noises from an unending ball, including music and laughter, can be heard coming from the empty ballroom. Cold spots and flickering lights are often reported. Guests and staff have heard screaming and loud footsteps in empty parts of the hotel. A full bodied apparition of a man has been seen on the eighth floor. He is said to be wearing a maroon jacket and slacks. He seems to float along the hallway. A former porter reportedly hung himself from a stairwell railing on the nineteenth floor. His ghost is said to make loud banging noises and is associated with equipment being used in the hotel failing.

I personally spoke to a porter at the hotel on my last visit who said that he had worked at the hotel since he was seventeen and he had personally experienced many unexplainable occurrences. One that he mentioned that baffled and frightened him happened in the basement and involved a large trolley, heavenly laden with laundry, moving inexplicably on its own.

The Fairmont Royal York Hotel is a beautiful place to stay. It's not hard to imagine that a ball goes on continuously in the opulent ballroom or that a ghost may wander along the beautiful hallways. Several times in the lift I personally heard a loud unexplainable knocking. It's a quirky, gorgeous place that is populated by an interesting and attentive staff, where you literally feel as though you have gone back in time.