Reading is situated on two small eminences, whose gentle declivities fall into a pleasant vale, through which the branches of the Kennet flow till they unite with the Thames at the extremity of the town.
The situation of Hampton Court, which stands on the north bank of the Thames, about twelve miles from London, is so happily described by Pope, that we cannot resist quoting the favourite passage:–
Close by those meads for over crowned with flowers,
Where Thames with pride surveys his rising towers,
There stands a structure of majestic frame,
Which from the neighbouring Hampton takes its name;
Here Britain’s statesmen oft the fall foredoom
Of foreign tyrants and of nymphs at home;
Here thou great Anna, whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take, and sometimes — tea.
In summing up the points of its early history, we may briefly state, that in the thirteenth century the manor of Hampden was vested in the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. Cardinal Wolsey, its illustrious founder, was the last of the enlightened churchmen of old, whose munificence patronised that style of building, which, originating with the ecclesiastics, seemed to end in his fall. He is supposed to have furnished the designs, and having been commenced in 1515, the building, when finished, was in so magnificent a style that it created great envy at court.
The banquets and masques, so prevalent in the age of Henry VIII., were nowhere more magnificently ordered than here; and however vast the establishment of the Cardinal, it could not have been more than sufficient for the accommodation of his train or guests. Numerous sovereigns since that time have made it their temporary abode; and the last who resided here were George II. and his Queen, since which period various members of the court have occupied the apartments, the Crown reserving tho right of resuming possession. At present, about 700 decayed gentlemen and gentlewomen, with their servants, occupy offices connected with the establishment, to which they are recommended by the Lord Chamberlain. The Lion Gate, fronting the entrance to Bushey Park, is the chief avenue; and, continuing through the Wilderness, by a path overshadowed with lofty trees, we find ourselves by the side of the palace, in front of which extends a long walk, ornamented with parterres, an exotic shrubbery, and a spacious fountain in the centre. The grand east front extends 330 feet, and the grand south front 328 feet, from the designs of Sir Christopher Wren.
The grand staircase and the guard chamber lead to the picture galleries, to which so many cheap catalogues furnish descriptive guides that our enumeration of their magnificent contents is unnecessary. Suffice it to say, the paintings are about 1,000 in number. Retracing our steps to the middle court, we may observe, under the archway, the flight of steps leading to Wolsey’s Hall. It is 106 feet long, forty feet wide, and illuminated by thirteen windows, each fifteen feet from the ground, one of the panes of the bay window at the end, costly material and rarest workmanship, supposed to have been designed by Raphael, and are said to have formed a portion of the gifts interchanged between Henry VIII. and Francis, at the celebrated “Field of the Cloth of Gold.” In the centre of the dais there is a doorway leading- to the withdrawal room.
The beautiful gardens in front of the palace have been repeatedly the admiration of all visitors. They were laid out by William III., in the Dutch style, with canal and watercourses, and the compass and shears were industriously employed is making birds, beasts, and reptiles, out of yew, holly, and privet. The private gardens extend from the sides of the palace to the banks of the river, and contain, besides some remarkably fine orange trees, many of them in full bearing, a fine oak nearly forty feet in circumference, and an ancient elm called “King Charles’s swing.” The large space of ground on the opposite side of the palace is called “The Wilderness,” and was planted with shrubs by order of William and Diary. Most of the walks are completely overshadowed, and on a hot summer day a stroll through these umbrageous paths is exceedingly inviting. In this portion of the grounds is situated the Maze, so constructed that all the paths apparently leading to the centre turn off to a more distant part, and involve the inquisitive adventurer in constant perplexity. Though we are riot quite sure that the revelation does not spoil the chief sport, the secret of success in threading this miniature labyrinth is, that after the first turning to the left the right hand should be kept to wards the fence the whole of the remaining way.
The greatest curiosity, however, is perhaps the famous Vine, which, sheltered and nurtured in a hot-house, is 110 feet long, and, at three feet from the root, is twenty-seven inches in circumference. It bears from two to three thousand bunches of the black Hamburg grape in the season. We may now mention the arrangements made for the reception of visitors.
The State Apartments, Public Gardens, and Picture Galleries are open daily (Friday excepted) throughout the year, from ten till dusk; and on Sundays after two, P.M. The Public Gardens have generally a military band in attendance, and a small fee is expected by the gardener for exhibiting the orangery and the vine.
The Chesnut Avenue of Bushey is world-famous. “Look across the road,” says a pleasant companion to the spot, “upon those dark masses of a single tree with thousands of spiral flowers, each flower a study, powdering over the rich green, from the lowest branch to the topmost twig. Now you shall have a real reward for your three hours’ toil under a lustrous sun. Look up and down this wondrous avenue. It’s mile length seems a span; but from one gate to the other there is a double line of unbroken green with flowers rich as the richest of the tropics contending for the mastery of colour. Saw you ever such a gorgeous sight?
Fashionable London even comes to see it; but in Whitsun week, and during the some twenty days of the glories of the chesnut, thousands come here to rejoice in the exceeding beauty of this marvel of nature, which the art of the Dutch gardeners, whom William of Nassau brought to teach us, have left as a proud relic of their taste.”
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The seat of her majesty the Queen, and of her ancestors from the period of the Conquest. Eton College also is within a short distance.
Summary Visitors’ Guide Places of Amusement Is the capital of Great Britain, and indeed, if its commercial and political influence be considered, of the civilised world. The British metropolis, if we include its suburban districts, contains the largest mass of hu…