Hampton Court, Herefordshire, is an evocative fifteenth century manor house whose crenulated walls, glimpsed through trees, rise from river meadows like a fairytale castle. Unlike its namesake Hampton Court Palace near London, this 'other' Hampton Court (no relation, and begun 80 years before Henry VIII's Tudor palace) lies secluded from urban frenzy in one of England's loveliest, little-known and least-changed counties. It is no wonder that those who discover Hampton Court's discreet charms believe they have found a real sleeping beauty.
Hampton Court is one of the most genuinely romantic houses in England. The Domesday manor of 'Hantone' was a marriage gift of King Henry IV to Rowland Leinthall, his Yeoman of the Robes. In 1434, work began to build Leinthall's court around a diminutive quadrangle, much as it survives today, including the massive gate tower, great hall (today's library and dining room) private apartments and jewel-like chapel. Popular myth holds that Leinthall financed the building with the ransoms of prisoners that he had taken at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, when he was knighted.
In the Elizabethan age, the house was owned by Sir Thomas Coningsby (1550-1625) who had travelled Europe with that poet and pæon of Elizabethan courtly manners, Sir Philip Sidney, author of Arcadia. One account claims that Coningsby and his wife, Sidney's cousin Philippa Fitzwilliam, whose entwined cipher TPC is painted on several windows, ran Hampton Court as an academy of the courtly arts including arms, music, poetry, and horsemanship.
Under Sir Thomas' great-grandson and namesake, Thomas, Lord Coningsby (1656-1729) Hampton Court had its closest assimilation to Hampton Court Palace. Lord Coningsby, a Privy Councillor to William III, remodelled the grounds here in the 1690s in emulation of the new gardens laid out by the king at his Thameside palace. The house too was updated in the royals' Dutch style in anticipation of a visit from the King and Queen. The red silk damask woven for the King's room still lines one of the bedrooms today.
In the nineteenth century, Hampton Court was altered to accommodate the twelve Arkwright children brought up here mid-century, chasing butterflies in and out of Joseph Paxton's new conservatory, skating in the frozen park, and bedevilling long-suffering Head Gardeners. The eldest boy, Johnny wrote to his fiancée in 1866, 'I have just packed your roses and kissed every flower.'
It was in the twentieth century that Hampton Court, like many great houses, fell asleep. The conservatory roof fell in, the garden disappeared beneath undergrowth, and successive occupants retreated to the south-west rooms, distributing tin baths to catch drips. From 1994, the house was reawoken by sensitive renovation. The newly-designed gardens opened to the public at the millennium. Thousands have visited Hampton Court, rejoicing in the quality of the workmanship, and relishing its rare Arcadian tranquility.
The centuries-old romance of Sir Rowland Leinthall's court runs far deeper than any fairytale, but the power of this awakening beauty to capture the imagination remains as great as ever.
For more details please see the Official Hampton Court website.