Reinvention and continuity in the making of an historic visitor attraction: control access and display at Hampton Court Palace, 1838-1938

Parker, Julia (2009) Reinvention and continuity in the making of an historic visitor attraction: control access and display at Hampton Court Palace, 1838-1938. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


In the twenty-first century Hampton Court Palace is widely recognised as one of the UK's top historic visitor attractions. Historic Royal Palaces, the charitable trust responsible for the upkeep and display of the palace, has a strong organisational identity, with a purpose that is carefully coordinated to engage the visiting public through displays that focus on key events in the site's history. However, when Hampton Court was opened up free of charge in 1838, visitors were presented with a rather different public spectacle. The majority of rooms were set up to display paintings from the Royal Collection and the site was promoted by the social reformers of the day as a place where the public, particularly the working classes, could be educated and improved. This thesis will demonstrate how Hampton Court has developed from a public art gallery of the 1830s to the site of historic significance that we know today. It is a transition which features a significant duality. On the one hand, the palace has been periodically reinvented in line with changing ideas of what role it should perform in society; on the other, clear circular trends can be identified in successive approaches to the administration and display at Hampton Court, which often link the twenty-first century idea of the palace surprisingly closely to its historical characterisations. This thesis argues that Hampton Court Palace's development has been a chequered process, which paradoxically combines both innovative reinvention and significant continuity. Using significant episodes in the palace's history - the re-decoration of the Geat Hall (1840-6), the removal of the Raphael Cartoons (1865), the excavation of the moat (1909-10), the refurbishment of the State Apartments (1938) and the introduction of admission fees (1914) - this thesis seeks to investigate the varied, and often conflicting, guises that Hampton Court has adopted between 1838 and 1938. The discussion will be set in the context of three broad themes, that of 'control', 'access' and 'display'. Within this frame of reference, the thesis uses source material that illuminates both the creation of the palace's outward face and the public's response to it. The first category is largely dominated by the records of the Office of Works, the government department responsible for the site during the period in question. The second aspect of the study is informed by a rather more disparate group of sources, ranging from newspaper reports to advertising images. Together they build a picture of how an historic visitor attraction at Hampton Court Palace was 'made'.

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