When Cardinal Wolsey purchased Hampton Court, the kitchens were one of the first things he needed to focus on, as he had to provide meals for his large household. Building commenced in 1515. When Henry VIII appropriated the palace from Wolsey, the number of people needing meals doubled, so the kitchens were enlarged in 1529 to 36,000 square feet encompassing 50 different rooms. All of these rooms do not exist in their original form today.
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Originally servants were fed by the royal household, but in 1660 they were given wages instead of meals, therefore the need for large kitchen areas declined. Other activities took over the rooms, an example being the boiling room, which became a laundry. After the middle 1700s when the court no longer used the palace, the kitchens became grace and favour apartments. The visitor today can see the kitchens, which were restored in the 1990s to their former appearance from Tudor times through the 1700s.
The kitchens produced meals twice a day and employed about 200 people. There were additional kitchens set aside especially to prepare meals for the king—this was a safety issue in case of poison attempts.
The kitchens had their own gatehouse (Seymour gate) where the supplies were brought in. As the royal court seldom stayed at the palace more than two weeks at a time, this was done on an almost daily basis. There were 15 different divisions in the kitchens. The spicery stored spices from the Orient; the confectory was home to the sweets and pastries; and the pastry house (with a 9 foot diameter oven) made pastry cases and crusts. In the boiling house is a reproduction of one of two copper kettles that held 76 gallons of stew or stock.
The Fish court was a beehive of activity during meal preparation, each of its doors leading to one of the special areas. There were separate larders for the storage of meat that included venison from the royal parks and fish. Barrels packed with seaweed proved a satisfactory way to store ocean fish, while nearby ponds held freshwater fish. A surviving list of provisions reveals the quantity of meat cooked in the royal kitchens in one year: 1240 oxen, 8200 sheep, 2330 deer, 760 calves, 1870 pigs and 53 wild boars.
From the Fish court you enter the Great Kitchens. Here the food was assembled and passed to courtiers to take upstairs. Surviving in this area is a 19th century range set into a fireplace, a Tudor fireplace with original 17th century grate and clockwork spit, and the third and most original section of the Great Kitchen built in 1514 by Wolsey.
The exit from the Great Kitchens led to the serving place and dressers, rooms used to garnish and finish off the dishes before serving. There were three cellars spirits—one for ale (300 barrels were consumed each year), one for beer, and the last for wine. The king had his own liquor cellar, the Privy cellar.
The kitchens are stocked with iron cooking pots, earthenware jugs, pestles and mortars, baskets, and other utensils of the times. Guides in costumes of the time demonstrate techniques shut as fire-starting and other kitchen duties.
Open daily, except December 24-26 inclusive; mid-March to mid-Oct from 9.30am-6pm (10.15 on Mon); mid-Oct-mid-March, 9.30am-4.30pm (10.15 on Mon)
Advance Tickets: 0870 753 7777
Information line: 0870 752 7777
Official website: Historic Royal Palaces
Getting There: By car the palace is on the A308; by train from London Waterloo station twice an hour, journey is 30 minutes; by riverboat in the summer from Westminster, Richmond-upon-Thames, and Kingston-upon-Thames. Contact Westminster Passenger Services 020 7930 2062 and for services from Richmond and Kingston, contact Turks Launches 020 8546 2434.
Insider tip: Plan your visit for one of the special event days, held throughout the year. In the kitchens visitors can learn how lost recipes turn out, using original techniques, tools and ingredients from all over the world. These events are listed on the official website and in the News section of our website.