Queen Victoria Loved to Dance
It was on our trip to Kensington Palace that we learnt a little known fact about Queen Victoria. Known as a monarch in mourning following the death of her beloved Albert, Queen Victoria always seemed to me to be the sombre type. During our fascinating tour of the Queen Victoria exhibitions - Victoria Woman & Crown and Victoria: A Royal Childhood - however, we came to realise that in her formative years, Queen Victoria was quite the life and soul. Walking up to a rather glamorous pair of long, satin silver shoes, we were told how Queen Victoria adored to dance and was quite the talented dancer. With a love for the ballet and opera, dance was one of Queen Victoria's passions. Indeed, even at eight months pregnant, Victoria would often be the last one standing on the dance floor.
Henry VIII Loved a Game of Tennis
Arriving at Hampton Court Palace ready for a day of Tudor history, we hadn't quite anticipated the 45 minutes of physical exertion that awaited. Picturing King Henry VIII as the overweight type (and one certainly with a penchant for a feast or two), we hadn't suspected that physical activity would form such a large part of his life. However, 45 minutes of very sweaty Real Tennis later and we realised how wrong we were.
Walking onto the court, we stood in awe of the fully functioning Real Tennis court that sits on the grounds of Hampton Court Palace. Built by Charles I in 1625, the Real Tennis Court remains a working court today, enjoyed by both amateurs and professional players. It was also here, on a former court at Hampton Court Palace, that Henry VIII developed a passion for the game; becoming quite the accomplished player. An intricate, complicated and distinctly difficult game, we were quietly impressed by Henry's evident athleticism.
The Tower of London is Far More Than a Tower
One of our favourite discoveries during our summer as Historic Royal Palaces ambassadors came about during our day trip to the Tower of London. Having visited once briefly as miserable teenagers, our memory of this particular Historic Royal Palace was vague to say the least. With hazy memories of the glinting crown jewels, but not a whole lot more, we presumed that the Tower of London was, well - just a Tower.
On our latest visit, however, we discovered that the Tower of London is, in fact, a small bustling community - complete with a doctor's surgery, picture-perfect cottages and even a pub. Thanks to a fascinating private tour led by Chief Yeoman Warder, Pete McGowran, we were shown the labyrinth-like grounds of the Tower of London and learnt more about the community that lives here.
There Was Once a Central London Palace Larger Than the Vatican
Visiting the Banqueting House on Whitehall came as perhaps our biggest surprise as Historic Royal Palaces ambassadors. Knowing little about it (indeed, it was the only Historic Royal Palace that we hadn't heard of), we discovered that the Banqueting House was formerly part of a far large palace: the Palace of Whitehall.
Sadly, in 1698 the entire palace, aside from the Banqueting House, was destroyed in a fire. Although there are some remaining features of the palace incorporated into more contemporary buildings around Whitehall, Banqueting House is the only standing structure that can be visited. Although small in size, Banqueting House is still a fascinating place to discover, particularly if you look upwards. Adorning its roof is a Rubens' ceiling: a sea of mesmerising canvases painted and installed by Sir Peter Paul Rubens in 1636. Miraculously avoiding the fire in 1698, the canvases were also removed during WW2 to avoid any harm by German bombs.
The Great Pagoda Was Built Incorrectly
The Great Pagoda of Kew is an oriental masterpiece. Or is it? Commissioned in 1762 by Princess Augusta and designed by Sir William Chambers, there was one element of this handsome structure that was overlooked. As we discovered as we slowly climbed its 253 steps, according to Chinese tradition, a pagoda should have an uneven number of floors. Traditionally built with seven floors (to represent the seven steps to heaven), the Great Pagoda at Kew instead has ten. Although this doesn't seem to have harmed the structure - in fact, it's the only surviving original building built in the gardens - it's said that Chinese tourists will give a little shake of their heads before climbing it.