Page images
PDF
EPUB

the Gunnings, who make more noise than any

of their

predecessors since the days of Helen. They went the other day to see Hampton Court; as they were going into the Beauty Room, another company arrived; the housekeeper said, “This way, ladies; here are the Beauties. The Gunnings flew into a passion, and asked her what she meant; that they came to see the palace, not to be shown as a sight themselves.”

The “Beauty Room” here referred to is the one which we have once or twice noticed, on the ground floor, in the south range, under the King's Guard Chamber, now called the “ Oak Room.”

CHAPTER XXX.

HAMPTON COURT DURING THE REIGN OF GEORGE III. -THE

PALACE DIVIDED INTO PRIVATE APARTMENTS.

GEORGE III.'s accession to the throne, which took place on the 25th of October, 1760, marks, as we have already indicated, a new era in the history of Hampton Court; for thenceforth the regal splendours of the palace came entirely to an end, it definitely ceased to be a residence in the actual occupation of the sovereign, and the whole building, with the exception of the State Rooms, was gradually divided into suites of apartments, allotted by the grace and favour of the King to private families.

Nevertheless, it may be doubted whether the King had formed a deliberate intention never to inhabit this palace at all, and still more whether he contemplated that it should cease to be a royal residence. Its prolonged disuse by him, however, had, in effect, this result; for being gradually denuded of most of its furniture, and the State Apartments dismantled and untenanted during his long reign, the expense of preparing it for habitation by the King and Court would have been so considerable, that this fact alone would always

THE ROYAL APARTMENTS DISUSED.

381

have been an obstacle to its being occupied, either by him or by his successors—if any of them had ever taken a fancy to do so.

In the meanwhile, however, Hampton Court was not entirely abandoned to neglect-the palace being still kept up, and a certain sum annually spent on necessary repairs.

As to the gardens at this period, they remained under the care of Lancelot Brown, the famous landscape gardener, better known as “Capability” Brown, on account of his frequent use of that word in reference to grounds submitted to his skill. He had been appointed Royal Gardener at Hampton Court in 1750 by George II. Luckily Brown, when asked by the King to “improve” the gardens here and adapt them to the modern style, had the good sense and honesty to decline the unpromising task, “out of respect to himself and his profession"; and thus they escaped the destruction that overtook so many of the old gardens of England, and have preserved—especially the Privy Gardens —much of their charming old-fashioned air to this day.

Nevertheless, it was probably he who replaced most of the terrace steps in the Privy Gardens—though two flights were left—by gravel and grass slopes, for the theoretic reason that “we ought not to go up and down stairs in the open air.”

Reverting to the topic of the use to which the palace was put on the accession of George III., we should observe that there were, probably, but few persons then residing in it beyond officials and servants; though it is likely enough that, here and there, some dependants of the Court were in occupation of apartments, to which they may have been admitted by permission or order of the Lord Chamberlain, or to which they might have acquired a sort of prescriptive right, by some of the irregular and surreptitious devices and methods, noticed under the reign of George I. These were, as we then explained-to prolong their stay indefinitely, on one pretext or another, in rooms assigned to them when summoned to Court for a brief visit; to get a footing in the building, by begging a grant of a few rooms from the Lord Chamberlain, or by bribing the housekeeper, or some such functionary, to lend them a room or two, and then stealthily to add other neighbouring rooms thereto, until, by a mingled system of begging, borrowing, and stealing, these Court “squatters,” as they might be termed, sometimes procured for themselves whole suites of large and comfortable apartments—such were some of the discreditable dodges resorted to by the more unscrupulous.

Indeed, successfully to circumvent these tortuous practices, and to extend an adequate supervision over a palace of the enormous size of Hampton Court, with its innumerable rooms, and its nooks and corners of all sorts, was a task, which would have taxed the resources even of the most vigilant of Lord Chamberlains. Thus it was that the authorities, to save themselves an infinity of trouble, sometimes thought the best way out of the difficulty was officially to recognize and legalize the occupancy of the “squatter," to avoid the scandal of forcible evictions.

In these matters, however, George III., who was determined to be king in fact as well as in name, endeavoured to introduce reform; and the management of his palaces being organized with greater strictness, these reprehensible practices were, to a great extent, restrained.

From the very first year of his reign he laid down the rule, that no one was to occupy rooms in Hampton Court Palace without a written authorization from the Lord Chamberlain addressed to the housekeeper, specifying the exact suite granted; and, as he seems very soon to have decided to devote most of the palace to the use of private families, the empty “lodgings," as they were termed, were rapidly assigned to various persons, at first by letter, and subsequently, from about the year 1765, by warrants under the hand of the Lord Chamberlain.

In the early part of the reign of George III. the apartments thus allocated for private occupation, which now amount to about fifty-one-exclusive of those tenanted by the housekeeper, the clerk of the works, the head gardener, the custodian of the pictures, the foreman of the works, and some half-a-dozen other officials and workmen—did not number more than about forty. Concerning their inhabitants at this period, we find a few remarks in a letter of Hannah's More's—." Holy” Hannah, as Horace Walpole used to call her—who was a frequent guest of Garrick's in his villa at Hampton, and who spent a few days in the palace about the year 1770. The private apartments are OCCUPANTS OF THE PRIVATE APARTMENTS. 383. almost all full," writes she; "they are all occupied by people of fashion, mostly of quality; and it is astonishing to me that people of large fortune will solicit for them. Mr. Lowndes has apartments next to these, notwithstanding he has an estate of £4,000 a year. In the opposite ones lives Lady Augustus FitzRoy. You know she is the mother of the Duke of Grafton.”

The astonishment here expressed that rich people should solicit the favour of apartments at Hampton Court, betrays a strange want of knowledge of the world on the part of “Holy Hannah”; though the success of their solicitations might well have moved her surprise. On the whole, however, the persons who received grants of rooms at this time, though usually of position and rank, were not generally of large means; nor do they appear to have been altogether undeserving objects of the King's favour. In many cases, at any rate, it is clear that apartments—which, it may be observed, were then held by gentlemen as well as ladies, and by married ladies as well as maiden ladies and widows—were often given in reward for, and recognition of, the services of the recipients, or of their immediate relatives, in the Army or Navy, or at Court.

The form of the warrant in use from about 1765 to 1781 was simply an order from the Lord Chamberlain to the underhousekeeper, to deliver the keys and possession of certain rooms to the person to whom they were granted, to be held by the grantee until further order. This simple form, however, soon proved insufficient for the circumstances; for it was found that the ladies and gentlemen holding apartments were so little sensible of the favour they enjoyed, as often to make no use of them for months and even years together, and also to go away and leave them without anyone to take care of them, or without even handing the key to the housekeeper.

In consequence of this, regulations had to be made about the year 1781 against such lax practices. They were embodied in the new form of warrant, which was used thenceforth, and in which it was expressly stated that “the Lodgings are to be inhabited by [Her Ladyship] or some part of her Family a part of every Year, or they will be supposed Vacant and disposed of accordingly; and when [Her Ladyship’s] Family are absent from Hampton Court, it is expected that a servant of their own shall be left in the Lodgings, or that they will leave the keys thereof with the Under-housekeeper, for the time being, agreeably to the late Regulation.”

But a much graver scandal than that aimed at in this regulation had, in the meantime, grown up, and was flourishing rankly at Hampton Court-namely, that some of the residents, looking on the rooms, which they held in the palace of their sovereign during his royal pleasure, as if they were their own freehold, coolly proceeded, without asking anyone's leave, to make alterations in permanent structures, to exchange and barter rooms with each other, and actually to let their rooms, not only to their relations and friends, but sometimes even to any stranger, who would pay them their price.

This last most gross and improper practice is referred to in a letter written by order of the Lord Chamberlain, on the 9th of September, 1778, where it is pointed out to the deputy-housekeeper that “as it is a Rule laid down, under his Majesty's approbation, that no Apartments granted in His Palaces, by the Lord Chamberlain, should be held by Persons, who have not His Lordship’s Warrant and Indulgence for the same; His Lordship desires that you will take care that this Rule is not infringed in Hampton Court Palace.”

Little attention, however, seems to have been given to this warning by the guilty parties; and, indeed, the abuse continued to prevail to such an extent, that at last King George III, became so excessively indignant at the scant respect paid to his wishes, and at the way his orders were systematically disregarded by the recipients of his favours, and at the gross misconduct, as he considered it to be, of those who, living in his house as his guests, by his gracious permission, were so impertinent as to lend his rooms to other people without his leave or sanction, that he instructed the Lord Chamberlain, Lord Hertford, to address a stringent letter to the housekeeper of Hampton Court Palace condemning in forcible terms this and similar irregularities.

The transfer of apartments for motives far less pure than those of friendship or acquaintance, constituted, of course, the gravamen of the offence; and we regret to have to record that, in spite of incessant remonstrances from the

« PreviousContinue »