Writing on Location
Turning a large black metal knob, in unison with the key, opened a
heavy, dark green door to the 16th century Pie Maker’s living
quarters. A short flight of stairs led to a corridor where latticed
windows gave a glimpse of people, in Tudor dress, bustling about in
courtyards below. Te first door I opened, off the corridor, led into
the kitchen. Arranged on a table was a pretty tea set of blue and
white patterned china. Te palace security asked, if I made toast, to
please crank open the kitchen window, a mere whiff of smoke would
set off the palace fire alarms alerting every fire brigade in the
London region to respond. Te sitting room, with a well-stocked
bookcase, deep, comfortable armchairs and sofas, an antique iron
fireplace and soft lighting rendered a wonderful sense of tranquility.
Behind two doors, one at each end of the corridor, wound spiral
staircases, the steps, triangular and narrow, made for the tread of
Royal Pie Makers feet, not size ten sneakers of the 21st century.
Stooping under an archway of red brick I opened a sturdy door
Ducking under a black beam at the top of the stairs I stepped into a
painted dark green. A narrow passage-way led to yet another door,
room with cream colored walls, one of the Royal Pie Makers
pushing it open I stepped out onto the cobblestones of Fish Court,
bedrooms. Antique smoky glass,
or Fish Covrt, as the16th century stone sign read, I felt like Alice in
set in beautiful latticed
Wonderland. Fish Court was the trademan’s entrance, a long narrow
windows, gave a stunning eye
courtyard, a back door to the Tudor
level view of the famous tall red,
palace kitchens of King Henry
twisted chimney stacks of King
VIII. High, red brick walls
Henry VIII’s extraordinary
surrounded the courtyard; sunlight
Tudor palace.
crept between tall chimney stacks
When tourists left for the day the massive gold and black iron gates
suffusing the courtyard with golden
to the palace entrance were locked for the night. Staying in Fish
glowing light.
Court gave me the opportunity to explore the intriguing courtyards
I was booked to stay for one week, in the 16th century Royal
and 60 acres of stunning gardens without the crowds. Te River
Pie-Makers living quarters above the Great Roasting Kitchen of
Tames wound past palace gardens, swans sailed by, causing hardly a
Hampton Court Palace. King Henry had six massive spits installed
ripple in the water, silent, majestic heads held high, the swans
to cook a variety of animals and game birds for his royal court,
resembled elegant ladies of the Royal Court. Stone pathways led to
between two and three hundred people ate twice daily, the number
small secluded gardens sprinkled with fallen lilac petals, wisteria
doubled when foreign kings and queens came to stay.
tumbled along old brick walls and bird song filled the early evening
air. Strolling, in privacy, through the spectacular palace gardens sent
Standing by the door of the Great Roasting Kitchen, I could hear
chills down my spine and conjured visions of 16th century ladies,
the sound of knives chopping, pans rattling, water swishing and the
their skirts swishing over dew covered lawns.
low hum of conversation, interspersed with shouts of orders to the
staff. Delicious aromas of meat sizzling on a spit, the pungent scent
of herbs, spices and bread baking swirled through the open doorway.
On a rough-hewn wooden table by the kitchen door a selection of
meat pies, the pastry crusts thick and golden brown, made my
mouth water. 16th century diners ate only the contents of pastry
cases, pie crusts were discarded. Hampton Court Palace had sprung
to life; it was a re-enactment of the excesses of 16th century life in a
Royal Court. Courtiers, servants, ladies in waiting, King Henry and
one of his many Queens, dressed in sumptuous robes, greeted visitors
to the palace. In the numerous
palace kitchens 16th century
dishes were being prepared, but
the large, golden brown meat
pies, on the table by the kitchen
door, were ceramic, but still
looked good enough to eat.
Before I moved to the USA I lived
seven miles from Hampton Court
Palace. My office, opposite the
ornate gates of the main entrance,
allowed me every opportunity to
study Tudor history. King Henry
VIII’s reign fascinated me; I spent
countless hours at the Palace
listening to lectures. I wrote articles
and short stories for history
magazines about life in Tudor
times, my children’s story, Turning
the Spit, the life of a young boy in
the Great Roasting Kitchen, was accepted in Beijing, China, as
educational reading for young students. Until I stayed in the 16th
century Royal Pie Makers living quarters, in May of 2014, I had not
recognized the value of writing on site. Immersed in the daily life of
Hampton Court Palace, to smell chicken’s roasting on the spit, free
to ramble throughout the palace and gardens without a tour guide,
brought an extra dimension to my writing.
We cannot always visit locations we write about, but the week I
stayed in the Palace gave me an insight to the value of writing on
site. Senses are keener, small nuances, not available in reference
books, spring to life, writing skills are heightened by having walked
in the footsteps of the characters in our books. In my novel, ‘An
Unexpected Adventure’ a blacksmith, living in Hampton Court
Village, plays a significant role, knowing very little about
blacksmithing I took a course with a traditional blacksmith. Each
morning I lit and stoked the forge fire, pumped the bellows until the
coals glowed, heated and bent iron with a variety of tools and
plunged red hot iron into a bucket of water where it sizzled and
steamed. Soot clung to my face, the smell of smoke and cinders
wafted from my clothes as I moved and I enjoyed every hot, smoky,
dirty minute of it.
Readers of my novel have written to say their visits to Hampton
Court Palace were enhanced by my storytelling. How I wish I’d had
the opportunity to stay at the palace before writing my novel.
On second thoughts, I can always write a sequel.
Josephine is a British subject and citizen
of the world. She’s traveled extensively in
the Middle East, and studied written and
spoken Arabic at Amman University in
Jordan. She’s a published writer of travel
articles and short stories. She has written
Tudor England and the other in Anglo
Saxon England, published by Ecanus, UK.