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You Don’t Have to be a Queen to Live in Fulham Palace

You Don’t Have to be a Queen to Live in Fulham Palace

This week I visited two historic houses, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  On Tuesday I visited Fulham Palace with some of the other volunteers from Benjamin Franklin House.  It was part of an exchange – kind of like a sorority and fraternity exchange, but with a lot less drinking.  The Fulham Palace volunteers will be touring Franklin House next month.

Americans tend to think of kings and queens when we hear the word palace.  Fulham Palace was built for the Bishop of London, and was never intended to be a royal residence.  It’s an interesting mix of architectural styles.  The oldest parts of the building date back to Tudor times.  Later bishops added a Georgian wing and an ornate Victorian chapel.  The Palace is supposed to haunted, not surprising in a building that’s more than 400 years old.  Among other things, one of the bishops tortured heretics in the Great Hall.  I’m sure that left some unhappy spirits hanging around, but I didn’t see any during our tour.

Like many estates of its time, Fulham Palace was built near the Thames.  In the 1500s and 1600s it was easier — and safer — to commute to London by barge than by carriage.  Part of the grounds between the palace and the river now form Bishop’s Park, a lovely place for a waterfront stroll.

My second historic house this week was Ham House in Richmond.  It was built in the 1600s, and the family that owned it didn’t change much of anything for 400 years.  As a result, it’s an amazingly well-preserved example of 17th century life, with more than 30 rooms full of rare furniture, paintings, and textiles.  It’s hard to imagine living with the same décor for hundreds of years, but I imagine that re-decorating 30 rooms would be a daunting proposition.  A “below stairs” exhibit in the kitchens and cellars shows how the servants of Ham House lived and worked.  I’m sure that’s where I would have ended up if I had been born in the 17th century, and it didn’t look like much fun.

Ham House is supposed to be one of the most haunted houses in Britain, but I didn’t see any ghosts here either.  The beautiful gardens and the tea shop in the old orangery made up for the lack of ghosts.  Of course, I stopped for a cream tea.  It was a beautiful day, so I enjoyed it at one of the tables in the garden.

Like Fulham Palace, Ham House is built on the Thames.  After my visit, I planned to walk along the Thames Path to get back to the center of town.  Unfortunately I forgot that the Thames is a tidal river.  I stopped to watch some rowers, and all of a sudden I realized that the water had crept up to the edge of the path.  I set off right away, but ten minutes later the path was entirely underwater.  So much for my leisurely stroll along the river!  I had to turn back and walk all the way back to the bus stop instead.

Later that evening I went to the Home Nations Comedy Night at the Rugby World Cup Fanzone in Richmond.  It featured comedians from each of the “home nations” of the UK: Chris Martin from England, Eleanor Tiernan from Northern Ireland, Lloyd Langford from Wales, and Danny Bhoy from Scotland.  New Zealand comedian Jarred Christmas served as the emcee.  It was a lot of fun.

I arrived early despite my Thames detour, and ended up in the middle of the second row.  At the beginning of the show, Jarred asked people in the first couple of rows where they were from.  He thought it was particularly funny that I was from Chicago, and proceeded to toss out jokes about Chicago throughout the evening.  Luckily I wasn’t too embarrassed.  The two bottles of Bulmers cider I had during the show might have helped with that.

When I planned the trip, I didn’t realize that Richmond is well over an hour from southeast London.  I felt like a real Londoner when I got on the train in Richmond and ended up at Teak Close without any trouble.  Even though it was almost midnight by the time I got home, there were still a lot of people on the Tube and at the Canada Water bus stop.  I changed trains at Waterloo and was amazed at how busy the station was at 11 pm on a Thursday evening.  Union Station in Chicago is deserted at that time.  I guess London is one city that never sleeps!

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