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Great Hall, Hampton Court Palace


Most great halls in palaces, substantial houses, Inns of Court, etc were fitted up from time to time for masques or other theatrical entertainments but some had such long and notable theatre use that they need to be included in this gazetteer (cf London, Whitehall Banqueting House and the Middle Temple Hall). Hampton Court Great Hall, built by Henry VIII to replace the more modest hall of Wolsey’s palace, was so used regularly from the reign of Elizabeth I.

A stage was erected against the screen in 1572; a chamber adjoining served as a dressing room and the Great Watching Chamber was used for rehearsals. By the reign of George I the theatrical fit-up had become semi-permanent. In 1718 performances were open to the public within, for example ‘Henry VIII’ performed in its actual setting. The final performance in the Great Hall was on 18 October 1731 but the stage was not finally cleared away until 1798. Fit-ups have continued to be made at long intervals on special occasions.

The hall, as now seen, is less colourful than it once was, the decorative painting having been removed from the roof trusses in the 1920s. The great hammer beam roof is enriched in every part with mouldings, tracery and carving, incorporating amidst carved foliage, the Royal coat of arms of Henry, sometimes incorporating those of Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. The elaborate lantern pendants on the trusses show the influence of Italian art. At the entry end a galleried oak screen.

It is sometimes said that Hampton Court Great Hall is the only example of a regularly used roofed Elizabethan theatre now to be seen. Given that no purpose-built theatres have survived, this room must certainly claim the attention of theatre historians.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1572 - 1731
Current state
Current use
Converted to other use (the Great Hall is part of a Royal palace and a public monument)
Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, London, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, KT8 9AU, England
Further details
Other names
  • Owner/Management:
  • 1531 Design/Construction:
    Richard Rydge of London
    - Consultant
    elaborate roof pendants
  • 1532 - 1534 Design/Construction: Array master carpenter/surveyor of King’s Works, reusing parts of earlier Great Hall
    James Nedeham
    - Architect
  • 1540 Design/Construction:
    Bernard van Orly
    - Consultant
    tapestries (installed in C17)
  • 1572 - 1731 Use:
  • Listing
Stage type
Building dimensions: 106ft x 40ft x 60ft
Stage dimensions: -
Proscenium width: -
Height to grid: -
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: -