HAMPTON COURT PALACE, The Chapel Royal (TQ 158685)

(a)     Gallery and partition

Felling dates: Spring 1525 and Winter 1525/6

(b)     Henry VIII timber fan-vaulted ceiling to Chapel Royal     

Felling date range (OxCal modelled): 1529-1542 (unrefined 1521-1553)

(c)     Ceiling and roof to Ante-Chapel 

Felling dates: Winter 1633/4, Spring 1634, and Summer 1634

(a)Upright studs 1525(20C), 1502(7), 1494(H/S), 1470;  Horizontal beam over gallery (1489(H/S); Lower main beam 1524(37¼C), Side panel (later repair) (0/1); (b) Tiebeam 1509(h/s); Binders (2/3) 1516(h/s), 1513(h/s); Rib support joists (2/3) 1514(h/s), 1513(h/s); Ceiling board 1492, 1477; (c) Tiebeams 1633(23C, 14½C); Principal rafters (3/4) 1633(14¼C), 1632(17), 1618(22¼C); Timbers reset as intermediate principal rafters 1632(14), 1625(5); Raking struts (2/4) 1633(21C), 1631(22¼C + 1 or 2 NM); Ceiling joists 1584(17C), 1615(h/s), 1589; King post(01/). Site Masters (a and b) 1376-1525 HMPTNCT1 (t = 8.7 ABTSBRTN; 8.7 SHALFRD2; 8.4 HANTS02); (c) 1498-1633 HMPTNCT2 (11.3 HANTS02; 10.1 OXON93; 8.9 CHAZEY1)


(2006) The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court is thought to have been constructed in two principal phases, the first by Cardinal Wolsey between 1514-28 which produced a T-shaped plan similar to collegiate chapels such as Magdalen and New College, Oxford.   Major works were carried out by Henry VIII around 1535-6 which included the elaborate timber fan-vaulted ceiling was constructed over the main body of the chapel.  What is not known is just when the Royal Pew and its partition screen was constructed over the ante-chapel. Later remodelling of the Royal Pew occurred in the late 17th century when it was divided into three compartments.  This also involved strengthening the main supporting beam at first floor level, which appeared to have been lowered. It was the failure of a number of these structural elements that necessitated the opening up of the timber frame, and hence the desire to understand the chronological development of the surviving fabric. The dating has shown that one of the uprights dates to Wolsey’s work in 1525/6, although it has been reset, as have some of the other elements.  Dating commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces. (Miles, Worthington, and Bridge 2006, VA 37, list 177)

(2007) In VA 37, 121, dates were reported for timbers, probably repositioned, forming the partition between the ante-chapel and the main body of the chapel, which contains the Royal Pew, Winter Pew, and Lady Chapel. The lower main beam of the gallery which failed to date at the time has now, with the taking of additional samples, produced a felling date of spring 1525, consistent with those produced by the reused timbers. This beam however appears to be in situ. It is about 16 inches square  and over 40 feet long with a clear span exceeding 35 feet. Laid over this are three beams, edge-jointed, which are jointed at the extremities into the lower beam by means of projecting tenons with long sloping shoulders, resulting in the removal of a considerable amount of material from the bottom of the upper beams. The relationship of this beam to the other resited timbers is still under review. Seasoning evidence has demonstrated that other timbers felled by Wolsey in the winter of 1525/6 were not used until the Palace was acquired by Henry VIII who divided the gallery into the Holyday Closets for the King and Queen.

On the appropriation of Hampton Court by Henry VIII, he replaced Wolsey’s ceiling over the main body of the Chapel Royal with the magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling in timber. This is of four bays, spanning 35 feet with timber-framed pendants and moulded ribs; the ribs are connected to the upper supporting timbers by numerous tusk tenons. It was prefabricated at Sonning in Berkshire and then transported down the river to Hampton, and was probably designed by William Clement, who went on to create Nonsuch Palace. The reduced felling range of 1529-1542 for the timbers compares well with the documented construction date of 1535/6.

Of equal importance is the discovery that the entire ceiling and roof structure to the antechapel are by Inigo Jones. The felling dates of 1633-4 place it firmly during the time when Jones was Surveyor of the King’s Works (1615-43). A number of reused timbers were found to have been incorporated in the roof construction, one from 1619 relating to earlier repairs by Jones between 1619 and 1623. The only other confirmed example of his structural carpentry is the Queen’s Chapel at St James’s Palace (with a house at Stoke Bruerne, Northants also a possibility) (David Yeomans, ‘Inigo Jones’s roof structures’ Architectural History 29 (1986), 85-101). It is likely that Master Carpenter Ralph Brice would have been responsible for executing the work. A number of reused timbers were found to have been incorporated in the roof construction.

The ante-chapel roof design is simple in concept but sophisticated in the jointing details. It has five trusses with clear spans of about 35 feet, the middle three supported over the main body of the Chapel by a truss formed over the wallplate. They have king posts and one set of raking struts to the principal rafters. The tiebeams are thickened at their ends where they meet the principal rafters and run over the wallplates; the king-posts have thickened tops and bottoms where the joints with the principals and raking struts are often joggled. The joint between each raking strut and the principal is especially sophisticated , with two hidden sloping shoulders either side of the central tenon for maximum compressive restraint. Ceiling joists are tenoned into the tiebeams; they carry pine boarding on which lath and plaster was applied and moulded timber ribs and pendants fixed. It has not yet been determined if these applied ribs were part of Jones’s original decoration. Certainly, they were in place before 1689 when the central dividing wall was removed and a coved ceiling inserted below, painted by James Thornhill in 1710-11. Dating commissioned by Historic Royal Palaces. (Miles, Worthington, and Bridge 2007, VA 38, list 189)