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Trackside: A Right Royal Romp

Stories about people and places from across the South Western Railway network.

Britain is known the world over for its royal castles and palaces – residences that have been the scene of births, deaths and weddings…

Not to mention banquets, jousting, drama and plotting. 

I don’t think any palace has been a very peaceful place for long!


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Our first destination is Windsor in Berkshire.

There’s been a Windsor since around the 7th century, firstly as a small riverside settlement – known then as ‘Windlesora’. Today it’s called ‘Old Windsor’.  

After the Normans built their castle in 1070, the local population decided to move to be around the base of the castle, and New Windsor was established.

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William the Conqueror’s original castle was built in wood, before being rebuilt in stone in the reign of Henry II, around the same time as the first bridge here over the Thames was built – which was quite a rare thing at the time. 

The castle, with its thick walls and strong towers, has always been a safe place for kings and queens to live.

Windsor Castle

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For many years, Windsor Castle was the favourite home of her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Everywhere you look you can see evidence of the important role it would have played as a fortress. Just check out for battlements, towers, arrow loops and… murder holes!

They were a pretty gruesome way to defend a castle against invaders. They’re basically holes in the ceiling through which attacking soldiers could be shot or bombarded with stones and boiling water. You can see some examples at the Norman Gate archway.

Some of the most dazzling sights are in the State Apartments – the magnificent rooms used by the monarch and members of the Royal Family to entertain guests.

Don’t miss the King’s Dining Room with paintings of fish, lobster and birds on the ceiling the Grand Reception Room decorated with real gold where the King would welcome guests to his castle.

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St George’s Hall is where splendid banquets are held. It’s filled with the coats of arms of the Knights of the Garter, of which there’s been more than 1,000. Knights would wear their coats of arms in battle so that friends and enemies could tell who he was!

Another great building to check out in the castle is St George’s Chapel. Built in the 15th century, it’s a ‘Royal Peculiar’ meaning it’s a church that’s owned and run directly by the monarch. It’s a place of worship for the Monarch and Royal Family, as well as a church for the local community and is the resting place for 11 kings and queens including Queen Elizabeth II.

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Some other things to look out for when at the Castle:

  • The Changing of the Guard doesn’t just happen at Buckingham Palace… The ceremony also takes place outside Windsor Castle daily from April to July, and every other day from August to March. It’s a colourful display of pageantry, featuring the Guards, the Household Cavalry and a military band.
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  • Windsor Castle has over 450 clocks. When British Summer Time begins, it takes The King’s horologist 16 hours to move every clock forward by one hour, and then 18 hours to adjust them back one hour as he actually has to move them forward 11 hours!
  • The Castle’s also home to the world’s largest dolls house. Queen Mary’s dolls house was made in the 1920s and includes tiny models from over 1,500 of world-class artists, craftsmen and manufacturers. It’s a perfect replica of an aristocratic Edwardian household, with a dazzlingly intricate library.

Windsor Great Park

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Windsor Great Park is a great way to spend a few hours if you love the outdoors – or need some space to burn off some energy.

Located to the south of the town, the enormous park has over 4,800 acres of green space and plenty to do and see for all ages – woodland walks and beautiful gardens. To reach Windsor Great Park, walk along The Long Walk. Built in the 17th century, the tree-lined avenue runs from the gates of the Castle to the copper statue of King George III on his horse. It’s a 3 mile walk, and takes about an hour.

Royal Railway Stations

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Windsor has two railway stations – Windsor Central which is a branch line that connects with Slough, and Windsor and Eton Riverside which is by the river and connects with London Waterloo. 

With Royal trains using both stations, each was built with Royal waiting rooms for privacy away from all the commoners. Today, the waiting room at central is a restaurant. It still has lots of original features – look for the decorations on the ceiling and the marble sinks.

To continue our Right Royal Romp, we’re leaving from Riverside station, where we can find one more hidden historic gem. The wall on the road side of the station forms a long curve, parallel with the platform, containing a series of arches with blue doors. This wall links the station with the former Royal Waiting Room built for Queen Victoria, with its Tudor arched windows.

What you like

We caught up with some children to find out their favourite places to visit in and around Windsor…

  • “I like Windsor because one of my favourite books is the BFG by Roald Dahl and in the story, the BFG and Sophie lived in the Royal Park at the end of the book.”
  • “The Royal Park is brilliant because there’s a good pool there with slides and a wave machine, there’s loads of great shops and nice places to eat.”
  • “When we come to Windsor we usually go to Legoland and sometimes we stay in the Legoland hotel which is really cool with rooms with themes like Pirates or Ninjago.”

Kew Palace

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Time to find our next Royal location… Kew Palace.

Kew Palace didn’t actually start off as a royal palace. It was originally a fashionable mansion for wealthy London silk merchant, Samuel Fortrey, built in 1631.  

In the 18th century, George II and Queen Caroline were attracted to Little Kew, thinking it a perfect lodging for their three eldest daughters… and so they bought it! 

Several generations of Georgian royalty used Kew and nearby Richmond Lodge as weekend retreats from what would have been a very busy public life. 

They loved it so much that Queen Caroline spent her last days in Kew and the villagers came out in huge numbers to pay their respects as her coffin made its journey into the City for the last time.

It’s a great place to get a flavour for life back then. Back in the 1730s the vast, now-empty kitchens once hummed with life with 30 staff bustling about preparing food. 

King George III

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Once a place of calm for the royal family, Kew fell under the shadow of George III’s mental illness.

The King was imprisoned here during his first bout of what was called his ‘madness’ in 1788. Away from the public gaze, in the peace and seclusion of Kew, an increasingly desperate band of doctors tried to cure him.

He did survive but probably in spite of his treatments, not because of them – amongst them, powerful emetics to make him vomit and laxatives, freezing baths and leeching.  

He was also put into a strait-jacket if he refused to co-operate.

Kew Gardens

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The reason we can visit Kew Gardens today is because the Crown transferred ownership of Kew to the nation in 1840. 

Across its 300 acres, Kew Gardens contains some 28,680 living plants, an herbarium of approximately seven million dried specimens and a library of some 130,000 volumes in addition to archived materials, periodicals, and prints and drawings.

A cool secret is that underneath the Palm House lie the remains of railway tunnels. They were used to transport fuel for heating the glasshouse, with carts of coal being pulled by hand along the route. These tunnels were also built to carry smoke away from the glasshouse boilers.

Rather than ruin the beautiful aesthetic of the building by adding chimneys to the design, a smokestack connected to the tunnels and disguised as an Italianate bell tower, was located near the Palm House Pond.

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For such a peaceful place, it’s had its dramatic moments! 

  • Did you know that two planes have crash-landed in the gardens? The first was in 1928 when a single-seater Siskin aircraft came down in flames near Syon Vista. The pilot managed to escape unharmed, saved by his parachute.
  • The second crash happened in 1938 when an aircraft pulling an advertising banner was forced to make an emergency landing near the Palm House. Luckily, there were no casualties.

What you like

We caught up with some children to find out their favourite places to visit in and around Kew…

  • “As well as looking at all the plants and flowers there are brilliant indoor and outdoor playgrounds as well as a treetop walk. Sometimes there are concerts and theatre and at Christmas there is always a amazing event like with lights, vintage fairground rides and hot chocolate!”

Hampton Court Palace

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Our final Royal Romp destination is Hampton Court Palace – the palace that Henry VIII loved to bring his royal court to – to hunt, feast and party. He spent more time here than anywhere else.

The palace was originally built for Cardinal Wolsey in 1514, but Henry loved it so much he gave it to the King in 1529. 

Henry set about a little rebuilding of his own. He was so impatient for it to be finished that he insisted that the carpenters be given candles so that they could work into the night on the new ceiling.

The walls of the Great Hall are hung with the most sumptuous tapestries, The Story of Abraham. They cost him the same amount of money as a warship would today and made with real gold and silver thread. From the ceilings and tapestries to the stained glass windows and precious jewels on display in the chapel. 

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You can take them all in on the organised tours which come with some brilliant audio guides.

The Palace was home to the Royal Family until 1760, after which it was used to house grace and favour residents. From 1862 to his death in 1867, the scientist and pioneer of electricity, Michael Faraday, lived here. From the 1960s the number of new residents declined, with the last leaving in 2017. 

Along with the Georgian Apartments and the Great Hall, the kitchens are a great place to get a feel for the sheer scale of the palace. They were the biggest kitchens in Tudor England.

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They needed to be – when the royal court was at Hampton Court, 600 people would need feeding each day.  In the kitchens, you can see where fresh food arrived and was stored.  

On a cold day, the kitchens are a great place to visit – as there’s often a roaring fire. 

You can see the walls are blackened with hundreds of years of use. Further along is the Serving Place where the food was arranged on the best pewter dishes and taken up to the Great Hall.

The Gardens… and Maze

Don’t think of leaving Hampton Court without visiting the most famous maze in the world and one you can really risk getting lost in.

The 60-acre formal gardens are beautiful throughout the year and the perfect place for letting off steam and playing hide-and-seek.

What you like

We caught up with some children to find out their favourite places to visit in and around Hampton Court Palace…

  • We like the magic garden, its got lots of imaginary monsters and animals and a secret grotto.”
  • “The maze is really cool – I thought it was pretty easy to find our way out but my dad got lost!”
  • “Sometimes you get people dressed up as characters acting out the scenes from history which is fun.”



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Stories about people and places from across the railway network

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