Hampton Court Palace: Wolsey's Masterpiece

Chapter 4 : “iii spads & iii shovells”

The building accounts for Wolsey's work at Hampton Court survive for parts of 1515 and 1516 but sadly the rest are lost. The accounts do however give us a really interesting picture of that period of work on the site.

The building accounts begin on the 20th of January 1515 with a payment to "John Chapman of Kyngston my lords gardyner" for gardening at Hampton Court and sundry items including spades, shovels, rakes and a wheel barrow. The first mention of the new buildings comes on the 12th of February, the same year, when the phrase "novum edificorum" (new buildings) is used for the first time.

The construction of a new Tudor palace requires a vast array of different materials. Several different types of stone and wood, bricks by the hundred thousand, roof and floor tiles, chalk (for making up the foundations), red ochre (for colouring the walls), mortar, glass, ironwork and lead are all being sourced from across the south of England. One order for 184 tonnes of chalk, comes from the Prior of Mertons quarries in Tapley, a William Emery of "ryslype" (Ruislip) is paid for supplying lime and Thomas Smedon is given expenses to cover his trip to Cobham Park to "viewe and marke my lords tymber". Much of this material is transported via the Thames, and in July 1515 a large wharf is built especially for the unloading of goods.

Kingston is functioning as a supply hub for the building work and the local economy must have been given a major boost. The accounts record purchases of everything from large quantities of ceramic tiles, sold by "Jane Byrd of Kyngston, Widdow" for 4s 8d per thousand, to a new lock and key for the counting house door coming from "Garrett Herryson of Kingston" who also goes on to sell numerous other pieces of metal work over the course of the year. Many of the craftsmen and labourers working on site were likely from the local area, though some, particularly masons, would have been drawn from further afield.

As well as goods and materials, the accounts also record the craftsmen working onsite. Alongside the lists of bricklayers, carpenters, masons, sawyers, labourers, tilers and gardeners, we get details of the specialist trades involved in the construction. On the 26th of March 1515 Olyver Glasier of Thistleworth is paid for "glasing 130 fot of both the sidis the gallery wth my lords glase" whilst on the 2nd of July Anthony Clokmaker of Westminster is paid for repairing the clock.

This project was very expensive, even the non-specialist workers were earning between 4d and 6d a day and there were regularly over 100 of them onsite. Alongside this, were the costs of all the materials and large one off projects like excavating the new moat, which cost £35 19s 2d in 1518. The total cost for the building work at Hampton Court in 1516 reached £1,182 19s 11.5d. The overall costs of the works are hard to estimate, as we don't have access to all the accounts, but it was clearly a vast sum of money.