Hampton Court Palace with kids

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We took a trip out to Hampton Court Palace while we were staying in London this half term. Luckily for us the English schools were still hard at work so other than some school visits, the palace was very quiet. We were most interested in seeing the Tudor part of the castle, so after speaking to a lady at the information desk, we set off on two guided tours for kids – one of King Henry’s palace and one of the kitchens. We were given some Tudor gowns to wear but the boys quickly decided these were not cool!

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There were also various events on during the day involving actors and plenty of audience participation. We saw one where Queen Elizabeth I was deciding the fate of Sir Walter Raleigh. The kids were far too intimidated by her to say anything. We then saw the old Tudor banqueting hall, chapel and the private pew of King Henry VIII. The corridor leading to it is said to be haunted by Katherine Howard who was dragged down the corridor to be taken to the Tower of London before having her head chopped off.

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The gardens were great for a run around and let off a bit of steam and Britain’s oldest maze was a big hit although declared ‘too easy’. We had lunch at the Tiltyard Cafe. The food made us kind of wish we had been organised enough to bring a packed lunch, but the Hungry Caterpillars Den was a big hit. Yes, so even the boys who were too cool to wear the Tudor gown spent an hour playing with the wooden play kitchen, and we got to enjoy a cup of coffee in peace.

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So my top tips would be – get some of the children’s guide booklets, get involved with the events and chat to the actors and staff who were so friendly and loved telling the kids tales about ghosts and goings on in the palace. Bring a packed lunch if the weather is nice and enjoy the beautiful gardens (and save some bread to feed the swans on the river on the way back to the station). The children’s audio guides might also be worth checking out.

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This website has some great Tudor activities for kids which are great to have  a look at before or after a visit. They include some Henry VIII colouring pages, and our personal favourite, a game where you can challenge him to a fight!

Or try this brilliant game and quiz about the life of Henry VIII set in Hampton Court!

 

Make a Tudor pomander

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Life in Tudor England could be a bit whiffy. Just think–no flushing toilets, no hot running water. People didn’t wash themselves or their clothes nearly as often as we do now, so things could get a little smelly. Rich Tudors had a cunning plan though–they used to carry round sweet smelling herbs, spices and pomanders to sniff at when things got bad.

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Here we have tried to recreate some Tudor pomander beads. They were  made with dried herbs and spices bound together with gums and resins to make a hard bead that could be put inside lockets or pomanders and carried around.

Here is our easy version:

Tudor Pomander Beads

You will need:

  • 2 tbsp dried lavender
  • 4tbs dried rose petals
  • 2tbs ground cinnamon
  • 2tbs cloves
  • 4tbsp PVA glue
  • a few drops of rose or lavender oil (optional)
  • a mortar and pestle

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First put the cloves into the mortar and grind them until they become a rough powder (if you don’t have a mortar and pestle you could put the cloves into a plastic bag and give them a bash with a rolling pin instead.)

Pour into a bowl and add the other ingredients.

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Mix together then roll into small balls with your hands. The mixture will be very sticky but don’t worry–they will be perfect when dry.

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Leave the balls to dry over night.

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The beads are now ready. They should smell pretty good–what do you think? We made ours into a pomander by wrapping it in some gold braid. It can then be worn round your neck or attached to your belt and sniffed if ever you happen to be passing something disgusting (like your brothers smelly socks).

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Stirling Castle – medieval life in 4D

Stirling castle life in 4D

We visited Stirling Castle this morning. We often meet my mum and dad there as it is half way between us and a good place to catch up and spend a few hours. The kids love exploring the ‘dungeon’ (which is not actually a dungeon at all, but some dark creepy rooms down steep steps) and running round the battlements.

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Last time we were there we discovered a whole new area in the palace vaults designed for kids, so we went back there today to have a better look. There was plenty to do – not just reading and quizzes, but also things to touch, feel, smell and hear.

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After listening to a TED talk this week about how the use of all your senses can improve the quality of an experience (this was not a talk for children I would warn you!) it really made me appreciate how good these displays were. It made me think much more about how life must have been like back then – how it must have sounded and smelt, and how impressive all the colours and rich fabrics must have been to mere commoners like myself. The only things missing was something to eat! Plenty of inspiration there for some Medieval/Tudor projects I think…

 

Make some Tudor sweets

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I’m sorry to say there were no Haribos in Tudor England. Can you imagine a life with hardly any sweet foods?

In Tudor England, if you were very rich, you might have got to eat some sweets made of Marchpane, which was made of almonds and sugar. Both of these ingredients had to be imported by boat from abroad and were very expensive. They also had be finely ground by your servants, before being mixed together with rose water.

The marchpane would then be made into flat discs and baked before being decorated with other marchpane shapes, confits (sugared seeds, spice or dried fruit) or, for very special occasions, with edible gold leaf.

It was moulded into some amazing shapes and it is said that Queen Elizabeth I was given a marchpane model of St Paul’s Cathedral. Someone else even managed to make a Marchpane chess set! You would probably give these sweets as gifts, or use them to impress guests when you had a feast.

 Tudor Sweets

Our sweets are made with marzipan – a modern version of Marchpane. You will need;

  • 1 pack of marzipan,
  • some icing sugar,
  • food colourings,
  • small cookie cutters,
  • edible cake decorations, dried fruit or nuts
  • small paper case
  1. Sprinkle some icing sugar onto the table to stop it sticking. Mold the marzipan into any shape you like – it feels very like play dough! We made some small balls to put in a paper case which we decorated with marzipan shapes made with cookie cutters. We also made a large disc decorated with a tudor rose, and had a go at making a chessman (but this was not so easy!)
  2. You can decorate your shapes by painting them with food colouring and a paintbrush, icing them or cutting out small shapes to stick on the top. You could also use sprinkles, dried fruits or nuts. We found some edible gold cake spray at the supermarket which we used to decorate our sweets.

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We would love to see some of your sweets and if you manage to make a model of St Paul’s Cathedral, please let us know!