Woking Palace is for the birds

Since Alex and I coughed up the dough to join English Heritage a few weeks ago, we’ve decided to take advantage of all the opportunities we can to use our membership. This past weekend was the English Heritage Open Days weekend, when lots of sites are open to the public that are normally closed. We decided to venture down to Woking Palace, which is only open 3 times year, to see what there was to see.

Woking Palace is near Old Woking, which is unfortunately not really convenient to much transit. We took Southwest Trains to Woking, and then hopped on a local bus to Old Woking. Then we had to walk a mile down this little country lane, which started off nice and paved, but progressively deteriorated until it was just a muddy path through a field.

At the entrance to the site there was a wooden bridge over this little wet spot. There was also a sign that said “DANGER: Deep Water!”.  But I think they were exaggerating.  Apparently this was part of hte moat … in which case it’s the saddest looking moat I’ve ever seen.  Woking Palace was not really a palace, at best it was a manor house near the town of Old Woking. (Although I think it was just Woking back then, it probably didn’t become Old Woking until New Woking was built!)

Unfortunately, this is about all that remains. Some open fields, a red brick wall, and what looks like a barn from the 1970s. Apparently the barn roof is a modern method of protecting the barrel-vaulted hall beneath, but it’s really quite ugly and detracts from the site. Because it’s not usually open the public, there is no posted information or maps or plans of the area. There were volunteers in each of the two tents seen above, but the value of their presence was questionable.

This was apparently the King’s Hall. It just looks like some bricks to me, unfortunately. I didn’t have a vision of what the place used to look like, even though I did my research before we went.  Henry VIII was a regular visitor to Woking Palace, and even installed a new wharf and two bowling alleys. Major renovations were done under Henry and Elizabeth I, but the palace was abandoned in the early 17th century and afterwards was used as a barn by local farmers.

This is the interior of the barrel-vaulted building. There were 2 volunteers on duty, but they had a disagreement when I asked what the original purpose of the building was. One claimed that it was obviously a storage room, while the other believed it to have been a dormitory. It seems that the Friends of Woking Palace have a bit of work to do in terms of volunteer coordination!  While I do appreciate that they set the room above to appear as a feast, it was totally weird and creepy. All of the “food” items were plastic, and the dishes looked like they came from Tesco!  Even more disturbing was the “menage a trois” over in the corner: a cardboard cutout of Henry VIII, along with two headless female dummies dressed in medieval garb. Are these supposed to be Anne Boleyn and Katharine Howard?  Or are they just headless by coincidence?  Either way, I suggest they ditch the faux-people and either hire real actors or keep the scene simple.

The best part of the day, and what really saved the whole excursion from disaster, was the presence of Raphael Falconry.  Emma and Mike are the only professional historic falconers in all of England. They have successfully joined historic re-enactments with the sport of falconry and hawking. They own lots of birds, and take them out on occasions like this one to fly them for the public in flying displays and educational talks.

I can’t rave enough about how great these people were. Both were excellent public speakers; they had amazing equipment, including historic tents and clothing, and were really able to show the audience and teach us a lot about hawking and hunting. Apparently they can recreate several time periods, including all costumes and appropriate accessories. On this day they were in their Medieval outfits, and told us how Henry VIII and even Elizabeth I used professional falconers and birds for sport and to hunt for the table.  They had a peregrine falcon, an owl, and several other birds that all flew for us. Falconry is one of those things that you always read about in historical fiction books, but very rarely do you get the opportunity to see and learn about the birds in real life.


Posted on 13/09/2010, in Castles & Cathedrals, Exploring the UK, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Very cool. I shared the bit on falconry with John as he is finishing reading My Side of the Mountain. Sam and Frightful have him hooked on the survival books. He has also read a few of Gary Paulsens series. Keep the posts coming–we are reading!

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