This is an old print of Hampton Court Castle, the magnificent building that inspired one of the main settings in the VV's novel, The Somnambulist.

This Hampton Court is in Herefordshire and has long stirred the VV's imagination - although in The Somnambulist it has been renamed as Dinwood Court. Very often, when a child, when travelling past in the family car she loved to peer out of the window, seeing the great arched iron gates, and behind them the long straight driveway which led to the house itself. 

And, this is how Phoebe, The Somnambulist's main narrator describes the view she sees, when arriving on a cold wet night, having travelled by train from London - "As we drove on past expanses of lawns, nothing prevented my view of the house – a central square tower above an arched entrance, castellated walls running either side, and so many windows, I couldn’t even begin to count – and each one unlit and unwelcoming. But, as the moon’s face broke through fast-scudding clouds, I saw something else that quite took my breath, the thing that was lying behind that house, spreading upwards and outwards for several miles: the dense, sloping woodlands that glistened like silver. And, being quite overawed, and sounding far more like Old Riley than me, I exclaimed, “Strike a light! What a wonder. I’ve never seen so many trees in my life.”

The interior of Dinwood Court has been much 'expanded upon' from that the VV came to know when Hampton Court was a private home; when she worked there as a cleaner during university holidays. Since then, the house - which was once bought by Richard Arkwright, famed for his Spinning-Frame - has changed hands more than once, with many original furnishings lost. But, the outward appearance, along with the great swathes of woodland behind, remain as you would see it now.

The orangery - now used as a cafe - was a Victorian addition to the main body of the house, the history of which dates back to the fifteenth century.The 'glass house' was designed by Joseph Paxton, famed for the Crystal Palace in London, in which the Great Exhibition was held in 1851.

The courtyard has several gargoyles which the VV rather likes, but Phoebe certainly doesn't  "...monstrous menacing features most of them had, and wide open mouths that still spewed with trickling twists of rain, draining from gutters and roofs above."

Today, you can visit the house and see what you think of the gargoyles and - if the weather is dry enough - also walk through the re-designed gardens which are exceptionally beautiful. The house is a popular venue for weddings, and should you wish to stay the night, details can be found on the Johansen's site.

The writer and historian, Catherine Beale, has written about Hampton Court in her book called Champagne and Shamblings.

More information can be found on the Hampton Court official website


  1. This is beautifully evocative. I am so looking forward to reading the book!

  2. Love the first picture of Hampton Court.
    One can almost see the ghosts strolling about the lawns on a moonlit evening.
    There has to be more stories than time to tell about this amazing place.
    I too look forward to reading your novel.

  3. A second Hampton Court? I had no idea... so thanks :)

    I am interested in why they placed the orangery flush against the 15th century house, rather than at right angles to the house, or even free standing. Joseph Paxton knew how to maximise the natural light and the walking space in his other glass buildings.

  4. Thank you, Helen - the woods around are the really magical for me! More of those another time.

    Hels, think my picture here is a little misleading as the orangery does extend further to the left of the image - but the cafe signs etc really spoiled the look - so I cropped it. But, even so, you are right. The friend I took to this house this summer was distinctly underwhelmed by the orangery itself.

    I suppose I remember seeing it when in private ownership, although even then it was crumbling, with no plants, and a swimming pool installed - I think, in the 1970's. The pool has now been covered up and a new floor installed, but I feel it could still be so much more.

  5. Kate - thank you! I always find 'place' so inspirational.


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  8. It was said of my father, G.H. Lupton, that under Gimson's direction he prepared and built great timber bridge at Hampton Court.
    As E.W Gimson worked in Sapperton, Glos., is the "great timber bridge" at this Hampton Court?

  9. I'm not at all sure, Allan, but I'm sure you could ask at Hampton Court, or contact the house via the website and it would be wonderful to hear if that was the case.

    1. The house's website has no e-mail contact details for simple enquiries, but I've sent an e-mail to and address they do give.
      Mary Greensted (biographer of Gimson) has now told me she knows of no Gimson connection with (or bridge at) Hampton Court.