Conservative parliamentary candidates continue campaign for free access to Hampton Court gardens

By Oliver Monk

3rd Apr 2024 | Local News

Jonathan Hulley is one of three Conservative parliamentary candidates campaigning against Historic Royal Palaces (Photo: Jonathan Hulley)
Jonathan Hulley is one of three Conservative parliamentary candidates campaigning against Historic Royal Palaces (Photo: Jonathan Hulley)

A number of Conservative parliamentary candidates have banded together to reinstate free public access to Hampton Court Palace Gardens.

Jonathan Hulley (Twickenham), Cllr John Cope (Esher & Walton) and Helen Edward (Kingston & Surbiton) are collectively petitioning the Secretary of State for Culture Lucy Frazer MP to reverse Historic Royal Palaces' (HRP) COVID-era ticketing measures.

Their efforts build on a previous campaign from local Conservative council candidate Patrick Wylde, which gained nearly 10,000 signatures before he passed away.

Hampton Court Palace Gardens were free for visitors prior to lockdown (Photo: Sarah G. Perun)

This new petition launched Wednesday 27 March cites Attorney General advice from 2003 which says gardens admission must be 'reasonable' as to not deny people access due to cost, and the revenue is only used to maintain the gardens.

Historic Royal Palaces defended their ticketing, with a spokesperson explaining how the proceeds along with other charitable funds allow the palace to run "at no cost to the taxpayer". 

They added: "The vast majority of the estate, including a 700-acre park, Home Park, is accessible for free."

The palace gardens were first made free to the public by Queen Victoria in 1838.

HRP began charging garden visitors as a temporary measure to limit foot traffic during the pandemic, but continued to do so after lockdown restrictions impacted the charity's finances.

Campaigners have countered this, saying: "With the pandemic firmly behind us and Historic Royal Palaces in surplus again, temporary measures brought in during the pandemic [shouldn't] be allowed to become permanent".

Local residents previously campaigned for free public access to the gardens in early 2022 (Photo: Darren Pepe)

While the introduction of 18 free garden days off the back of a previous petition has improved accessibility, ticket prices remain unattainable for many families.

Weekend tickets, which include access to Hampton Court Palace itself, cost £30 for an adult and £15 for children over five; a visit for a four-person family would total £90.

Cllr Cope said: "With the pandemic now far behind us, charging £30 each time to access what used to be a public park is unjustifiable.

"I hope Historic Royal Palaces will see sense and remove their temporary pandemic measures."

"The changes also mean the famous Lion Gate is locked shut, severing the historic link between the Palace and Bushy Park," added Jonathan Hulley.

The HRP spokesperson responded: "As a charity, our focus is on prioritising increasing free or heavily subsidised access for disadvantaged groups and school children.  

"Last year, we launched a £1 ticket at Hampton Court Palace, for people who are on Universal Credit, Pension Credit or similar.  

"We are also growing our Community Access Scheme and subsidised school places.

"We will keep the current arrangements under ongoing review and continue to discuss with local residents."

Pressure is on for the palace, with this latest campaign coinciding with their annual Tulip Festival: a major event in the horticultural calendar which will see 100,000 tulips in bloom from 8 April to 29 April.

Hampton Court Palace Gardens are free to access to the public the following days in 2024:

  • 27 and 28 April
  • 11 and 12 May
  • 1 to 7 July
  • 14 and 15 September
  • 23 and 24 November
  • 26 December (Wilderness only)

More information about the campaigner's petition can be found here.

More information about Hampton Court Palace can be found here.

     

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