Local campaigners have launched a petition appealing for Hampton Court Palace to open its gates for free to the general public during winter months.
Patrick Wylde, who started an online petition to make the 508 year-old grounds more accessible, has rallied more than almost 2,000 signatures so far.
The petition has asked the palace to allow free access or cheaper concession tickets during the winter months, stating that: “Now more than ever, people need open spaces to clear their heads and spend time outdoors with family and friends.”
Currently, tickets for entry into Hampton Court Palace are priced at £25.30 for adults, £20.20 for concessions and £12.60 for children aged 5-15 years old. The palace also offers an annual membership starting from £59 per year for one adult.
Wylde said: “This is about much more than people before profit, it’s about the garden’s historical context, the very gardens deemed ‘open to all’ by royalty.” He said that in light of Covid-19 everyone should be able to experience what the grounds have to offer.
He added: “As a group, we sympathise with the fact that jobs from within the palace have been cut by forty per cent since the first lockdown, however, in our opinion, [staff shortages] needn’t impact the opening of a few gates each morning so adversely.”
Not everyone agrees, though, with some local residents voicing their opposition to the petition. They have said that the palace and its staff have suffered enough financially since the start of the pandemic.
Staff at the Hampton Court Village pub Prince of Wales said that they understood why the palace charges for entry, particularly in controlling visitor attendance during the pandemic. Manager Oliver Fisher, 37, said: “The grounds and building are maintained extremely well and this must be funded.”
The campaign hopes that the next step will be a sit-down negotiation with the trustees of Historic Royal Palaces to discuss what accessibility could look like at the Hampton Court Gardens in the future.
Hampton Court Palace has long been a source of celebration for the local area. The grounds are a popular attraction for tourists with a vibrant history scaling back to Tudor times.
The palace was first commissioned by King Henry VIII’s right-hand man Cardinal Wolsey and later became home to monarchs during the Georgian era. Its grounds were opened to the public by Queen Victoria in 1838.
Each year, thousands of tourists make their way to the palace, with 919,000 visitors passing through between 2018-19.
The petition comes at a time when Kew Gardens has announced £1 entry for low-income families and recipients of Universal Credit.