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2016 (July - Oct) Gnomes Unearthed - Hampton Court Palace 2016 - 1883

15 "Umbriel" Gnomes sculptures at Hampton Court Palace - Summer 2016 each telling the history of the Gardens at Hampton Court Palace.  

Gnomes Unearthed was part of a year-long series of activities focused around the gardens of the palace. The co-creation project drew together community responses to the gardens, and their multiple uses and meanings over time through a series of artist workshops. It resulted in a public art installation that attracted more and new audiences to the palace gardens.


To celebrate the opening of a new garden in 2016 a brand new interactive sculpture installation in the grounds, created by the communities that surrounded the palace, was required.  The backstory: The Magic Garden has opened and its enchanting spell has re-awoken the palace’s earth-spirit – a gnome called Umbriel. The gnome has been burrowing underground for hundred of years and has seen lots of changes. As you can imagine the gnome has got lots of stories to tell, from kings escaping imprisonment to extravagant feasts by the river.


Visual artists and the palace’s Learning & Engagement team worked together on workshops with local community groups to help decorate 15 Gnome sculptures. The community groups ranged from Richmond’s Young Carers, to students of Brooklands College, to Hounslow’s Trinjan Women’s Group.

Not only did the artists and over 200 local people help to decorate each sculpture, they also provided inspiration for a new piece of storytelling.


The Gnomes – each with its own interpretation of Umbriel – popped up in the gardens to captivate visitors with fascinating stories and more, through art and the spoken word.

The trail included artwork by Sian StoreyNeequaue DsaneCaroline JariwalaJodie SilvermanLaura Kate ChapmanOne Red ShoeMik RichardsonOliver DeanMandii Pope, Holly Langley, Sarah Taylor SilverwoodJenny Leonard, Sarah Jane Richards, Valerie Osment and Jane Headford.

Visitors listened to works by storytellers Ben HaggartyNell PhoenixLuci Hammans, Brian Dimmock, Cathy Walker, Tim Ralphs and Helen Tozer.

Plus, there were guest stories written by poet Michael Rosen, novelist Francesca Simon and Lucy Worsley.

Given a voice by actor Stephen Mangan, Umbriel appeared in various guises in the palace gardens throughout the summer, recounting tales from the palace’s past.

Dan Ferguson, Head of Events and Partnerships, Historic Royal Palaces, said: “Everyone comes to Hampton Court to see our wonderful maze – which is fantastic fun –but in this year in which we’re celebrating our gardens, we wanted to find a way to encourage visitors to explore some of the forgotten places and stories in the palace grounds. It’s been great to get the local community involved in this project and we can’t wait for visitors to start enjoying their marvellous creations!”

A community group member said: “It was the best experience I’ve ever been involved with. I enjoyed the whole process, realised hidden talents, made long lasting friendships, learnt loads about the history and got my whole family involved….even became family members (of Hampton Court Palace)!” 


Each Gnome is a collaboration between Author, Artist, Historian and Community Group (except for 2)


My Gnome is working solely with Author Michael Rosen (Author of "Were going on a Bear Hunt" depicting the Grace and Favour of 1883.


gnomes unearthed umbriel "1883"

poem by writer michael rosen

narrated by stephen mangan

My Umbriel design was based on a poem written by Michael Rosen (we're going on a Bear Hunt)

The poems were than recorded and narrated into a sound box by Stephen Mangan activated by a button on the arm of the sculptures.  Each telling a story of the 15 gardens within Hampton Court Palace.

My sculpture design "1883" was about when the train lines opened up from London to Hampton Court Palace in 1883.  The gent and foundry were horrified that Londoner's were invading the now public gardens.  They would come down in their Sunday best in their droves and skinny dip in the lakes much to the gent and foundry's disgust.

Here is Michael Rosen's poem in which I based my design.


Without a ‘please’ or a ‘beg your pardon’,

you are welcome to walk in my garden.

It’s a right, acknowledged by the state

since the time of Victoria: 1838.


One request, - please don’t think me rude,

but I hope you weren’t thinking of bathing nude?

I don’t raise this because of anything recent:

it was the 1880s: to burp was indecent,

I’m unable to give you an exact flavour,

residents here, known as ‘Grace and Favour’,

(easy nowadays to disapprove or mock it)

people ‘high in birth but low in pocket’,

folk who escaped possibly fallen lives

like society widows or bishops’ wives

observed behaviour from their apartments:

boisterous banter, garish garments,

the row of revellers, the yelling of yobs,

cries and screams, shouts and sobs

and (to carry on from where I left off)

the sight of poor people stripping off.


No more of this, those are far-off days

enjoy this place, don’t forget the maze.

Be ye many or be ye few,

the people’s palace garden’s for you

 I take my leave, back to my place of birth

I am Umbriel, spirit of the earth.

the creation of umbriel "1883"

Introduction to the Garden Theme at Hampton Court Palace, 2016

2016 is a year in which Hampton Court Palace will be celebrating its world famous gardens. A vital part of the palace from its creation over 500 years ago, the gardens were opened to the public by Queen Victoria and have been a cherished visitor attraction ever since.

The gardens’ history and splendour will be celebrated in 2016, alongside the gardens expertise that helps to maintain it. In the spring of 2016, the ‘Magic Garden’ will open, a new visitor experience for families, re-interpreting aspects of Tudor heraldry into a mythical, magical creative play space. There will also be a permanent re-interpretation plan for the gardens, a high-profile public programme of events and an exhibition of drawings of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s Royal Gardens. Gnomes Unearthed is one of Historic Royal Palaces’ Learning & Engagement’s contributions to this year of celebration.

11 of the Sculptures have a specific community or school group attached to the project. The remaining 4 will be a response to short written passages created celebrity writers

Each sculpture has a pre-ordained position within the gardens at Hampton Court Palace & starting point for content identified & requested by the Team at Hampton Court Palace. Each completed sculpture will also have a piece of pre - recorded speech activated by the viewing public; complimenting the design & adding more information around the context of each sculpture & its environment. The visual design content of each piece is to be a response to the Creative writing content. The final design is to be applied to the sculpture by the artist, following sign off of the design by Wild in Art & the team at Hampton Court.

umbriel sculptures in the wild at

Hampton court Palace

umbriel "1883"features on TVNZ

dream catchers by hilary timmins (from 5mins)

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