Hampton Court Palace

Each year, 565,000+ people visit Hampton Court Palace, King Henry VIII’s favourite residence on the banks of the River Thames. They walk the corridors and courtyards of Royal power and pleasure to discover where history was made.”

The staff who proudly welcome visitors inside this historic edifice today will tell you that – when they stand recounting 16th century political and matrimonial intrigue – those same corridors and courtyards can feel as draughty now as they were when King Henry swept through them so majestically.

And dressing staff to withstand such chill winds was, according to Ann Dowdeswell, Sales Director at Jermyn Street Design, key to the brief from Hampton Court Palace. “At JSD we had previously produced uniforms for Kensington Palace, another of the five Historic Royal Palaces. So the HRP Group knew the quality and service that we deliver and that JSD has the contacts to manufacture in the UK, another of their stipulations,” she explains.

“But we still went to tender in 2013 – and won against four other companies. Initially we were asked to design a fire retardant gilet to keep staff warm in the Tudor Kitchen. The contract quickly expanded to the design and manufacture of a broader range of corporate uniform items: for the meet and greet staff outside Hampton Court; those conducting the guided tours; stewards in the historic rooms; and those who run the wide-ranging events staged at the venue throughout the year. Again, the priority was to ensure that staff are warm at all times.”

The brief also identified that visitors to this historic location expect staff and volunteers to wear uniforms that reflect the extraordinary heritage of the place, clothes that are intrinsically English and in iconic colours – and that it was important for the design solutions to reflect all that.

Previously, most uniform items had been bought-in from stock. One exception was the winter coats, which had been tailored exclusively for individual staff at a cost so prohibitive that it precluded regular replacement and instead relied on a ‘make do and mend’ policy. And so, fast on the heels of the Tudor Kitchen gilet contract, came the commission to redesign this coat, for men and women.

JSD in-house designer, Lisa Cunningham-Sherret, prepared initial design boards to gain further clarification around the brief. This was followed by a focus group, where JSD talked through the coat designs with staff – those working both indoors and outdoors – and then invited comment. What emerged was the requirement for an ergonomic design with special waistband features that allow guides to carry two-way radios – with concealed wires running up to their ears – plus internal pockets to carry maps, keys and guide books. The coat needed to be more fitted and more flattering than in the past, with a design suited to the very different aspects of working at Hampton Court Palace.
“We produced first samples for the coat, in a striking red wool melton, and then returned for a second focus group,” remembers Lisa. “To perfect the fit, we took in toiles of the coat for staff to try, and then made final adjustments. Our design for bespoke gilt buttons and a specially commissioned crest – based on King Henry VIII’s Tudor Rose – became an important element of the range. The design had to be approved by HM The Queen. And to give the coat an even more luxurious look, a rich dark blue velvet ribbon trim was added around the hem and the cuffs.”

The dark green gilet for the kitchen staff was designed in a quilted fireproofed fabric, trimmed with velvet and with gilt buttons, and with the same Tudor Rose wired crest. And Hampton Court Palace also agreed the suggestion from JSD that a neat, long-line waistcoat, in red and black with gold piping, should be added to the uniform range, providing staff with an extra layer for warmth. This led on from the waistcoat designed by JSD for staff at Kensington Palace and created a further connection between two of the Historic Royal Palaces. “The ladies on the staff love the waistcoat – they say it makes them feel smart and tidy and that it is totally in keeping with the feel of the Palace,” says Lisa Cunningham-Sherret.

Discussions at the staff focus groups also identified the need for a tailored summer coat to be worn when the temperatures soar. This was designed in a lightweight wool-polyester with a showerproof finish, and JSD also created a removable quilted gilet lining for chillier days. And this ‘smart coat’ look was completed with flattering, semi-fitted ladies’ blouses and men’s shirts – integral to the collection – that also follow the design detailing of the Kensington Palace uniform. In a soft and luxurious white satin weave fabric, with a red contrast detail at cuff edge and inner front neck, both blouse and shirt feature a concealed front button opening and the Tudor Rose crest embroidered on to the chest.

Previously, staff had felt that they were not identified and did not stand out amongst visitors. One of their requests, early on, was that they wanted to look and feel differentiated – to wear a distinctive uniform that really set them apart, that distinguished their role and made them feel and look special.

“The biggest hit has been the fitted winter coat – so much better than before,” says Susanne Malim, MD of JSD. “It has received a lot of compliments from visitors, who remark on the smart appearance of the guides and the meet and greet staff. We have given them a uniform that they can be proud of – and a very British look that is in keeping with this historic Royal Palace. Visitors are lining up to have their photographs taken with the staff, now they are wearing this new uniform.”