hampton court gnomes

Gnomes are unearthed at Hampton Court Palace

Location: Hampton Court Palace, London
Client: Historic Royal Palaces

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 Storey, Neequaue Dsane, Caroline Jariwala, Jodie Silverman, Laura Kate Chapman, One Red Shoe, Mik Richardson, Oliver Dean, Mandii Pope, Holly Langley, Sarah Taylor Silverwood, Jenny Leonard, Sarah Jane Richards, Valerie Osment and Jane Headford.

Visitors listened to works by storytellers Ben Haggarty, Nell Phoenix, Luci 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)!”