Last weekend, I went to Eltham Palace. I’ve lived in London for the majority of my life, and didn’t know this place existed until a friend mentioned it a few months ago. I don’t know how I missed it, it’s a fabulous building, and I would commend everyone to visit.
The original palace was given to King Edward II in 1305 by Anthony Bek, the Bishop of Durham, so obviously Tudor design. The palace was used as a royal residence form the 14th to the 16th century, and was home to King Henry VIII for some of his childhood. Henry was the last monarch to spend much of his time here. When Greenwich Palace was rebuilt, probably because it was more easily accessible by river, Eltham became a less popular destination. From the 17th century, for about 200 years, Eltham Palace was used as a farm. Sad demise.
In 1933, Stephen Courtauld, one of the textile Courtaulds and his wife Virginia, purchased the lease and, as well as restoring the Great Hall, did some serious building work. It is an amazing mix of old and new, with a dome in the entrance hall that is small glass orbs inlaid into concrete. In certain parts of the building, it’s difficult to imagine that there was ever the Tudor part, and in others, you look out of the window and you almost feel the Tudor festivities and dancing taking place.
The Courtaulds, however, clearly weren’t short of a few bob, because what they did to the house is amazing. They had internal telephones throughout the house, as well as an outside line that was hidden away in a little telephone kiosk. They had beautifully fitted guest rooms, and Mrs C’s bathroom is something else. They had a pet ring-tailed lemur, named Mah Jongg, who had his own (centrally heated) room. There is a beautiful dining room, with an aluminium-leaf ceiling, with spotlights inset so that they reflect off the beautiful ceiling and illuminate the room at the same time. Amazing!
Stephen Courtauld fought in the army during World War I, so it’s no surprise that some of the palace contains references to the army and other related memorabilia.
Not everything in the house is original, much has been faithfully reproduced, but you still get the feel for what it was like… I’m getting delusions of grandeur just thinking about it. To cap it all, the palace is surrounded by a moat, which has carp swimming in it, and big lily pads floating upon it. It’s set in 19 acres of gardens…. I haven’t begun to describe it fully; you really do need to see it to get the full effect. I have to go back to take more in, although it’s not the biggest stately home in the world, there is just too much to take in on one visit.
Many films, TV programmes and even commercials have been filmed at Eltham Palace, and, it is on English Heritage’s list of most haunted places!
English Heritage manages the palace now (and they very subtly persuaded me to join!) so there is an entrance fee of £9.90 for adults (less for children and concessions) but I wholeheartedly recommend it.
©Susan Shirley 2013