A Palace of old and new – Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace is a place I have wanted to visit for a long time, last year I finally drove there to not check its opening times and it was closed. Fortunately a year later I finally did get to visit and with friends too making it all the more enjoyable.

Originally built as a moated Manor House, it was given to Edward II in 1305. By the 14th century Eltham was one of the largest royal residences in England and was much frequented by the royal family. Edward IV would eventually own it and in the 1470s added a great hall along with other changes.

Eltham was also the childhood home of the future King Henry VIII and his sisters. There is an account of the Dutch philosopher Erasmus meeting the young prince Henry here in 1499.

“When we came into the hall, the attendants not only of the palace but also of Mounjoy’s household were all assembled. In the midst stood prince Henry, then nine years old, and having already something of royalty in his demeanour, in which there was a certain dignity combined with singular courtesy. On his right was Margaret, about eleven years of age, afterwards married to James, king of Scots, and on his left played Mary, a child of four. Edmund was an infant in arms. More, with his companion Arnold, after paying his respects to the boy Henry, presented him with some writing.”

Even during the 16th century the Place was still one of only a few royal residences which could house the whole of the 800 or so members of the royal court. However, it was during this time that Elthams importance began to fade as King Henry VIII had found another Royal residence which he decided to favour – Hampton Court Palace, which he had acquired after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey (along with York Place which would become Whitehall Palace).

Medieval Bridge
Laura Adkins

Charles I would be the last monarch to visit Eltham and by this point it was in a bad state and there were reports of parts of the Palace collapsing.  After the Civil War it was sold off to Colonel Nathaniel Rich who demolished many of the buildings and stripped the lead of the great hall roof leaving it to become more dilapidated than it already was, by the time it was remote to the crown in the 18 century it was decided that it was to be used as farmland and for agricultural use.

The Gardens
Laura Adkins

There was a slight improvement in the 19th century with the creation of the Office of Works and the Society of the Protection of Ancient buildings. Some funding was provided and a stronger roof was laid onto the great hall with steel braces to help strengthen the weakened timber beams. However Elthams new lease of life would not come until the 1930s when its new owners were Stephen and Virginia Courtauld.

The Courtaulds by Leonard Campbell Taylor

The Courtaulds acquired Eltham on a 100 year lease from the crown. It suited their needs. The Courtaulds hired architects Seely and Paget to design a beautiful new home; modern but also to incorporate which still survived of the old Place. Eventually with much decision with the Ancient monuments board regarding the proposal works started.

The Courtaulds idea of modern is much different to what we would class as modern today. At the time of its completion the new Eltham Palace was furnished with all the ‘mod cons of the age – various forms of lighting was used, a pay phone installed for their guests and a loudspeaker system. It was comparable to a luxury hotel at the time. The decor was Art Deco. It feels like you have stepped into some 1920’s era drama. They finally moved in on 25th March 1926 and would go on to live there for 20 years.

The elegant and modern entrance hall
@dlonglens (Instagram)

Eltham was still lived in by the Courtaulds during the war, where the couple invited various guests to stay. Eltham was hit in September by 100 incendrerary bombs, 4 of them hitting the great hall. Still the Courtaulds remained up until May 1944 where they moved to Sunningdale and decided not to return to Eltham. Society changed with the war and large houses and estates were impractical. In March 1945 the leases was given to the Army school of education (Stephen however still had to be consulted on any proposed buildings on the estate). Finally in 1995 it came under the management of English heritage who manage it still and tell the story of all of Elthams past in a verity of ways.

The house itself never really appealed to me but as I was there I went to look around and was pleasantly surprised. It oozes that whole 1920s feel with rooms still set up as they would be, there is even a replica of the cage where the pet Mah-jong was kept – when I say cage I mean mini house, this animal lived the life of luxury.

Laura Adkins

Managed by English heritage it was free for me to get in (as I am a member) but the usual admission fee is £15 per adult and £9 for a child which I think is a worthy price. There is a cafe on site as well as some green area where one could take a picnic (which is what we did). There is an amazing play area for children where each object is designed and inspired by a place that the Courtaulds family visited. As well as exploring the lovely great house and hall which you can explore alone, with a guide book or audio guide (additional costs) there are some beautiful grounds to explore. On the day we visited there was a small jazz concert going on which we sat a listened too in the sunshine with ice creams, such an idyllic place to enjoy and relax for all the family. Oh and one more thing there is also the opportunity to dress up which appeals to both children and adults alike.

Fun with the fancy dress! Photo by @dlonglens (Instagram)

The only negative about this amazing and beautiful place is that it is closed on Fridays and Saturdays. It is so it can also be used as an events venue for weddings , where the money paid for such events goes back into the management of the site to keep it open to the public for many years to come.

The end of a fun filled day out with friends
(Laura Adkins)

[1] Art Deco – 1920/30s. Originated in France. Geometric and angular shapes in chrome, glass and shiny fabrics and materials.  It reflected modern technology. It was a follow on from art noveau and was influenced by cubism.

The Great Hall

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