Eltham Palace dates back to the Domesday survey in 1086. The bishop who owned it in 1295 carried out extensive work on the building and grounds. It was a favourite place for Edward I to stay, and the bishop gave the palace to Edward’s son. Gardens and more buildings were added over the years by members of royalty.
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Eltham Palace’s great hall (110 by 36 feet and 55 feet high) was built for Edward IV in the 1470s as a court dining room. Its most outstanding feature is the oak ‘false’ hammerbeam roof. The stained glass window has his coat of arms on display. Henry VIII spent many childhood hours here, and it was during his reign that the palace came into its own. A chapel, royal lodgings, gardens, and more buildings were added. Queen Elizabeth I added a new west front to the royal apartments.
After Charles I’s reign ended, the buildings fell into decay. In 1648 Parliamentary troops occupied the palace and further destroyed the buildings and park. Of that original building only the great hall still survives due to a public campaign in 1827 and the Courtauld’s restoration works. The Courtaulds left in 1944. English Heritage restored the house and the great hall in the 1990s.
The Art Deco house now on the site was constructed for textile and film magnate Sir Stephen Courtauld and his wife, Virginia, in the years 1933-36. It is separated from the earlier great hall by a sliding Chinese style screen. A red brick design was used for the exterior of the house so it would be architecturally compatible with the great hall.
The interior is 1930s glamour at its height. The French-influenced Art Deco style is intermingled with ocean-line style and Swedish design of the times. The house was heated with underfloor heating, had a central vacuum system, and a built-in audio system. Original built-in furniture and photographs enhance the interior. Some interior furnishings are re-created ones.
The drawing room is furnished with Italian furniture and paintings while false beams are stenilled to imitate wood and Hungarian folk art. The walls of the library are lined with Indian mahogany. The room holds the art collection of Mr. Courtauld. The dining room, entered through black and silver doors, has pin leather upholstered chairs, bird’s eye maple veneered walls, and a silver ceiling. The doors reflect animals and birds from the London zoo.
Mrs Courtauld’s vaulted bathroom is lined with onyx and gold mosaic, has gold-plated bath taps and a statue of the goddess Psyche. Her bedroom has curved walls. Stephen Courtauld’s bedroom is lined with aspen and has a walk-in closet, built-in furniture and wallpaper of Kew garden. His bathroom is in blue and green tile.
The 19 acres of grounds have medieval and 20th century adornments: a rock garden, a moat, a medieval bridge, herbaceous borders, and a sunken rose garden. In the spring bulbs are in bloom, while summer sees wisteria blooms spread over the pergola.
Eltham, Greater London
Off Court Rd SE9, junction 3 on the M25, then A20 to Eltham town; train from London to Eltham stops ˝ mile from the Palace down the main street of the town
Tel. 020 8294 2548
Open: April-end Sep, Sun-Fri and BH, 10am-6pm; Oct, Sun-Fri and BH, 10am-5pm; Nov-23 Dec and Jan-second week Feb Sun, 10am-4pm; some days in Feb open daily; check EH website for precise details of Nov-Feb
English Heritage property; picnic areas in the grounds
Licensed for civil weddings; available for hire
Photos © by Barbara Ballard