In the small town of Eltham, not far from Greenwich is a hidden gem of London. A medieval castle, that became a Tudor palace before becoming an Art Deco residence. Eltham Palace has an interesting and eventful history.
Situated near the main roadway from Dover to London, there are records of a manor house at Eltham in 1086, before it was presented to King Edward II in 1305. It was used as a royal residence until the 1500s.
The Palace was the childhood home of Henry VIII and during the Tudor period, it was home to jousts, Christmas celebrations, and hunts. The royal family would enjoy time here until the palace at Greenwich was built, which were far more accessible on the riverside.
As the royal visits became less frequent and after the English Civil War the palace was in such a state that it never recovered from. Overgrown and decrepit, the Great Hall was all that remained.
In the 1930s, Eltham Palace was purchased by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. The building was in much-needed repair and the Courtauld’s converted the palace into an elaborately decorated Art Deco home, even with a room for their pet Lemur.
After the second world war, the Courtauld’s moved away from London, leaving the remainder of the lease to the Royal Army Educational Corps. From Eltham, the Army Corps was able to run educational programmes at schools over the world and helped with resettling service men and women.
In 1992 this section of the army was absorbed leaving the palace vacant. English Heritage then took over ownership and management in 1995 and made the property accessible to the public in 1999.
Visiting Eltham Palace is a short walk away from Mottingham (20 minutes) or Eltham Station (15 minutes but some uphill) which are both on the Charing Cross and London Bridge train lines. There is also an ample car park for those driving.
Upon arriving at Eltham Palace you head towards the cafe and gift shop to purchase a ticket. For adults, it currently costs £15 to enter. It is worth having a cup of tea in the vintage Glasshouse that homes the cafe and head off to the entrance.
Across the bridge onto the grounds proper, the property is now split into two sections, the Art Deco home and Tudor Great Hall. Entering the residence, it feels as though you are stepping back in time. A huge oval room, with warm gleaming wood walls and a vaulted central glass window in the middle of the ceiling. The room was designed by a Swedish designer and it embraces the sleek minimalist Scandinavian design with the feel of a luxury cruise ship.
Heading into the other rooms of the house are delicate touches of art deco, with the doors and fireplace before heading upstairs. Here you will find an electrically heated room for the family’s pet lemur. This was incredibly innovative for the time. Other innovations were the house wide speaker system, electrically synchronised clocks and electric fires. Virginia’s bathroom is laced with gold mosaic tiles surrounding a large marble bath in a true statement of luxury.
The Great Hall, which has hosted royals from as early at the 12th century has been beautifully restored and preserved. The maintenance of the hall was a prerequisite for the Courtauld’s taking over the lease of the Palace. Sadly the Hall was victim to the Second World War bombings but has since been restored. The typical Tudor beams supporting the roof, stained glass windows added in 1936 with the emblems of Edward and an added musical gallery.
The gardens are on two levels. With a sunken rose garden, moat and what remains of Henry VIII hunting park. The Courtauld’s were pretty green fingered and enjoyed restoring the garden to its former glory.
The home is a masterpiece of Art Deco, complemented with a Tudor hall and lush gardens, making a great day out full of history.