It took a good friend and I more than a year to visit Eltham Palace. Taking into consideration the ease of getting there (there are several central London train stations which serve the 30 minute journey to the Zone 4 Mottingham Station), the Art Deco beauty that Eltham is known for and the curious architectural history of a medieval royal residence, you would think we’d have gotten our act a little more together.
First mentioned in the Doomsday book, Eltham Estate was presented to King Edward II in 1305 and developed into one of the most favoured royal palaces with 1,000 acres of deer park on its doorstep.
We did try a fair few times but as the Palace opens Sunday-Thursday for a limited few months, we kept ending up in the pub, brunching out of the rain or curled up on our respective couches in defeat. Moral of the story, learn from our mistakes and check the opening times before you set off, ok? (Or as I suspect the social butterfly Courtaulds would approve, just make sure there’s a good pub nearby.)
Alas, after many years of throwing feasts in Edward IV’s hammer-beam hall, Henry VIII’s daughter Elizabeth I preferred Greenwich and allowed the medieval rooms to beams to fall into disrepair.
After centuries of neglect, Eltham was leased in 1933 to millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, who set about building an up-to-the-minute mansion home in an eclectic mix of styles (to the horror of many architects of the day) to display their extensive patronage of the arts. From an incredible entrance hall epitomising cruiseliner Art Deco complete with magnificent dome…
…many rooms with exquisite craft details…
…to opulent hers and his bathroom suites, all plumbed with the newest mod cons…
…Eltham Palace became a designers dream reflecting the quirky personalities of the Courtaulds and a display of their incredible international travel (including a map room. I want a map room so much…) Virginia Courtauld’s pet lemur Mah-Jongg even had its own heated quarters on the first floor – now recreated for the delight of visiting children (of all ages). If you look carefully, you’ll even be able to spot the carving of Mah-Jongg on one of the timber bosses in the restored Great Hall.
Our eventually large group split into a myriad of directions, to explore and discover the many, many rooms of the home and the plentiful gardens carefully kept surrounding the Palace, before being corralled by our erstwhile shepherd Yannick under the beech trees in weary, happy chattering.
…we were lucky on the day of our visit as the grey stormy clouds cleared, revealing a rather fantastic London cityscape in the distance and fantastic views framed by Palace windows.
It was definitely worth the wait.
I was asked the other day if I get sick of visiting beautiful old buildings (my friend was obviously having flashbacks to a childhood being dragged around ruins by her parents) which honestly stopped me in my tracks. I thought about it for half a second, then realised it’s impossible to get sick of the architectural skill of human creativity – each home, each Palace has a myriad of secrets and history simply awaiting discovery.
Just make sure you check the opening times beforehand…