I will be honest I have wanted to go to Eltham for a long time so when I found myself in Greenwich in January I decided to go the extra few miles buy bus to the palace and finally discover all its secrets.
Its not the easiest place to find and although I alighted of the bus at the correct point I ended up going to the station I passed on the bus and getting a cab. However the extra walking, expense and time was well worth the effort.
Walking up to the English Hertitage Property you cross a bridge and it look all very rural despite the fact you are 3 minute walk from a MacDonald’s and busy high street. The chap at the door is very welcoming and it was a cold windy day so I was grateful to get inside. With an Art Fund card it is free to get in. I was starving once I got there so my first stop was the café and I had the best Mac & Cheese ever.
Fortified I headed to the house entrance, were I was given blue covers for my shoes (such a fetching look) and a free audio guide, a wonderful bonus especially as David Suchet was the voice. Then you enter this amazing deco space the wood panelling formed pictures of ancient gods and land marks from Europe such as St Marco in Venice. The room is Circular and on the floor is an amazing rug (reproduction the original is in the V&A) you feel as if you should be sipping martinis in a flapper dress with a cigarette holder and amazing hair.
During the deco period of history the Courtauld’s (the same ones of the art institute) lived in the palace with Mah-jongg a ring tailed Lemur. the property has been restored in this part f the site as to how the Courtauld’s would have had it in the glamorous 30’s and 40’s.
Each room is decant sophisticated and from a era when Hollywood was all Glamour. And just when you think it can’t get and better you see the bathroom in Virginia Courtauld’s room. The was a gold wall mosaic with a nude bust of a woman giving the room the aura of a Turkish bath house and gold lions as the spouts of the taps.
There were no less than 10 bath tubs in the living quarters and there was hot water system that allowed for all ten to be drawn at the same time with piping hot water.
Now at this point I was wondering why it had the name Palace well this was the added bonus for me – It was the child hood home of Henry VIII. On the tour of the house you are lead in to an old hall that was the same age as Westminster hall. It had the look and feel of the hall at Hampton court palace for me and it was beautiful curate and cared for. The court did visit the nursery palace and there was even a tilt yard set up in July 1517.
It was at Eltham in its chapel that Wolsey took his oath of office on 24th December 1515. at that time the Tudor court was big enough to house and feed 800. When Wolsey fell and Henry acquired Hampton court Eltham lost favour. Elizabeth didn’t frequent the palace often and her successor James I described it as “farre in decay”. It as James son Charles I who was the last monarch to visit the palace and it had fallen further in to rack and ruin by that point.
During the civil wars the palace was used by Roundheads the deer was hunted and trees were used for the navy in nearby Greenwich. After the fall of Charles I the property was brought by Colonel Nathaniel Rich who would then make his mark by destroying most of the Tudor buildings.
The ruins of Eltham would attract artist later on including my favourite JMW Turner. This fascinating place was then recued by the Courtauld’s who acquired a 99 year lease from the crown and built the amazing deco house on the site we know today.
During WWII over 100 bombs fell on the Eltham estate during the battle of Britain four of which struck the Tudor great hall. The Courtauld’s used the basement as air raid shelters and helped the war effort locally. In March 1945 the remaining 88 years of the 99 year lease was given to the army. The army did remain there until 1992 where the Educational Corp worked from. In 1985 English Heritage started to care for the great Tudor hall and in 1995 came to look after the whole property.
The gardens were lovely even in the cold January weather. The gift shop was small but perfectly formed for extracting money from the visitors.
All in all it was great day out and come highly recommended for Deco and tudor fans alike.