Eltham Palace

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Eltham Palace
Eltham palace exterior.jpg
Eltham Palace
Grid reference: TQ42307407
Location: 51°26’50"N, 0°2’53"E
Town: Eltham
Country house
Art Deco interio
Owned by: Crown Estate
(in the care of English Heritage)
Website: Eltham Palace and Gardens

Eltham Palace is a large house in Eltham in north-western Kent and remarkably in its broad landscape position though hemmed in with the metropolitan conurbation all around its grounds.

The palace is an unoccupied royal residence, owned by the Crown Estate, though in 1995 its management was handed over to what was then English Heritage, which restored the building in 1999 and opened it to the public.[1] It is today in the care of the successor charity, also called English Heritage

It has been said that the internally Art Deco house is a "masterpiece of modern design".[2]

History (1300-1900)

The Great Hall, from the original palace
Art deco dining room

The original palace was given to Edward II in 1305 by the Bishop of Durham, Anthony Bek, and used as a royal residence from the 14th to the 16th century. According to one account the incident which inspired Edward III's foundation of the Order of the Garter took place here.

As the favourite palace of Henry IV, Eltham played host to Manuel II Palaiologos, the only Byzantine Emperor ever to visit Britain, from December 1400 to January 1401, with a joust being given in his honour. There is still a jousting tilt yard. Edward IV built the Great Hall in the 1470s. Henry VIII as a young Prince also grew up here; it was here in 1499 that he met and impressed the scholar Erasmus, introduced by Thomas More. Erasmus described the occasion:[3]

I had been carried off by Thomas More, who had come to pay me a visit on an estate of Mountjoy’s (the house of Lord Mountjoy near Greenwich) where I was staying, to take a walk by way of diversion as far as the nearest town (Eltham). For there all the royal children were being educated, Arthur alone excepted, the eldest son. When we came to the hall, all the retinue was assembled; not only that of the palace, but Mountjoy’s as well. In the midst stood Henry, aged nine, already with certain royal demeanour; I mean a dignity of mind combined with a remarkable courtesy…. More with his companion Arnold saluted Henry (the present King of England) and presented to him something in writing. I, who was expecting nothing of the sort, had nothing to offer; but I promised that somehow, at some other time, I would show my duty towards him. At the time I was slightly indignant with More for having given me no warning, especially because the boy, during dinner, sent me a note inviting something from my pen. I went home, and though the Muses, from whom I had lived apart so long, were unwilling, I finished a poem in three days.
The moat
The garden
The South Bridge

Tudor courts often used the palace for their Christmas celebrations. With the grand rebuilding of Greenwich Palace, which was more easily reached by river,[4] Eltham was less frequented, save for the hunting in its enclosed parks, easily reached from Greenwich, "as well enjoyed, the Court lying at Greenwiche, as if it were at this house it self". The deer remained plentiful in the Great Park, of 596 acres, the Little, or Middle Park, of 333 acres, and the Home Park, or Lee Park, of 336 acres.[5] In the 1630s, by which time the palace was no longer used by the royal family, Sir Anthony van Dyck was given the use of a suite of rooms as a country retreat.

During the Civil War, the parks were denuded of trees and deer. John Evelyn saw it 22 April 1656: "Went to see his Majesty's house at Eltham; both the palace and chapel in miserable ruins, the noble wood and park destroyed by Rich the rebel". The palace never recovered. Eltham was bestowed by Charles II on John Shaw and in its ruinous condition— reduced to Edward IV's Great Hall, the former buttery, called "Court House", a bridge across the moat and some walling—remained with Shaw's descendants as late as 1893.[5]

The current house was built in the 1930s on the site of the original, and incorporates its Great Hall, which boasts the third-largest hammerbeam roof in the land.[6] Fragments of the walls of other buildings remain visible around the gardens, and the 15th-century bridge still crosses the moat.

Eltham Palace today (1930s-present)

In 1933, Stephen Courtauld and his wife Virginia Courtauld (née Peirano) acquired the lease of the palace site and restored the Great Hall (adding a minstrels' gallery to it) while building an elaborate home, internally in the Art Deco style. The dramatic Entrance Hall was created by the Swedish designer Rolf Engströmer. Light floods in from a spectacular glazed dome, highlighting blackbean veneer and figurative marquetry.[7] Keen gardeners, the Courtaulds also substantially modified and improved the grounds and gardens.[8]

Stephen was the younger brother of industrialist and art collector Samuel Courtauld, founder of the Courtauld Institute of Art (his study in the new house features a statuette version of The Sentry, from a Manchester war memorial, by Charles Sargeant Jagger, who was - like Stephen - a member of the Artists' Rifles).

The Courtaulds' pet lemur, Mah-Jongg, had a special room on the upper floor of the house which had a hatch to the downstairs flower room; he had the run of the house. The Courtaulds remained at Eltham until 1944 (during which time Stephen firewatched from the Great Hall roof, with the palace near the docks at Woolwich, a prime bombing target - in September 1940, the roof of the Great Hall was badly damaged by a bomb). In 1944, they moved to Argyll then in 1951 to Southern Rhodesia, giving the palace to the Royal Army Educational Corps in March 1945; the corps remained there until 1992.

In 1995, English Heritage assumed management of the palace, and in 1999, completed major repairs and restorations of the interiors and gardens.[8]

The palace and its garden are open to the public and can be hired for weddings and other functions. Most of the rooms have been restored to resemble their appearance during the Courtauld's occupation (though it is uncertain how some of them were furnished) but some have been left as they were when the palace was used by the Royal Army Educational Corps. In September 2013 English Heritage staff at the palace said that there were plans to open more rooms to the public in 2014, including some of the servants' accommodation.

Public transport is available at the nearby Mottingham railway station or Eltham railway station, both a short walk from the palace. The grounds contain free parking facilities, café and gift shop.


Many films and television programmes have been filmed at Eltham Palace, including:

  • Bright Young Things
  • I Capture the Castle
  • High Heels and Low Lifes
  • The Gathering Storm (2002 film)
  • Home Front (televiosion series)
  • Any Questions
  • The History of Romance
  • This Morning
  • Antiques Roadshow
  • The Truth (2006 film)
  • The 200 Year House
  • Brideshead Revisited
  • Hustle
  • Fry and Laurie: Reunited
  • Revolver (2005 film)
  • "Death on the Nile", 2004 episode of Poirot television series.
The south side of the palace
The north side of the palace

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Eltham Palace)


  1. "Unoccupied Royal Residences". The Royal Household. http://www.royal.gov.uk/TheRoyalResidences/FormerRoyalResidences/Historicresidences.aspx. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  2. "Eltham Palace". LondonTown.com. http://www.londontown.com/LondonInformation/Attraction/Eltham_Palace/c532/. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  3. Collected Works of Erasmus, Toronto University Press, volume 9, letter 1341A. The reference can be found also in R. W. Chambers, Thomas More, 1935, edn 1976, p. 70; E. E. Reynolds, Thomas More & Erasmus, 1965, p. 25, and The Field is Won, The Life and Death of St Thomas More, 1968, p. 35.
  4. "Through the benefite of the river, a seate of more commoditie", observed Lambarde, in his Perambulation of Kent 1573, noted by Walter Thornbury and Edward Walford, Old and New London: A Narrative of Its History, Its People and Its Places 1893:238.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thornbury and Walford 1893:239.
  6. James Dowsing (3 June 2002). Forgotten Tudor palaces in the London area. London: Sunrise Press. ISBN 978-1-873876-15-2. 
  7. "Eltham Palace". prop a scene. 2000. http://www.propascene.com/exhibithighlight/elthampalace.htm. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 {{EH link|Eltham Palace and Gardens] – English Heritage