10 London sites you may not know about – 1. Eltham Palace

June 8, 2010

London is a vast city and whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned Londoner, there’s probably still many places you haven’t yet visited. So over the next few posts we’re running a list of 10 of the less well-known sites for your perusal…

1. Eltham Palace. While Henry VIII’s final home, Hampton Court Palace, remains among London’s top 10 tourist sites, less well known is his childhood home, Eltham Palace. True, nowhere near as much of it remains from the Tudor and earlier medieval times, but with a later adjoined 1930s mansion housing some amazing Art Deco interiors, the medieval remains are just the start.

The palace’s history can be traced back to the Domesday survey of 1086. It passed into royal ownership in 1305 when then owner, Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, gave it to King Edward I.

Numerous kings and their families spent time at Eltham including Edward III, Henry IV, and Henry VI, and it was Edward IV who, between 1475 and 1480, ordered the Great Hall built – a treasure which still survives.

Henry VIII was the last English monarch to spend considerable time at Eltham – it was elipsed by Greenwich Palace as a royal residence – and, after falling into disrepair into the seventeenth century, it passed back into ‘non-royal’ hands.

Much of what stands at Eltham today dates from the 20th century when millionaire socialites Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld oversaw the restoration of the medieval Great Hall and the construction of an adjoining mansion which is a masterpiece of 1930s style incorporating a combination of Art Deco, “ocean-liner style” and Swedish design.

The Courtaulds left for a new life in Southern Rhodesia in 1944 and from then until the early 1990s the military occupied the property. English Heritage subsequently oversaw a major restoration and opened it to the public in 1999.

It’s well worth a visit to see the medieval Great Hall (which apparently boasts the third largest hammer-beam roof in England) and the 1930s property (aside from the stunning interiors – including Virginia’s gold-plated bathroom and warmed sleeping quarters for the Courtauld’s pet lemur – there’s also some great Courtauld family movies on show which give an amazing insight into the family which once lived there and an audio guide tour fittingly narrated by David ‘Poirot’ Suchet). There’s also 19 acres of gardens to explore, including a magnificent medieval bridge spanning what remains of the moat, and a cafe to while away the afternoon.

WHERE: Off Court Road, SE9. Half a mile from Eltham and Mottingham train stations. COST: £8.30 adult/£7.20 concession/£4.20 child (garden only tickets are available). English Heritage members free. WEBSITE: www.elthampalace.org.uk

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