Home to both kings and monkeys, this ancient property in London has all the exterior grandeur of a royal palace, but the interiors are an Art Deco dream worthy of a Noel Coward play.
This fantastical estate has roots stretching into the 11th century. Originally known as “The Manor of Eltham,” it was passed through the hands of several bishops and nobles until 1305, when it was given to the future King Edward II. Edward eventually gave the property to his notorious wife, (and possible killer) Queen Isabella. Over the next few centuries, Eltham continued to grow and expand as a royal residence. It became a favorite home of monarchs, including Richard II, Henry IV, and Edward IV. The legendary Henry VIII, who spent a good portion of his childhood at Eltham, would be the last monarch to have a special relationship with the palace.
Over the centuries, Eltham fell into disrepair. In 1651, it was sold to Colonel Nathaniel Rich, who stripped it of many of its valuable materials and treasures. Campaigns in the 19th century to save and expand the palace were partially successful, but its saviors would come in 1933, in the form of two new owners, silk industry millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtland.
The stylish couple brought in architects Seely and Paget to build a modernized home integrated into the historic parts of the palace. The exterior was a hybrid contemporary/Renaissance style known as “Wrenaissance,” while the interior was pure Art Deco eccentricity. The Courtlands created beautiful rock gardens and rose gardens and added modern conveniences to the Palace, including ceiling heating and a loudspeaker system. Many famous guests visited the grand home, often to get a look at the Courtlands’ extensive collection of Old Master paintings.
Today, Eltham Palace is run by English Heritage. It recently reopened after extensive renovations and is open to the public. The elegant Art Deco foyer / lounge is decorated with well-selected furniture. Curved wooden walls, lush sofas, and staircases that women would have glided down in their ball gowns delight the eye. There are secret passageways from the 1930s connecting the Courtlands’ bedrooms. The King Edward IV built, lavish Great Hall of the 1470s is now modernized, with underfloor heating and illuminating electric torches.
One of the more obscure aspects of the palace are the secret passageways and room constructed for Mah-Jongg, the Courtlands’ pet lemur. His private room was heated, and watercolor jungles were painted on the walls to make him feel more at home. He had private passageways to climb between the floors of the buildings. Today, visitors can visit the room and say hello to the pet lemur who now lives in Mah-Jongg’s old abode. The gardens surrounding the house are just as beautiful as the home and worth exploring. The well-kept rock gardens, fountains, sunken rose gardens and moat provide a great escape from the hustle-and-bustle of suburban London.
Know Before You Go
Eltham Palace is part of the English Heritage Site collection. It's not too far from Greenwich and the A20 leaving London. Mottingham (National Rail) is a 1/2 mile walk from the Palace. There is a carpark next to the greenhouse / tea-room. This is the building where you need to buy a ticket, as opposed to the entrance gate to the Palace.