Thursday 27th April 2023
The ALDERSGATE WARD CLUB
VISIT TO ELTHAM PALACE
27th April 2023
On a cool late April day, 11 members of the Aldersgate Ward Club met in the peaceful surroundings of Eltham Palace in south-east London. After coffee and biscuits, we met Alex, our very knowledgeable guide, for a tour. We crossed the 15 century stone moat bridge, the oldest in England, to reach the medieval Great Hall and 1930s Art Deco addition.
The original palace was given to Edward II in 1305 and was used as a royal palace until the 16th century when Greenwich Palace, more easily accessible by river, was rebuilt. Henry IV hosted the only Byzantine Emperor to visit England at Eltham in 1400-01 and jousts were held in his honour. The tiltyard still exists, although it was not part of our tour. Henry VIII spent much of his childhood at Eltham Palace and first met Erasmus there in 1499.
The only remaining medieval part of the Palace still in existence, the Great Hall, was built by Edward IV in the 1470s. Today it contains the third largest hammerbeam roof in the country, the two largest being in Westminster Hall and Hampton Court. Edward IV hosted banquets at Eltham, some for as many as 2,000 people. The wooden furniture now on display is Jacobean rather than medieval, but it gives a good idea of the items which would have been used by Edward IV and Henry VIII. By the 1630s the Palace was no longer a royal residence and it fell into disrepair after the Civil War.
In 1933 Stephen and Virginia Courtauld acquired a 99-year lease on the palace site and commissioned architects to restore the Great Hall and build a modern home attached to it. The house was decorated in the Art Deco style and incorporates many features of a cruise ship, such as the curved staircases leading from the entrance hall and rounded “porthole” windows on the upper floors. The entrance hall features a stunning glazed dome, blackbean veneer and figurative marquetry. We also visited the dining room, the drawing room, Stephen Courtauld’s study, Virginia Courtauld’s study and the rooms on the upper floor. The Courtaulds had a pet lemur called Mah-Jongg, which seemed to have the run of the house. The artworks currently on display are not the originals – those were taken by the Courtaulds when they moved to what is now Zimbabwe in 1944. The house was then taken over by the Army who used it until 1992. It was acquired by English Heritage in 1995 and was opened to the public after restoration.
At the end of our tour, we were treated to a recital by our Master on the piano in the drawing room.
We then went back to the café for our own feast of 21st century fare. Unfortunately, it was beginning to rain so this writer had to forgo a walk round the gardens in order to return to the station.
A most interesting day., thank you, Master.