A conservator treats a delicate mural in the Map Room at Eltham Palace, South London

Lost Maps Uncovered at Eltham Palace



Discover the story behind conserving the map room

Thanks to your donations, in 2015 a team of specialist conservators painstakingly uncovered and protected maps and murals at Eltham Palace. Now visitors can enjoy a hand-drawn link to the 1930s and see the world through the eyes of the glamorous, globetrotting Courtaulds. Take a look behind the scenes and see how the project unfolded.

A mural depicting a ’roc’ - a mythological bird carrying off elephants in its claws

An unexpected treasure

Stephen and Virginia Courtauld - art collectors, travellers and philanthropists - built their Art Deco mansion adjoining the medieval Eltham Palace in 1936.

Stephen and Virginia left Eltham in 1945, and nearly 80 years later, conservators discovered intriguing scraps of maps on the walls of a storeroom. After carefully peeling and scraping away two layers of wallpaper and decades' worth of paint, they uncovered a lost insight into the glamorous lives of the Courtaulds. 

They found the room covered in colour. There were 11 maps of places all over the globe, along with delightful watercolour depicting everything from St Paul's Cathedral in London to Santa in his sleigh over Iceland, and from an erupting volcano to a mythical beast with elephants in its talons.

A wall in the map room, with a map of the world, a murals of a volcano, gemstones and the sun

Conserving the map room

After years behind wallpaper, the maps and murals were deteriorating. They were painted onto lining paper, and extremely fragile in places. But thanks to support from the public, conservators were able preserve the room for future generations.

Specialist conservators used scalpels to scrape away the layers of paint and wallpaper, and then began cleaning away the yellow varnish layer, bringing the colours back to life. They also had to 'consolidate' the paper - injecting adhesive into the gaps between the paper and the wall to re-attach the paper where it was lifting off from the plaster beneath. During the work, we invited visitors to watch the conservators and speak to them about their task.

The project took 1600 hours of conservators' time, and it was delicate, meticulous work. We couldn't have done it without your help.

Close-up of a wall painting of a dragon in the Map Room

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