Spotlight on Eltham Palace and Gardens
Few properties can boast such an eclectic combination of history and architecture like Eltham Palace. Wander through a medieval hall that once held court for kings and queens, see glamorous examples of art deco design and explore a basement converted into a Second World War bunker.
A visit to Eltham Palace and Gardens will introduce you to the millionaire couple behind the renovations, Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. Together they turned the historic palace into a modern-day mansion and today you can step back in time to discover it for yourself.
What makes Eltham Palace and gardens special?
Get a sense for what court life was like in 15th century England with a walk through Eltham Palace's medieval Great Hall. Imagine Edward IV, who commissioned the magnificent hall, celebrating here with some 2,000 guests in one of the most extravagant feasts the palace ever held. When the Courtaulds arrived at Eltham Palace in the 1930s they were eager to keep the look and feel of the surviving hall and it became a centrepiece of their home.
The site itself has had a rich royal past since Bishop Bek gave it to the future Edward II in 1305. Royalty, including Henry VIII who was the last monarch to invest in the palace, hosted many celebrations at the palace up until the 16th century. It was also on this site in 1348 that Edward III established the famous Order of the Garter - the oldest surviving order of chivalry in Europe.
The Courtaulds renovated the palace and estate in the 1930s, combining the history of the site with their avant-garde tastes. Find out how the glamorous Courtaulds lived, try on 1930s fashions and explore the Second World War bunker where the household retreated during air raids.
Take a closer look: Mah-jongg, the lemur
Mah-Jongg, or Jonggy, was Stephen and Virginia's pet ring-tailed lemur who was bought as a wedding present by Stephen at Harrods pets department. As well as accompanying the Courtaulds on their international travels, Mah-Jongg was treated like one of the family. See what life was like for the pampered pet who had access to the entire palace via a ladder from his centrally-heated cage on the first floor.
However, while the Courtaulds put Mah-Jongg on a pedestal, guests of the couple had mixed reviews. He disliked children and visitors would often complain of being bitten under the dining table. But don't worry, there aren't any exotic animals running around today.
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Why we love Eltham Palace and gardens
"I visited Eltham this summer; interesting how from the grounds you can see the London skyline in the distance. I like to think of Edward III and his queen Philippa or Henry IV and his wife Joan of Navarre strolling that same area and being glad they were at peaceful Eltham instead of London." Kathye Sawyer Baddour, visitor to Eltham Palace via Facebook
"My favourite thing is the entrance hall which makes such a statement, and the dining room as well. I enjoy watching the children and what fun they get out of dressing up… the children have a lot of fun here." Julia Larsson, volunteer at Eltham Palace and Gardens
"The room that best reflects Virginia Courtauld's vivacious and spirited personality has to be the totally ostentatious bathroom created by Italian playboy and interior designer, the Marchese Peter Malacrida. With its onyx bathroom furniture and lavish gold plated taps and tiles, it must have been a wonderful oasis where one could relax without being disturbed, perhaps with a glass of something fizzy in hand. This has to be my favourite room." Paul Fretwell, Historic Properties Steward for Eltham Palace and Gardens
Three things to look out for
- Virginia's golden bathroom: On trend with the latest Parisian vogue, Virginia's en-suite is a glittering spectacle. Combining classic with contemporary, the bath sits in a golden alcove with a statue of the goddess Psyche at its centre. See the gold-plated taps and lion's-mask spout and admire the onyx-lined walls. This room wouldn't look out of place in a Hollywood film.
- The entrance hall: As lovers of ocean liner travel, it's no coincidence the grand entrance draws parallels to the luxury of cruise ships. The entrance hall, designed by two former ship interior designers, resembles the bow of an ocean liner and the walls are furnished with Australian black bean veneer, as was Britain's most luxurious liner at the time, the Queen Mary. Keep your eye out for the window above the main entrance which looks similar to the bridge of a ship and peer through porthole-style windows along the staircases.
- Personal touches to the Great Hall: Although they took great care in preserving the history and heritage of the Great Hall, the Courtaulds couldn't help but leave their own stamp. Challenge yourself to find the Mah-Jongg motif hiding in the vaulting and the carved initials of those involved in the restoration alongside shields of former monarchs. As you leave for the gardens, look out for the engraving that immortalises the Courtaulds as saviours of the medieval hall.
Postcard from Eltham Palace and Gardens
Take a brief tour of Eltham Palace with a sneak peek at the lavish interiors and exquisite gardens. Watch our Postcard from Eltham Palace and see the historic site come to life.
TAKE A TOUR INSIDE
Join the Courtauld's party
Step inside Eltham Palace and take a guided tour of the Courtauld’s family home with curator Lester Oram.
Step into Virginia's wardrobe
Open the doors to Virginia's wardrobe to discover fashion from the 1930s with historian Ruth Goodman.
Uncover the map room
Take a look behind the scenes of the Map Room project, which was possible thanks to your generous support.
Make cocktails the 1930s way
Learn how to mix 1930s-style cocktails in the room where the Courtaulds enjoyed their evening tipples.
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