The childhood home of Henry VIII and site of an outstanding example of Art Deco design, Eltham Palace, in the Royal London Borough of Greenwich, is one of the most charming London attractions.
Infamous English King Henry VIII was born in Greenwich Palace (now the site of the Royal Observatory Greenwich) but raised and schooled a couple of miles away in Eltham Palace. Once famed for its hunting grounds, in the 1930s the site was bought by the wealthy Coultauld family who built an opulent Art Deco mansion next to the Eltham Palace’s Great Hall. Today the site is owned and run by English Heritage and is open to visitors in search of, and finding, a truly unique experience.
Eltham Palace was originally given as a gift to King Henry II in 1305. It remained a royal residence from that time until the 16th century. At the start of the 15th century it hosted the only Byzantine emperor ever to visit England, who was entertained by knights in armour jousting – trying to knock each other off their respective horses uses lances. The jousting site, or tilt yard as it was known, is still in evidence today.
It was here in 1599, around the time that Shakespeare was putting on plays at the Globe Theatre in Southwark, that the English, lawyer, author, statesman and social philosopher Sir Thomas More introduced the celebrated Dutch scholar Erasmus to young Prince Henry, later to become King Henry VIII, who said that the young prince ‘already [had a] certain royal demeanour’.
The Palace was renovated and expanded by the Tudor kings and queens who favoured the site as the home of their Christmas celebrations. It was here where they entertained themselves and guests by hunting deer in the abundance of the surrounding parks and forests covering in excess of 600 acres. However, the palace and hunting grounds both suffered neglect, exploitation and damage during and following the English Civil War (1642-1651). All that was left more or less intact was the Grand Hall.
The 1930s saw a reawakening of the Palace’s fortunes with the purchase of the site by the wealthy Coultauld family who had made their money from textiles. The family employed a Swedish architect to redesign the remains of Eltham Palace and kit out the interior in resplendent Art Dec decoration. The entrance hall with Spartan furnishings and faux Greek murals is particularly breathtaking. Even the family’s pet lemur had its own specially designed room.
The Courtaulds remained at Eltham Palace until 1944 when a Luftwaffe bomb badly damaged the Great Hall. They later moved to Africa and gave Eltham Palace to the British Army who used it until 1992. English Heritage took control of the site in 1995 and carried out extensive restoration work to both the buildings and the gardens.
Today Eltham Palace is open to visitors from April to November who are both beguiled by the amazing interior and charmed by the prizewinning gardens. Eltham Palace is a real hidden gem of a London Attraction and should be included on any stay at, or trip to Greenwich or Blackheath.
Mottingham or Eltham Stations
Routes 126 and 161