Newest Review: ... we found ourselves stepping into the most photographed and famous room in the palace; the entrance hall. ~~Entrance Hall~~ The entran... more
A palace fit for a Lemur
Eltham Palace (Eltham)
Member Name: duskmaiden
Eltham Palace (Eltham)
Advantages: Architechture, good value for moneym not too busy
Disadvantages: bit off the beaten track, not open Saturdays
Eltham Palace is a fascinating building architecturally, with a very interesting history. It's actually half medieval Great Hall and half chic 1930s Art Deco The two halves are melded together to make a very pleasing historic house to visit. The Great Hall was constructed in the 1470s in the reign of Edward IV and was used as a royal palace until the 16th century. It fell into disrepair by the 18th and 19th centuries, with its spectacular Great Hall being used as a barn and then a picturesque ruin. In the 1930s Sir Stephen Courthald and his wife Virginia (commonly known as Ginny) restored the hall to its former glory whilst adding a new wing in the modern Art Deco style. The couple moved out in 1944 due to the effects of World War 2 where it was taken over by the Royal Army Education Corps until 1994 when English Heritage took over ownership of the complete house (the Great hall was already under their care beforehand).
I have been meaning to visit Eltham Palace for a while, as Eltham is almost on my doorstep. However I took the plunge to visit on a sunny Sunday afternoon in June and I wish I had visited sooner, as I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. Being fairly local I accessed the Palace by bus. The easiest way to get to Eltham from central London is to take a Dartford train via Bexleyheath from London Bridge. It should take roughly half an hour. It's about a quarter of an hours walk from the train station but is well signposted.
Once past the car park you cross a bridge with a moat flowing under it to reach the ticket office. Its a medium priced attraction. I paid £8.20 for a ticket to the house and gardens. This included a very detailed but entertaining and interesting audio guide thus I felt this was fairly good value for money.
Once in the courtyard you get your first proper glimpse of the frontage of Eltham Palace with it s magnificent curved At Deco facade and the Great Hall jutting out to the right. Walk through into the entrance hell of the Palace where you are greeted by the staff who hand you fetching blue plastic covers to put over your shoes to protect the vast swathes of cream carpet inside. It did look funny seeing everyone with these blue poly bag type things on their feet but it makes prefect sense and saves on cleaning bills. It is useful to note that there is no photography inside the house so keep your camera for outside shots only.
The entrance hall sets the tone for the rest of your experience. It's a huge light space crowned by a concrete and glass done poring in light like a modern day St Paul's. Underneath this is a wonderful circular huge carpet which your eyes are dawn to. Walk round the room and adore the lovely marquetry panels and take a peek at the private pay phone installed so the guests could call out with the house without the Coulthard's getting the bill. The Art Deco part of the house was designed by the architects John Seely and Paul Page with the stunning interiors designed by Peter Malacrida. Eltham Palace is a joy to behold as the then cutting edge design is now one of the best examples of Art Deco in England.
I found the drawing room to be very interesting as it is very different to the rest of the rooms in the new part of Eltham Palace. Olde worlde beams replace the graceful curves and geometric patterns of the Deco style rooms. This was the room designed to keep Sir Stephen's collection of old masters and Italian furniture so a more old fashioned effect was desired. I liked the room as it seemed like a bridge from the new to the old. Talking of the old, it was wonderful to follow in the footsteps of Chaucer, Henry VIII and Erasmus to visit the oldest part of the building, the Great Hall. It is a large hall with a grand hammer beamed ceiling, an almost throne like chair and sumptuous long drapes. It is hard to believe that a century ago this was just a romantic ruin, as the hall was pain painstakingly reconstructed by the Couthards. They even constructed a minstrels gallery above th hall which you can visit and stand and admire the grandness of it all.
I retraced my steps to visit Stephen's study and Ginny's boudoir. The boudoir was not a boudoir in the normal sense but more a morning room where Ginny ran the house. I was fascinated by a leather map of the Elthm area. It was difficult to see though and it would have been nice to have a replica in one of the rooms so people could look at it closer. What struck me most about the house was all the little new fangled touches such as the in house telephone system alongside the integrated vacuum system housed in the basement (although I am sure I have seen one of those somewhere else). There were even speakers in each ground floor room to pipe gramophone music. I found all these little ingenious gadgets fascinating.
At this point we climbed the stairs to th upper level. The highlight for me was Ginny's luxurious bathroom paneled in onyx and marble with a luxurious looking marble bath, gold ostentatious taps and a lions mouth spout backed by golden mosaic and a statue of a Greek god. I really wanted that bathroom complete with the little passageway for the maid to discreetly fill the bath. The other area that fascinated me upstairs was the centrally heated cage of Mah Jong (Jonngy) who was the Couthard's beloved pet ring tailed lemur. This cage has bamboo wall paper to make Jongy feel right at home, and a little bamboo ladder so he could access Giinny's flower room and the floor below. I think the (ringed) tale of Jonggy is the one thing of real interest for children and I thought it would be nice if there was a trail to do with him available. However there is an interactive game to explore the house with Jonggy on English Heritage's excellent website.
The tour ends in another spectacular room, th dining room. This shrikes Art Deco at its best with the beautiful ceiling, and the Greek key design on the doors and fire place. Children may enjoy identifying the beautiful depictions of animals on the doors which were based on sketches of animals at London zoo. I really enjoyed my tour of the house. It took about an hour which was about the right length as I did not get the feeling of "not another room". It was also nice to have something fairly modern and maybe less formal than some of the better known historic houses. It was great not to see any servants quarter with mangles etc!
At this point we stopped for a bit of light refreshment in the tea room. This was small but the service was excellent as was the food. I was impressed that a scone, jam and cup of coffee only came to £2.30 My companion had ordered organic banana cake and had expected a slice of banana loaf. She received a huge chunk of light moist cake which was exceedingly good value. I felt the prices were very reasonable as the food was very good quality. It was also nice to get a cop of coffee in a china cup that had a vague nod to Art Deco. It's these little touches that male English h Heritage tearooms what they are.
Next to the tea room is the shop. It had the usual English Heritage knick knacks and jar of jam but a lot of the stock was nicely chosen to reflect the individual property. There were some lovely(but expensive) Art deco tea sets alongside cheaper photograph albums and address books. I shall certainly be plundering the shop for gifts for a family member who is keen on all things Art Deco. For the children there were cute cuddly lemurs so they could take home their own Jonggy.
Once outside there are the gorgeous gardens to explore. We were lucky to visit in June as everything was in flower. These gardens are not extensive unlike th great historic houses but there is enough space to have a picnic, let the kids run wild or get away from it all and forget you are actually only 8 miles from the centre of London.
I really would recommend a visit to Eltham Palace and would allow for half a day by the time you have seen the house and the gardens. Take a picnic and enjoy the peace and tranquility. Eltham Palace may be suitable for the more patient child as there are special themed family days alongside Jongy. However there are no interactive display or dressing up boxes that I could see .
Whilst at the property I found it to be busy without being packed. There was enough room to move about. It was nice to get away from the hustle of bustle of London and certainly the coach parties of American and Japanese tourists. Perhaps I should not have written this review so I can keep this little architectural gem well and truly to myself.!
21 Mar - 31 Oct10am-5pmMon, Tue, Wed, & Sun.
1 Nov - 21 Dec11am-4pmMon, Tue, Wed, & Sun.
1 Feb - 31 Mar11am-4pmMon, Tue, Wed, & Sun.
Closed 22 Dec-31 Jan
Summary: mediaeval paalce and art deco showhouse in one
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