An Ipswich Society visit, Tuesday August 8 2017.
We knew a certain amount about the transformation of Eltham Palace by the Courtauld family but little besides, so this was a journey of discovery and delight. From 1305 until the late 16th century Eltham was a major palace and where Henry VIII spent much of his boyhood. Some ten miles south-east of the City, it stands on a low hill, within what would have been an extensive deer park, with views from its bastions towards Greenwich and the Tower beyond. The palace was once surrounded by a moat, which we crossed by way of the fine 15th century arched bridge. Full of carp, the moat now surrounds two sides of the site while the rest has long been filled in and grassed - the ancient walls giving shelter to a glorious long herbaceous border replanted in 2000 - plus rose and topiary gardens.
The palace is dominated by the splendid mediaeval Great Hall of royal proportions, with a glorious double hammer beam roof, but this is the only part of the ancient building to survive. The rest fell into disrepair until re-modelled by Stephen and Virginia Courtauld as a contemporary country house of the 1930s. The exterior in brick and stone harks back to older times, but the Art Deco interior is a total surprise.
The circular entrance hall of Scandinavian design has original furniture and fittings and leads to a drawing room, library and dining room in Art Deco, with no expense spared. Details in the dining room include splendid double doors of lacquer with gold inlays of wild animals. Upstairs, bedrooms include the master and lady's bedrooms, with every “modern” comfort, including electric “coal” fires, telephones and central heating. A bathroom with marble bath and gold plated taps with walls of gold mosaic is lavish even by today's standards. And not forgetting the central vacuum cleaning system to which a machine could be connected in each room. Certainly an advance on Downton Abbey!
The site now benefits from a very pleasant new café and facilities, plus children's area. We also noticed that the discovery trail for children was providing a lot of interest and entertainment. Our thanks to June Peck and her helpers for all the organisation which resulted in such an intriguing and enjoyable visit.