I said a fond farewell toCorinna and Michelle and wheeled my trusty overnight case to the bus. The arrangements for today were that Deana and her friend Kathleen would take her car to Eltham Palace, while I’d make my way by train and a walk. I’d be able to stash my case in the car and then we’d gallop all over the place.
The only thing I’d heard about Eltham Palace was that it was very pretty. Seeing as this was turning into the tour of palaces and castles, I thought this one would round it out perfectly.
(The exterior of the Great Hall.)
But something about the name niggled at me… it was familiar. I knew it wasn’t because Melbourne has a suburb of the same name. It was something else…
I walked to the gate ten minutes early, at 9:50, so I chatted with a lovely girl who was there to check tickets. She said that Eltham Palace had once been a royal residence, but had been left to fall into rack and ruin. The massive medieval Great Hall was used as a barn for hundreds of years.
Then an extremely wealthy couple called Stephen and Virginia Courtauld bought it. They were allowed to demolish all of the ruined parts of the original house as long as they kept theGreat Hall and restored it.
Then the guide happened to mention that Henry VIII and his brother and sisters were brought up here. Now I know why the name niggled at me!
I decided to wait at the cafe near the car park, so I wheeled my trusty carryon down the garden path to the cafe, bought a coffee and started writing a blog post under the shade of an umbrella.
After an hour went by, I started to wonder where they were. I sent a message, tried to call, then went back to writing.
By the time 2 hours had gone, I decided to go through the house and turn up on her doorstep in the evening, hoping that she and her friend hadn’t died in a fiery car crash.
Just as I reached the front door of the house, Deana messaged me.
I thought about taking the case back to the car, but I’d already stashed it behind the front door with the connivance of a friendly guide, so I hung around the front garden and chatted with the guide while I waited for them to arrive.
The entrance bridge is the oldest working footbridge in England, she said. It was lovely.
The guide was holding a guidebook and I asked to take a picture of the quote from the Queen Mother.
It made me laugh! It also made me wonder what on earth I was going to see…
Over the front door was Hestia, goddess of entertaining. This was a very deliberate choice, as they built this house especially with entertaining in mind.
“I can’t believe that this couple went to all the trouble of this massive building project, only to leave it 10 years later,” I said to the guide.
“They actually intended to stay here forever,” she said, beckoning me to follow her around the entrance to a side wall. She pointed up at the window. “ When you’re coming down the stairs towards the end of your visit, look through the round window. Eltham is right on the flight path the Germane took during the second war. We were getting bombed both coming and going.. They left in 1943, never to return.”
While I was waiting, I read this information panel – always read the info panels! You never know when there’ll be an interesting fact for the blog! – then thought, “ Bugger it. I’m going in.”
I was gazing up at the beautiful ceiling at the beginning of this post when Deana and Kathleen turned up. Kathleen had already been to the house a few times, so she went back to the cafe to wait for us, while Deana and I grabbed some audio tour thingys and headed off.
These walls were in the entrance hall, underneath the spectacular ceiling. The room appears circular, with two sides of the three being curved.
The walls are veneered with Australian Black Bean, a timber so rare and exotic that I, an Australian, have never heard of it.
The walls had speakers that could play music from a gramophone that was outside in the hall. There was also a pay phone for guests, along with the internal phone system. No need for servant bells here! Just pick up a phone.
The first step on the tour was a video about the Courtaulds, with original footage of them relaxing in the garden with their Great Dane and their tame lemur called Mah Jongg. The lemur went with them everywhere. He wasn’t altogether popular with dinner guests, as he’d sneak under the table and nibble on people’s feet.
The room used to be the bedroom where Virginia’s mother used to stay. The adjoining bathroom has a bidet. As well as underfloor heating, naturally…
Here’s the ladder where Mah Jongg would get in and out.
This looked beautiful in real life, but this photo looks a bit strange. It’s a bust of Virginia Courtauld.
She and Stephen met at a dinner party and he didn’t speak. This challenged her.
She was vivacious, rebellious. He adored her- if she wasn’t happy, then he wasn’t happy.
Here is a portrait of them, along with Mah Jongg.
This is in the entrance to Virginia’s suite.
Her walk-in wardrobe.
Her bed. Notice the telephone beside it. This was connected to the internal phone system.
But look at it. Isn’t it sumptuous?
Deana looking at the other side of the room. The curved walls are made of sycamore.
Stephen’s bedroom is next door, behind a hidden door.
The taps were covered in gold.
I just love the colours.
She embroidered the chairs herself. I like that.
Stephen’s room next door was smaller and a lot more restrained. He was the complete opposite in temperament to his wife, being very quiet and private.
Sometimes at the dinner parties he’d eat without saying a word, then leave the room immediately after. He soundproofed the room by stuffing the walls with wool behind the veneer.
The blue is his ensuite.
Every bedroom had its own bathroom, which was a huge luxury back then.
Here’s the stuff! The medieval Great Hall that they restored.
imagine using a space with this roof as a barn? I mean, it’s practical, but still.
This shot was taken from the minstrel’s gallery, looking down. The Courtaulds used to put the bands up here when they threw parties.
The skin of the building and roof we’re pretty much as they were in the 1400s, so they would’ve been very familiar to the young Prince Henry.
The stained glass windows, however, are new.
The pink curtains are in place of the tapestries that would originally have been there.
It was a huge space. It was used as a summer palace and the hall was an impressive space to entertain foreign visitors and other dignitaries who were visiting the king.
A person here for scale.
Here’s the round window on the stars. If you look through, you can see the London skyline.
The library, where Stephen would go, probably to escape some of the guests.
He’d plan his polar expeditions from here. The audio guide told the story of how he decided to give a send-off party to one group of explorers, only to have the expedition delayed by 3 months because Mah Jongg bit the radio operator on the wrist, severing an artery.
Look at the detail on the plaster by the window. Just wonderful.
Next door, here is Virginia’s private withdrawing room.
It was a very inviting space.
I loved how her books were so close to the couch.
The Italian drawing room. This is the place where, after dinner, they’d show home movies of their trips around the world.
Underfloor heating, OF COURSE, and also central vacuum cleaner flaps in the skirting.
The paintings in this room are all Italian masters.
Next door is the dining room. The chairs are upholstered in the best shade of pink to show off the ladies gowns.
The ceiling is polished aluminium. It was spectacular.
The audio guide read out excerpts from a diary written by one of the guests. They were all extremely well looked-after, though sometimes they were asked to help with the gardening.
Flowers and gardens were very important to them. The house is surrounded by several acres of landscaped gardens. We ran out of time to see them, but from the little I saw between the house and the cafe, it’d be well worth walking through.
The detail about Virginia and her notebook is funny.
Back across the footbridge we went to find Kathleen, then home we went.
Deana has two golden retrievers, so I got my doggie fix as soon as I walked through the door!
We stayed up late, chatting and catching up with everything that’s happened in our lives over the last 8 years, then it was off to bed.
Eltham Palace is an amazing place to visit. I haven’t shown you the half of it!