The original palace was given to Edward II in 1305 by the Bishop of Durham, Anthony Bek, and used as a royal residence from the 14th to the 16th century. According to one account the incident which inspired Edward III's foundation of the Order of the Garter took place here. As the favourite palace of Henry IV it played host to Manuel II Palaiologos, the only Byzantine emperor ever to visit England, from December 1400 to January 1401, with a joust being given in his honour. There is still a jousting tilt yard. Edward IV built the Great Hall in the 1470s, a young Henry VIII back when he was known as Prince Henry also grew up here; it was here in 1499 that he met and impressed the scholar Erasmus, introduced by Thomas More. Tudor courts often used the palace for their Christmas celebrations. With the grand rebuilding of Greenwich Palace, which was more easily reached by river, Eltham was less frequented, save for the hunting in its enclosed parks, easily reached from Greenwich, "as well enjoyed, the Court lying at Greenwiche, as if it were at this house it self". The deer remained plentiful in the Great Park, of 596 acres, the Little, or Middle Park, of 333 acres, and the Home Park, or Lee Park, of 336 acres. In the 1630s, by which time the palace was no longer used by the royal family, Sir Anthony van Dyck was given the use of a suite of rooms as a country retreat. During the English Civil War, the parks were denuded of trees and deer. John Evelyn saw it 22 April 1656: "Went to see his Majesty's house at Eltham; both the palace and chapel in miserable ruins, the noble wood and park destroyed by Rich the rebel". The palace never recovered. Eltham was bestowed by Charles II on John Shaw and in its ruinous condition— reduced to Edward IV's Great Hall, the former buttery, called "Court House", a bridge across the moat and some walling—remained with Shaw's descendants as late as 1893.
In 1933, Stephen Courtauld and his wife Virginia Courtauld (née Peirano) acquired the lease of the palace site and restored the Great Hall (adding a minstrels' gallery to it) while building an elaborate home, internally in the Art Deco style. The dramatic Entrance Hall was created by the Swedish designer Rolf Engströmer. Light floods in from a spectacular glazed dome, highlighting blackbean veneer and figurative marquetry. Keen gardeners, the Courtaulds also substantially modified and improved the grounds and gardens. The Courtaulds' pet lemur, Mah-Jongg, had a special room on the upper floor of the house which had a hatch to the downstairs flower room; he had the run of the house. The Courtaulds remained at Eltham until 1944 (during which time Stephen firewatched from the Great Hall roof, with the palace near the docks at Woolwich, a prime bombing target - in September 1940, the roof of the Great Hall was badly damaged by a bomb). In 1944, they moved to Scotland then to Southern Rhodesia, giving the palace to the Royal Army Educational Corps in March 1945; the corps remained there until 1992. The combination of the gardens, the magnificent exterior and the contrast with the art-deco interior make this a fabulous place to visit. Eltham Palace is listed on English Heritage's list of "most haunted places." The ghost of a former staff member is said to have given tours of the palace when the palace should have been empty. Most areas are accessible, there is a lift to the first floor, the basement and gallery have stairs. Assistance dogs are welcome. There are designated interactive boxes with things to touch in almost every room of the property. They also have a touch list that advises visitors on which parts of the historic furnishings can be handled.
Location : Luxted Rd, Downe, Kent BR6 7JT
Transport: Mottingham (Southeastern) - half mile walk. London Buses routes 124, 126, 160 or 161 stop nearby.
Opening Times: Monday to Thursday 10:00 to 16:00.
Saturday / Sunday 10:00 to 16:00
Closed Weekdays in January
Tickets : Adults £13.00, Children (5 - 15) £7.80
Concessions £11.80, Carers Free
Prices exclude 10% voluntary donation.
Tel: 0208 294 2548. Text Telephone: 0800 015 0516.