Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace hides away in Eltham in south east London offering an historic building and beautiful gardens. It is a must-visit.

Brief history of Eltham Palace

After the Conquest Eltham Manor was given to Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, but in 1296 the estate passed to Antony Bek, the Bishop of Durham. He built a moated manor house which he presented to the Prince of Wales who became Edward II in 1307. Future kings developed the site: the north stone moat bridge was built by Richard II in 1396[1] and in 1470s Edward IV built the Great Hall with its imposing chestnut hammerbeam roof which still stands today. Eltham Palace was the favoured royal palace until the 16th century when Henry VIII built Greenwich Palace. 

North bridge into Eltham Palace and the Chancellor's house
North bridge into Eltham Palace with the Chancellor’s house behind, in winter

In 1649 Parliament ordered a survey of the Manor of Eltham. The palace was in disrepair and the chapel and the great hall were the only furnished rooms. The three parks of the Great Park, Middle Park and Horn Park (aka Lee Park) covered 1,314 acres and had c.7,700 trees. About 4,000 were old and the rest were suitable for shipbuilding. The deer had already been removed or slaughtered.

In the 1930s Stephen and Virginia Courtauld took a 99-year lease from the Crown. They undertook the first serious renovation commissioning Seely and Paget to build an art-deco mansion which incorporated the Great Hall. The Courtaulds only stayed until 1944.

The two wings of the Art Deco mansion
The two wings of the Art Deco mansion

After 1944 the army educational units used the buildings until 1992. In 1995 English Heritage took over management of the site and completed another major restoration programme four years later. The building and gardens are Grade II*.

Part of the Art Deco mansion inside the original walls at the north east corner of the moat
Part of the Art Deco mansion inside the original walls at the north east corner of the moat

Eltham Palace today

The layout of Eltham Palace, the surrounding fields and the Blackheath Golf Club (the Great Park) has hardly changed since the 17th and 18th centuries and much of the land around the palace remained in Crown ownership well into the 20th century.

The gardens are restored to the 1930s design. There is a Japanese rockery on the east side.

The Japanese Rockery and the serpentine moat created by the Courtaulds
The Japanese Rockery and the serpentine moat created by the Courtaulds

On the west side of the moat there is a sunken rose garden and pond on the west, with two more garden rooms beyond that.

The moat on the north side of Eltham Palace is very atmospheric.

London plane trees line the north moat
London plane trees line the north moat
The late 14th century stone bridge over the north moat
The late 14th century stone bridge over the north moat
Flag irises at the end of the north moat
Flag irises at the end of the north moat

A wooden bridge crosses the south moat, linking the palace to the meadows. Isabelle van Groeningen planted the long herbaceous border along the moat wall in 2000.

The wooden bridge over the south moat
The wooden bridge over the south moat
The south moat wall of Eltham Palace
The south moat wall of Eltham Palace

The parkland and meadows at Eltham Palace

The moat bank and parkland are managed as meadow, i.e., hay is taken in July and it is then mown up to Christmas. This management has encouraged wildflowers, particularly in the spring. Oxlips, primroses, wood anemone, bluebells and snakeshead fritillaries.

The meadows beyond the south moat at Eltham Palace
The meadows beyond the south moat at Eltham Palace

The Courtaulds planted some wonderful trees: an Indian bean tree, tulip tree, walnut and bay trees. 

Tulip tree flowering at Eltham Palace
Tulip tree flowering at Eltham Palace

Today the site is an elegant park and an important historical heritage. Quiet and peaceful, it attracts visitors at all times of the day, in all seasons. 


Eltham Palace Fields

There are still open fields to the south of Eltham Palace. They are mostly not accessible to the public but create a magical illusion of countryside.

Eltham Palace Fields
Eltham Palace Fields

And the illusion continues to the west of the palace in the fields on the far side of King John’s Walk, some of which are accessible by the general public. 


Eltham Palace is a marvellous site and it also has a very nice cafe!

[1] English Heritage Guidebooks: Eltham Palace, 2012, p.27

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