Pronounced Elt’m by locals, Eltham is an interesting mix of ‘modern’ and historic. The site is run by English Heritage (as opposed to Historic Royal Palaces) which should tip you off that this is no longer a palace used by the Royal Family. It was built long ago by Edward II, and Henry VIII actually grew up there mostly. But after him no other royal ever visited. So the grand hall became a barn and everything fell to ruins. UNTIL the Courtauld’s (as in the Courtauld Gallery) decided to buy the place in the 1930s. They got a pretty clean slate but saved what they could of the old parts of the palace.
They decided to build a completely modern looking interior – it is all fantastically Art Deco. The central hall is Scandinavian inspired. The family hosted magnificent parties there – think Great Gatsby style, sometimes including fireworks!
English Heritage really leans into the party idea! When you enter you get a card ‘inviting’ you to be a guest of the Courtaulds with the name of one of their friends. The introductory film has a butler welcoming you and showing you to your rooms. There are loads of little details like the champagne bucket and glasses around the house. It really made it fun!
In the oldest part of the house is the Great Hall built by King Edward IV! It is beautiful and I got to try on some sweet Tudor robes. The ceiling is really amazing. I always get a thrill when I, as a peasant, am somewhere Royalty used to hang out.
During the War (WWII) the house’s basement became a bunker with all the necessities – including a billiards rooms of course! The family actually kept hosting parties throughout the war. That wartime spirit!
One of the more iconic images of Eltham is Virginia Courtaulds’ Gold bathroom. It is magnificent (see my Instagram post for a picture!). This is actually her husband Stephen’s bathroom. I quite liked his blue tiling – it feels like you are under water or something.
Each room had a box with touchable or smellable items! In the bedrooms they took the shape of travelling cases and focused on a person who would have used the room (the Courtauld’s or their guests). I go full Alice in Wonderland and will touch anything I am allowed too. I had a great time with these. They even featured photos of people at the Palace. It made the history personal.
More Art Deco beauty!
The gardens are also really splendid but I’m going to save those photos for a photo post. I got to visit on a Sunday with one of my fellow Museum Studies people – Katie! We had a grand time -especially because there was a live Jazz Orchestra playing in the gardens. We got to sit in the grass and listen to the lovely South London Jazz Orchestra play while sipping some of English Heritage’s Ginger and Elderflower Wine. It was really magical!
Pros: Great building, fun stories, amazing concert, cute cafe, nice staff/ guides, art deco filled shop, fun kids area, great interpretation – so cohesive, beautiful gardens. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL!
Cons: tricky to get to – very South London, there may not be enough seating for people with mobility issues, it was pretty warm when we visited and the lack of AC was pretty obvious.