Eltham Palace, an unoccupied royal residence in the London borough of Greenwich, is widely regarded as a masterpiece of modern interior design and is easily one of the most interesting visitor attractions in London.
Other than the restored Great Hall, little of the 1305-built royal palace and childhood home of Henry VIII remains, but an elaborate 1930s house was commissioned on the original site by properous philanthropist and textile heir Stephen Courtauld and his wife Virginia, and is one of the best examples of interior Art Deco style in the country.
The incredibly wealthy Courtaulds were a couple who loved to entertain and Eltham Palace was a regular and favourite venue of London’s pre-war party scene. Guests would make their grand entrance via the stunning circular hallway, crowned with a modernist concrete and glass-domed roof, before entering the elegant dining room with its silver-leaf ceiling and one of the country’s first electric fires.
Central heating was also provided for the Courtauld’s beloved pet lemur, Mah-Jongg, who had his own living quarters on the first floor, complete with a pillow-strewn cage and his own trap-door through which he could scamper downstairs to the flower room and onwards through the rest of the house. It’s said he was very particular about the company he kept, and was not averse to nipping guests he didn’t take a shine to.
Indulgence was the name of the game. With no children, the Courtaulds lavished their wealth on travelling, entertaining, gardening and cosseting their pets, not to mention extensive renovations to the original parts of the house and ensuring their own quarters represented the height of luxury and had every modern convenience of the time. Mrs Courtauld’s mosaic gold-leaf-clad ensuite bathroom was the epitome of Art Deco extravagance; designed as a temple to Venus it’s one of the most memorable rooms in the house.
Idiosyncratic and quirky, the building also houses three 15th century cottage gables on the roof which had to be preserved as part of the planning permission, plus a huge bomb shelter and games room in the basement. There’s also reputed to be a number of escape tunnels that lead out into various parts of Eltham.
Other highlights include the portholed staircases and decorative marquetry panelling throughout the house, the beautiful moat and gardens and of course, the restored medieval Great Hall with its magnificent hammerbeam timber roof – the third largest in the country.
Eltham Palace, Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, London SE9. Nearest trains: Mottingham or Eltham station. During the winter the palace is generally open to visitors on Sundays only, with some exceptions – see website for details. Photos: Header shot © Max London on Flickr. Eltham Palace facade © Thomas Jenkins | Dreamstime.com, and thanks to Flickr photographers simiant, Matt from London and jo fleet.