Set in the Royal borough of Greenwich, Eltham Palace has long been on a list of places we’ve wanted to visit so when we met up with friends recently and they suggested it, we were secretly pleased that we had a good reason to go.
Surprisingly, on a dreary grey afternoon, it took us no time to get there – so that put paid to my theory of a tedious drive and exasperating traffic.
Did I feel like I was being disloyal to the National Trust by going to an English Heritage attraction? A little – but then I discovered that Eltham Palace pays homage to the 1930s Art Deco era, mixed in with medieval and Tudor royal history and has over 19 acres of gardens to explore.
The word ‘palace’ conjured a more grandiose architecture to what is there in reality, but even though there are no turrets or gold gates, Eltham Palace is still rich in decadence and history.
Gifted to King Edward VII in 1305, it was one of Henry VIII’s favourite childhood spots, but it fell into disrepair some years later after the Royals favoured going to nearby Greenwich.
Then came along the Courtaulds – Stephen and Virginia – wealthy textile industrialists who made Eltham their lavish home in 1933. Not only did they commission architects to do this but they were also sympathetic to the medieval prominence of The Great Hall which was restored during the build. And now Eltham Palace is considered one of the finest examples of Art Deco design in Britain today.
Stepping into the mansion, is like stepping back some 80 years – because much of the house and the furniture remains the same – even though some are replicas of the originals. Eltham have made it simple for the whole family to explore each room as kids are given an activity booklet which needs to be stamped.
The multi media guides, which are included in the entrance fee, were also popular with many visitors we saw but we purposely chose not to do them as it meant we couldn’t chat properly whilst wandering around.
Particular favourites for the kids were Virginia’s walk-in wardrobe where they got to try on some of her outfits and jewellery. Mine was her luxurious gilted bathroom and the art deco dining room which has a beautifully ornate fireplace – you can just imagine the dinner party gossip over cocktails in this opulent room. I particularly like the doors, with its distinctive animals and birds which were drawn live from London Zoo!
Unfortunately, due to flooding, we were unable to go to the basement and try out the camp beds, and play dress up in the wartime bunker – which I was reliably informed is great fun for children of all ages.
Meanwhile, the Great Hall which was built in 1470s still is just as impressive. Its stain glass windows, oak roof and open-hearth in the centre, provided the central focal point to the whole redesign of the mansion and you can see why.
The kids enjoyed running up and down and trying on all the costumes hung up – but they soon caught scent of the outdoors and wanted to explore the gardens.
The gardens at Eltham Palace are laid out over two levels to encompass the remains of the original moat, north bridge and buttresses. While it was a little difficult to meander both levels with a pushchair, we did manage it, and it also meant the children had great opportunity to run. We even found some horses to stroke from a neighbouring field, while the Rock Garden and Rose Gardens provided ample delight and colour even in the drizzle.
After deciding it was time for warming refreshments and a sweet treat, we made our way to the extensive café set in a pretty conservatory, which also has a large outdoor play area – a big hit with the children, so much so, it was pretty hard to get them to leave!
Because we wanted to catch up with friends, we found that going around Eltham at our own pace was just enough for us to learn about the history, however, I do think we would benefit from returning not only in the summer, so we can really enjoy the outdoor spaces and perhaps take a picnic, but to make use of The Family Tours for both inside and out using their interactive media guides.
The Art Deco era is one I have long admired, so it was a joy to be able to combine a good day out, and appreciate the tastes and furnishings from that time. And, even though this subject matter might not be the most provocative for young children, there is certainly enough at Eltham to keep the whole family entertained. Plus they do a mean cup of coffee and chocolate brownie…
Have you ever visited Eltham Palace? What did you think?
Eltham Palace, Court Yard, London SE9 5QE Tickets: Adults from £14.40; Kids (5-15) from £8.60; Family Tickets: £37.40