Archive for the ‘History’ Category


The Italian themed drawing room is entered directly from the entrance hall.

It is a lovely spacious room and was probably a guests first impression of the house when they arrived.


Eltham Palace is approached from the town centre across a bridge which spans the moat and leads you into the inner garden which runs alongside the northern wing into the area which would have formed the courtyard of the Medieval Palace.


The gardens which incorporate the remains of the medieval palace along with the house are a great place to walk in the summer and are a great place for butterflies and dragonflies. They also give some great views of the House.

At one point in the garden, there is a great vista looking north towards central London.



Posted: April 5, 2018 in History, Life's little mysteries


My thanks to Craig Smith for pointing out this interesting entry in 1880 census:

‘Catherine Cudney, daughter, age 15. Occupation: Does as she pleases.’



This ancient Egyptian obelisk which stands on the banks of the River Thames in Central London was a gift to the United Kingdom from the rulers of Egypt to commemorate Lord Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Although it was presented in 1829 it remained in Alexandria until it was finally shipped to the UK in 1877 and erected on the Embankment.

The name is historically inaccurate as the obelisk dates from the reign of Tutmoses III around 1450 BCE and so was already 1350 years old at the time of Queen Cleopatra. It had originally been erected in the city of Heliopolis but had been removed to Alexandria in 12 BCE by the Roman Emporer Augustus.

There is another story commemorated on the monument and that is of the obelisk’s journey from Eygpt to London. There had been much discussion as to how it was to be transported and eventually a special barge was built to hold the obelisk. This was named ‘The Cleopatra’. It was to be towed by a steamboat ‘The Olga’ all the way from Eygpt to the UK. All went well until the boats reached the Bay of Biscay when it appeared the Cleopatra was going to sink. Fearful for the lives of the crew on board the barge, the captain of the Olga launched a boat to take them off. However, the sea was too rough and the boat capsized with the loss of 6 lives. The captain then managed to bring the Olga alongside the Cleopatra and the crew boarded the steamship. He then cut the cable and left the Cleopatra to its fate. 5 days later the Cleopatra was discovered by another ship, still afloat, and towed to the port of Ferrol in Spain. Another steam tug was sent from the UK and the obelisk finally arrived in London in January 1878. The names of the seaman who lost their lives during the journey are recorded on a plaque at the base of the obelisk



The Courtaulds moved into their new house in 1933 and stayed there until  May 1944 when they finally decided to move away from London because of the bombing. The house was leased to the Royal Army Educational Corps as a base from which it ran army schools overseas and administered examinations. The RAEC remained at Eltham until 1992.

RAEC at Eltham in the 1960s

The house passed to the Ministry of Works. A programme of repairs was carried out and it was opened to the public with the focus on the medieval remains on the site. English Heritage acquired responsibility for the Great Hall in 1984 and for the whole site in 1995 and set about a major refurbishment plan for the 20th century part of the property, the first stage of which took 5 years. A further set of rooms were opened to the public in 2013 following refurbishment.

Restoring the house to the 1930s look during the 1995-9 restoration

The Tradition of Maundy Money

Posted: March 29, 2018 in History, UK

A very appropriate topic for today.

Stephen Liddell

Often in the shadow of Christmas due to the rampant over-commercisation, it is often forgotten that Easter Sunday is the culmination of Holy Week. Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the most important Christian festival, and the one celebrated with the greatest joy.  As we approach the annual 4-day Easter holiday weekend I thought it would be interesting to look at the tradition of Maundy Money.

The Royal Maundy is an ancient ceremony, inspired by The Bible.  As the Head of the Anglican Church, the Queen has various religious duties which she takes very seriously, this being one of them.

On the day before Good Friday, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and commanded them to ‘Love one another’. Since at least the thirteenth century, the Royal Family have been taking part in similar ceremonies known as Royal Maundy.  By washing the feet of the poor and…

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In the early 1930’s, Stephen and Virginia Courtauld were looking for land on the edge of London to build a house and they settled on the site at Eltham, taking out a 99-year lease from the Crown.


The builders in the 1930’s demolishing the farm buildings to make way for the new house. The Great Hall can be seen in the background

Their plan for Eltham was to build an ultra-modern home whilst retaining as much as possible of the historic palace. This was a challenging commitment and aroused some controversy at the time. The Great Hall was to be restored and incorporated into the house, whilst many of the other remains were to be incorporated into garden features, thus maintaining the historical remains intact.


The completed house incorporating the Medieval Great hall (top left)

The exterior of the new house, in a ‘Wrenaissance’ style partly inspired by Hampton Court, is designed to complement the great hall. The interior styles (ranging from historical to moderne) resulted both from the Courtaulds’ own tastes and from the architects, designers and craftsmen they commissioned.

              The connection of 20th and 15th centuries (left) and the grand entrance to the house (right).

In February 1810, the Peninsular war was not going well. France controlled most of Spain and the Spanish government had retreated to the port city of Cadiz. In an effort to complete their surrender, the French forces under Marshalls Soult and Victor besieged the city with 70,000 men. Inside the city at the time were 2,000 Spanish troops. Attempts were made, without success,  to lift the siege in October 1810 and again the following year. The siege lasted for over 2 years but did not succeed as the Fench were unable to block off the sea route and the allied forces of Spain, Britain and Portugal were able to supply and reinforce the city by sea. In July 1812 with Wellington’s victory at Salamanca and subsequent capture of Madrid, Marshall Sault realised he was in grave danger of being cut off from the rest of the French army in Spain. He ordered a retreat from Cadiz, leaven behind a number of siege guns.


One of these guns was presented by the Spanish Government to the British Naval Commander with a request that it be presented to the Prince Regent and set up as a memorial to the Victory at Salamanca and the lifting of the siege. It arrived in London and went on public display in August 1816. It was an impressive and terrifying piece of sculpture, although reports at the time described it as an ineffective weapon, inaccurate in firing and causing very few casualties during the siege.

The inscription reads:

To commemorate the Raising of the Siege of Cadiz, in consequence of the Glorious Victory obtained by the Duke of Wellington over the French at Salamanca, on the 22d July 1812: This Mortar, cast for the destruction of that Great Port, with Powers surpassing all others, and abandoned by the Besiegers on their Retreat, was presented as a token of respect and gratitude by the Spanish Nation, To his Royal Highness the Prince Regent.

It can be seen today on Horse Guards Parade.

When the Courtauld’s arrived at Eltham in the early 1930’s all that remained from the medieval palace was the Great Hall, ruined and being used as a barn for the farm that had been established on the site, along with the foundations of other buildings.

However, in addition to the remains of the Palace ranges, which were incorporated into the gardens of the new house, there were also smaller pieces of history to be found in the ruined Palace.

 13th-century-floor tile probably from original Great Hall (top). 15th-century-floor tile probably from Edward IV’s rebuild (bottom left). Spanish 16th-century-floor tile (centre right) and Dutch 16th-century-floor tile with the cheery message ‘Death is swift’

Stephen Courtauld also incorporated some medieval stained glass into his new house and it is possible that some of this he found on site.


All that survived from the Medieval and Tudor palace at Eltham was the Great Hall and the foundations of other buildings which were later incorporated into the gardens of the 1930’s re-build.

The Great hall 1811

The Great Hall from an engraving of 1804

The Great Hall 1900

The Great Hall 1911

It was to this site that Stephen and Virginia Courtauld came in the early 1930’s to create their iconic home

The Great Hall today

Remains of Medieval palace in gardens

Remains of Medieval palace in gardens