When royalty moves on…

As a special part of our Greenwich tour on Tuesday, June and Alan took us to the wonderful Eltham Palace, one of their neighborhood high spots. It has both an ancient and relatively modern component, and both are best in class.

The original palace was given to Edward II in 1305 and used as a royal residence from the 14th to the 16th century. Edward IV built the Great Hall in the 1470s, and that still remains from the original palace. Young Henry VIII also grew up here, and it is thrilling to be in a space that held the holiday celebrations of the Tudors.

With the grand rebuilding of Greenwich Palace, and Henry VIII’s assumption of Hampton Court, Eltham was less used, and by the 1630s, it had been abandoned by the royal family, and was ultimately reduced to Edward IV’s Great Hall, a bridge across the moat and some walling by 1893.

The Great Hall is a remarkable surviving example of an English Gothic hammerbeam roof, but by the beginning of the 19th century, it was in a state of great decay. A campaign to save the Hall from demolition resulted in repairs in 1828 – with the main roof being shored up with props that remained in place until 1903. It was still being used as a barn, however, in the early 20th century.

Then along came the Courtaulds. In 1933, Stephan Courtauld and his wife Virginia acquired the lease of the palace site and restored the Great Hall (adding a minstrels’ gallery to it) while building an elaborate Art Deco home next to it. Depending on what side of the preservation/conservation/restoration fence you sit, this was either a sacrilege, a small price to pay for saving the Great Hall, or a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.

The Courtaulds had a pet lemur, Mah-Jongg, which was probably only one of the many interesting things about them. They remained at Eltham until 1944 when they moved and gave the palace to the Royal Army, who remained there until 1992.

After tea, we moved on to the residence of our kind hosts, where a lovely dinner was served in their private garden and where there was no danger of a lemur nipping at one’s ankles.

Yesterday had the distinction of being a record-breaker in terms of heat, and it was truly boiling. After strolling through Trafalgar Square and lunching in the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, we headed for the cinema at Leicester Square and were entertained by Sir Ian McKellen in “Mr. Holmes.” A great way to miss the heat of the day.

We did also manage to snag great tickets to “Miss Saigon,” which meant getting sad all over again about the horrors of war and our role in them. But a wonderful production.

Today was an easy day. We breezed back to Calais on the Eurostar, which was miraculously free of labor action. Now to regroup and continue on our French adventure! (Fingers are crossed that our English computer is ready for the challenge.)

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