Kent is known for a lot of things – but one of our most prominent features as a county is our historic heritage.
From Leeds Castle to Hever Castle and Dover Castle to our historic Martello Towers, we’re a county dotted by relics and preserved pieces of our past.
So if you live in the suburban spots of north west Kent, you might be surprised to know that nestled amongst the leafy outer London suburbs is a landmark to rival some of Kent’s most famous.
In fact, you may well have driven right past it – and save for a roadside sign, you could easily miss this huge and truly one-of-a-kind stately home.
Tucked neatly between Eltham, the nearby village of Mottingham and the northern end of the A20 lies Eltham Palace – a manor house truly unlike any other.
Built in what is essentially a dip in the surrounding landscape, this house is by no means small – and is in fact an architectural marvel – but if you didn’t know it was there, you could very easily miss it entirely.
Built originally as a palace for Edward II in 1305, the house has stood in some iteration for well over 700 years.
It was the favourite palace of Henry IV; its great hall was built by Edward IV; most significantly, the boy that would grow up to become Henry VIII spent his formative years in Eltham.
In fact, the Tudors often spent their Christmases at Eltham, though it became less commonly used when Greenwich Palace was rebuilt in the mid 1600s.
But unlike Hever or Leeds castles, what’s there now isn’t some stunning preservation of medieval English life, but a truly unexpected place.
In fact, much of the original house was largely destroyed during the English Civil War.
English 17th century writer summed it up in 1656 when he visited what was left of the palace, saying: “”Went to see his Majesty’s house at Eltham; both the palace and chapel in miserable ruins, the noble wood and park destroyed.”
The house as it was originally built never fully recovered.
But that wasn’t the end of Eltham – as the house’s Great Hall still stood, and surviving through to the 1930s, it became an uncharacteristic centrepiece to something entirely different.
Bought on a 99 year lease by a philanthropist and proponent of racial equality Sir Stephen Lewis Courtauld in 1933, Eltham Palace underwent a truly unique transformation.
On the remnants of the old house, an Art Deco mansion was constructed – the same style of building that gave the world the Chrysler Building in New York.
A vanishingly short-lived architectural trend that existed mostly through the 1920s and 1930s, Eltham Palace’s interior is utterly stunning.
Wood panels, bold and simply shaped furniture and windows, and coupled with some truly retro decorations, the palace is about as far from a medieval palace as you could imagine.
In fact, it looks almost futuristic in how strange and distinct the interior is.
Hallmarks of the old house remain, however.
The Great Hall was refurbished and still forms part of the house, whilst foundations, walls and other ruined sections of the original house exist throughout the moated grounds, as a memory of what came before.
The chances are that you’ve actually seen Eltham Palace before, too – as it’s made some truly iconic appearances in modern culture and media.
A mainstay hosting location for The Antiques Roadshow, it’s also appeared on The Crown, as well as forming the backdrop for “Death on the Nile”, an episode of the Poirot TV Series starring David Suchet.
It has also appeared in an ad for Gucci perfume, in the TV show Brideshead Revisited, and in music videos for Florence and the Machine, Marina Diamandis and Jessie Ware.
And what’s more – as an English heritage site, it is open for visits like any of Kent’s best historical houses.
Further details can be found on the English Heritage website.