Eltham Palace and Gardens
London, SE9 5QE
This Art Deco house in Greenwich has been heralded as 'a masterpiece of modern design', but the site has a much longer and more fascinating history.
Before Eltham was realised in its current incarnation, it was a grand royal palace. The original building was given to Edward II in 1305 by the Bishop of Durham and was used by the Crown from the 14th to the 16th century. It is reported that the Order of the Garter took place here.
Eltham was the favourite palace of Henry IV and in 1400 he used it to host Manuel II Paleologos, the only Byzantine emperor ever to visit England. A special joust was given in his honour, and the tilt yard remains at the palace today. It was also the childhood home of Henry VIII, who grew up here in the 1470s.
Following the rebuilding of Greenwich Palace in 1500s (now the site of the Old Royal Naval College), Eltham fell out of favour with the Royal family. In 1636, Sir Anthony van Dyck was given a suite of unoccupied rooms to use as a country retreat.
In 1936, textile magnates Stephen and Virginia Courtauld built an Art Deco residence next to the remains of the royal palace. The result was a unique creation: glamorous 20th-century interiors in ancient surroundings, which include 19 acres of gardens and a medieval bridge. The stunning entrance hall, with its glazed dome and mural-like marquetry, was created by Swedish designer Rolf Engströmer.
The Courtaulds' pet lemur had a special room on the upper floor which had a hatch to the downstairs flower room. His sleeping quarters are one of the highlights of a visit to the palace, as well as Virginia Courtauld's indulgent gold-plated bathroom.