Friday, 5 March 2010

Henry VIII's Art Deco Palace

As winter slowly creeps back into its icy lair and tree buds tentatively thicken, hope seeps into the newborn warmth of the air as we all wait for spring. Snowdrops hang their heads as the Daffodils start to take charge and perch on the edge of bloom. And every year at this time I get excited as not only is it my birthday in a few days but it is lighter when I leave work and I know that the time will come when I can leave the house with only a cardigan for warmth. I start to leave the husk of my winter hibernation and I look forward to the colour, smells and lushness of spring. The thought of soon being able to read a book in the park is simply too much excitement.

So, to take my mind off warm fantasies I am currently reading Henry: Virtuous Prince by David Starkey (with a frightful cover design). So far, I cannot put it down. Starkey writes in an incredibly accessible way. I have, perhaps a misplaced notion that non-fiction is often dry and laborious but this is a real page turner.

It has also reminded me of one of my favourite places in London. Eltham Palace was Henry VIII's childhood home. Now owned by English Heritage, the ruined medieval palace was bought by the millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld who built an extraordinarily stunning Art Deco mansion on the site. The original Great Hall exists and medieval and Art Deco architecture sit side by side and work together to present an outstanding and unique palace.

The entrance to the Art Deco palace.

The Courtaulds turned the ruined moat into a lawn.

The medieval Great Hall, built by Edward IV in the 1470s

You may recognise the entrance hall from the recent film of
I Capture the Castle

Virginia's Boudoir

The ornate Art Deco interior is beautiful but my favourite room was Stephen's bathroom. I love the pattern on these curtains and the colours of the leaves against the blue tiles. The simplicity of his choice of decor is both striking and comforting. In contrast, Virginia's bathroom was covered in gold mosaic tiles, containted a Grecian statue and boasted a rather large mirror framed with lightbulbs.

Before I return to my longing for the warmth of spring I have to announce the winner of the copy of Iris Murdoch's The Book and the Brotherhood that Random House kindly gave me to offer for my book giveaway. I am pleased to let Hannah Stoneham know that she is the winner! Just email me with your address and I will pop it in the post. Thank you to everyone who entered - I hope that some of you will go out and read an Iris Murdoch - perhaps in the warmth of the sun in your local park?


  1. I've not come across Eltham Park but definitely somewhere I would love to go!

    Beautiful springtime day here but ABSOLUTELY freezing - I want some warmer weather too before I can contemplate sitting in a park :)

    Hope you have a lovely birthday weekend.

  2. I used to live in Eltham!!! Eltham Palace is the only nice thing there, though, don't be fooled!

    Though as always with these things I've never actually been to the Palace, mainly because I'm tight and it costs a tenner. I am definitely going this summer though; isn't it gorgeous? I didn't realise I Capture the Castle was filmed there.

  3. This is gorgeous! And that's a wonderful write-up :)

  4. I'm ashamed to say that even though I lived in SE London for some time I never did get around to visiting Eltham Palace! It looks like the Courtaulds have done a great job in combining the two eras. Well worth a visit I think.
    David Starkey is great! His knowledge of the Tudor Dynasty is second to none, I watch all his TV programmes.

    We have another gloriously sunny day here - the sky is blue and the birds are singing - have a wonderful birthday!

    Oh and congrats to Hannah.

    Jeanne x

  5. What beautiful photos! I enjoyed reading this post.

  6. Great post! I have been eyeing up that Starkey book for a while now (I agree about the cover, lol). I do love books about the tudors though so maybe this should go on Mt. TBR.

    Erm, also, was my whispering not loud enough again?

  7. My husband has been known to shout through the house 'your boyfriend is on television!' as I adore David Starkey.

    I love posts that provide a peek at areas around England and fantastic architecture...thanks!

  8. I was reading along, and thinking - what a lovely post - yes David Starkey is such a good writer and Eltham I have been meaning to go to for years without ever quite getting around to it... and that was before I read that I won The Book and the Brotherhood! Thanks very much - I will drop you an email


  9. Oh, I absolutely want to go to Eltham Palace. It also featured in Bright Young Things (directed by Stephen Fry) which I absolutely adored. It's one of those places I always mean to visit, but have never quite got around to doing!
    I'm so pleased you're enjoying the David Starkey book - it's on my wish list! I went to the talks he did at the British Library when he was guest curating the Henry VIII exhibition. He is such an engaging and wonderful speaker. I was utterly under his spell! A shame it was the same week he had made some unfortunate comments about Scotland and women...but I think overall I can forgive him. I read his biography of Elizabeth I which was one of the first historical non-fiction works I had read - and it totally changed my view of them as dry, hard-going books. I am now a bit of a history book junkie.
    Love your blog...!

  10. Lovin it! Starkey's 'Six Wives' is one of my favourite history books - unputdownable.

  11. What a lovely, perfectly formed post. I have been feeling particularly spring-like today and this captured it just so.

    Also I really want those curtains...

  12. What a beautiful place, and a beautiful post to match! Thank you.

    Happy Birthday, too!

  13. Just love this post! Words as lovely as the images. Would love to visit especially after recognizing a set from I Capture the Castle. Also like that bathroom - something about the window in general for me, not just the curtains. I think a great example of how light transforms a space. Thanks for the serving of beauty this morning.

  14. Picking up on two of the main themes in the comments so far, I too would like to thank you for another beautifully crafted post and to agree that it is always uplifting to see signs of spring. With no offence intended to bloggers who post daily, your less frequent pieces seem to support that old adage about quality rather than quantity.

    Non-fiction often takes longer to read. That was one possible reason, put forward in a recent Guardian Books podcast, to explain why so much more fiction is loaned from libraries.

  15. I love David Starkey! I wrote a paper on his book about young Elizabeth I when I was a little girl. His writing is fantastic and absorbing. Love.

  16. Eltham Palace is divine isn't it! I think I've spotted it on several 30's era films...

    Got hold of a 2nd hand Penguin copy of The Bell this week!

  17. Thank you for all your birthday wishes!

    Verity - you should go to Eltham, it's fantastic.

    Rachel - stop being so tight and fork out for a day to Eltham - you will love it!

    Kals - it is gorgeous indeed

    Cottage Garden - David Starkey is great - I saw him talk at the Oxford Literary Festival last year. Quite a character!

    Joann - I am glad you enjoyed it

    Boof - sorry you are just too quiet! You must read this Starkey - it is ace.

    Darlene - you are welcome! So, he's your boyfriend is he?!

    Hannah - congratulations! I am glad that it took you by surprise!

    Alison - I saw the exhibition at the British Library too, it blew me away. I didn't know Eltham was also in Bright Young Things - an excuse for me to watch it again!

    Lulu - yes, they are unputdownable

    The Book Shelf - I really want those curtains too!

    Ds - thank you!

    Frances - yes, I agree. It is the light as well. Perfect.

    David - thanks for your comment. I think it is true that non-fiction takes longer and therefore can seem 'heavier' somehow.

    Jenny - another Starkey fan! There are lots of us. He has made history widely accessible.

    Merenia - so glad you have found The Bell - let me know what you think!

  18. I agree, what a beautiful blog. And I love the Art Deco bathroom too. I think all bathrooms should be Art Deco, washing would be so much more enjoyable!