Luxury: Beckenham to Eltham Palace


Image result for images eltham palace

Let’s say you had a few million pounds spare, what would you spend it on?

That exact question came up for Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, and they put their money into creating a home out of an abandoned royal palace in what was then the avant-garde design style Art Deco.

In 1933 Art Deco was à la mode, it was the future. It was slim and fresh and elegant, arboreal, feminine, it represented Nature. So the Courtaulds rebuilt the old building, and added a wing, creating a series of cool, spacious, modern interiors. They put in electricity, underfloor heating, telephones, hidden lights, hidden passageways (scurrying staff), hot running water, and glass tiles. For a while at least, theirs was quite likely a world apart.

Nowadays we’ve all stayed in hotels with fantastic foyers, visited mansions and driven in limos, that is one of the benefits of the increased wealth, health care and invention of humanity over the last 100 years. We all of us enjoy what were remarkable luxuries for the Courtalds less than a century ago. They were buoyed by aristocracy, by status, which has thankfully been eroded, so that we see with the eyes of equality the photographs of the privileged at that time.

In our lifetimes we have seen, and felt, and tasted, this advancement, happening here in our own homes and across the world. At times I’ve been taken aback by what money can bring – I remember seeing a leaf-blowing machine in the United States (the wealth leader)  in the early 1990s, and thinking it an ostentatious labor-saving device – while other advancements have just accreted without us even really noticing. But before long we’re living longer, experiencing less pain, and holidaying abroad. You see this made manifest in the work of Prof. Hans Rosling, who tracks the changes of child mortality, income per capita and longevity across the decades to redefine the way we should see the present world.

The Courtaulds rescued – or seemed to – the Palace at Eltham, but only for a short while. Their energy did not extend for long. Big buildings are fragile; houses and grounds require enormous upkeep and quickly can come undone, which is why English Heritage took it over and restored it in 1995.

So we’re walking to Eltham Palace; here’s the route:


Curves north, parallel to the stage 14 route from One Tree Hill to Greenwich, one loop of the spiral out. We’ll pick up and move on to Woolwich next month.

This walk is the very heart of south east London; from the corner of Beckenham Place Park by the Ravens-bourne, walking through Plaistow, Elmstead and Mottingham on our way to the king’s quarters. When we get to the gate, we can pay a contribution towards the maintenance, and enjoy first hand the place.

Date & time: Sunday September 10th 2017, 1pm
Meeting place: 
Ravensbourne station, the 12:16 train from London Victoria will get you to Ravensbourne station in time, train details.
Distance: 5-ish miles, allow 2 hours for the walk, and same again for the palace and grounds
End point: Eltham Palace, nice cafe
: Free for the walk. Entry to the palace is £15 for adults, less for concessions
Book by
 email, or phone 077932 00932


The Ravensbourne:


Ravens bourne, or stream. When we passed we saw a raven in the water, nesting material in its beak. Did not get a photo.

Self-built houses on Elstree Hill private road:




The Gate House at Kings Meadow on Burnt Ash Lane. Here’s how it looks in 2017 (left) and how it looked three years ago in Sept 2014. Preference?

gate lodge 2017 

Light at the end of the tunnel beneath Elmstead Woods:

elmstead tunnel2

Grove park railway sidings:

grove park rail siding2

Elmstead – place of the elms, but there are no elms left, this is an oak and beech wood (more). Sculptures by Will Lee ()


Naturalist Bill Welch knows a bit about the woods

Mottingham ‘Village’ sign:

mottingham-village mottingham-village-sign

Ice house at ‘The Tarn’ Mottingham:


Ponies at Eltham:


ponies eltham2

Eltham fields have always been a place of free pasture, so you get a lot of horses here, and people with a mind for these animals (story).




Timber framed building:


Cafe view:


Wall of the palace moat:




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