Eltham Palace

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I visited Eltham Palace when I first moved to London back in 2011. Recently I went back again with a couple of friends. We all studied history at uni, and every year or so we try to visit some site of historical interest. Eltham was our choice this year.

Getting there

The Palace is located just south east of London. We took the train from London Bridge to Mottingham station, a journey of under an hour. We then decided to walk to the Palace – we found an interesting route through some fields and made friends with a herd of donkeys.

Visitor Centre

This was new since my last visit – back then you could just pay at the entrance. The visitor centre close to the Palace is where you buy tickets, browse in the shop and let the kids play in the outdoor play area (this looked like good fun and I was pretty jealous to be honest). There is also a café, where we stopped for a cup of tea before going to explore the house.

History

Eltham Palace is fairly unique among historic houses, and it has a fascinating and rich history. The Eltham estate was recorded in the Domesday book, and was presented to King Edward II in 1305. For several centuries it was a royal palace, and Henry VIII grew up here. However, his daughter Elizabeth preferred Greenwich, and Eltham slowly declined.

By the time Stephen and Virginia Courtauld leased the house in 1933, it was in a bit of a state, but the couple hired architects Seely & Paget to restore it and put their own Art Deco stamp on it. The pair hosted many lavish cocktail parties, attended by socialites, celebrities and politicians. The house was close enough to London to be convenient and far enough away to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of the countryside, although it was close enough to habitation for annoyed neighbours to pen angry letters complaining about the late-night firework displays.

Towards the end of the war, the Courtaulds left Eltham, and they never went back: the postwar world was not exactly conducive to lavish housing set-ups with multiple servants. Various groups undertook, with varying degrees of success, to conserve the Palace. English Heritage, which had been involved in the conservation of the medieval Great Hall for a while, took over the management of the entire site in 1995.

 

The Palace

We picked up audio guides at the entrance and followed the suggested route around the house, starting upstairs and moving downstairs. The contrast between the amazing medieval great hall, with its roof built for Edward IV 500 years ago, and the 1930s Art Deco entrance hall, was incredible. Another highlight for me was the built-in cage for the Courtaulds’ pet ring-tailed lemur, Mah-Jongg, complete with painted mural and a ladder to let the little creature climb down and explore the house. Mah-Jongg did not prove particularly popular with the guests at parties – apparently he had a habit of biting their legs under the dining table.

Stephen and Virginia had separate bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting rooms: I was particularly jealous of Virginia’s glorious golden bathroom and Stephen’s library full of books. The couple’s personalities really came across during the tour – I think Virginia would have been great fun to be around, but I particularly identified with Stephen and his habit of retiring alone to his library after dinner.

The audio guides were pretty cool as you were able to choose which guest you would like to be while exploring the house. After the tour I found out the lady I chose was still alive at least a few years ago. I bet she has some amazing memories.

There were some basement rooms included in the tour that definitely weren’t there last time I was here. These were used by the couple and their guests during World War II. During the Blitz they would play billiards, put the gramophone on, or even go to sleep while the bombers were active outside.

The Gardens

The guides include the gardens, too. I’m not really an outdoorsy person but I did appreciate the beauty of the gardens. Weekend guests at Eltham were often roped in to help with the gardening. I liked the way that older features like the bridge and the moat were complemented by the flowers chosen by the Courtaulds. The gardens are beautiful and would be a lovely place to relax or have a picnic.

My friends and I had a lovely time at Eltham Palace. Although I came here a few years ago I’m glad I visited again. It’s one of the most unique and special houses you can visit – the mix of medieval and 1930s architecture is really something. Highly recommended.

FACTS

Address: Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, London, SE9 5QE

Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm daily in the summer, shorter opening times in the winter. Sometimes closed for special events – check website.

Prices: £14.40 adult, £8.60 child, £13.00 concession, under 5s free. Free to English Heritage and Art Fund members.

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Jewellery brand of the month: Down the Rabbit Hole

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July’s celebrated jewellery brand is one I’m very surprised I haven’t got round to posting about earlier. It’s probably one of the most affordable, possibly even the most affordable, jewellery brands out there, and there are loads of pieces from it on my wishlist. The brand in question is:

DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

Down the Rabbit Hole is owned by Lynsey and based in Stockton-on-Tees. It specialises in affordable acrylic jewellery and accessories.

My first purchase from the brand was this super cute Alice in Wonderland Silhouette brooch, which also comes as a necklace.

Alice in Wonderland Brooch

Alice in Wonderland Brooch

This Nessie necklace is adorable.

Loch Ness Monster Necklace

Loch Ness Monster Necklace

Many items in the store are inspired by books, movies and TV shows. This Game of Thrones-inspired necklace is next on my list.

Tyrion 'I Drink and I Know Things' Acrylic Necklace

Tyrion ‘I Drink and I Know Things’ Acrylic Necklace

As is this Harry Potter necklace – I love the gold acrylic. You can get brooches and necklaces based on all of the Hogwarts houses, too.

'I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good' Acrylic Necklace with Charm

‘I Solemnly Swear That I Am Up To No Good’ Acrylic Necklace with Charm

Down the Rabbit Hole doesn’t just make jewellery. You can get box frames, chopping boards and door/wall hangers. I have this Harry Potter hanger in front of my desk at work!

'No Muggles Allowed' Harry Potter Inspired Wooden Door/Wall Hanger

‘No Muggles Allowed’ Harry Potter Inspired Wooden Door/Wall Hanger

The store’s signature rainbow design is available as a necklace or a brooch.

Bright Acrylic Rainbow & Clouds Brooch Badge

Bright Acrylic Rainbow & Clouds Brooch Badge

Check the brand out via the links below. I particularly recommend the Facebook page, which is especially active, and has regular news about new products.

Etsy: etsy.com/uk/shop/Downtherabbithole10

Facebook: facebook.com/downtherabbithole1/

Instagram: instagram.com/_down_the_rabbithole_/

House of MinaLima

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House of MinaLima

House of MinaLima in Soho is a must-see for Harry Potter fans. MinaLima, the company that designed the graphic props for the Harry Potter films as well as the recent Fantastic Beasts movie, have displayed examples of their work. You don’t have to buy anything – it’s still worth a visit just to look at the incredible designs.

House of MinaLima

The ground floor has a shop full of prints and other souvenirs, but if you want to look at the exhibition, head upstairs. The first two floors have art from the Harry Potter films, including the famous ‘Wanted’ posters from Prisoner of Azkaban and the artwork of the Weasley twins’ shop.

House of MinaLima

The top floor has artwork from Fantastic Beasts, taking inspiration from 1920s New York. My absolute favourite picture is the poster for the Blind Pig bar in the movie, which to me is more of an Art Nouveau design, but hey, it’s still gorgeous.

House of MinaLima

House of MinaLima

Do not miss this exhibition if you’re a Harry Potter fan. It’s not scheduled to close any time soon, so hopefully there should be time to check it out.

House of MinaLima

House of MinaLima

FACTS

Address: 26 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 5DE

Website: minalima.com/house-of-minalima

Opening Hours: 12pm-7pm daily

Prices: Free

Anaesthesia Heritage Centre

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Anaesthesia Heritage Centre

As part of my bid to visit every museum in London, I popped into the Anaesthesia Heritage Centre one day when I had a bit of free time. This tiny museum can be found in the basement of the Portland Place headquarters of the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland. It explores the (comparatively) short history of anaesthesia and pain relief.

The lack of pain relief in surgery obviously meant that the kinds of operations that could be performed were limited: usually things like amputations or the removal of bladder stones (as in the case of diarist Samuel Pepys, who underwent this excruciating operation in 1658). Early practitioners sometimes used herbs to anaesthetise (and, in the Far East, acupuncture), but more often an unfortunate patient was simply given some alcohol and then held down. More rigorous scientific practice led to the development of such anaesthetics as chloroform. On display are several examples of the apparatus used to deliver pain relief, including masks and needles. In the early days it was often hard to judge how much anaesthetic to give: too little and the patient might wake up mid-surgery, too much and they might die of an overdose.

Anaesthesia Heritage Centre

The display looks at the development of anaesthesia as a valid and recognised branch of medicine. From 1912 it became part of the medical curriculum, and the Diploma in Anaesthetics was introduced in 1935.

There is a brief display on the role of anaesthetics during World War I, which is particularly interesting. I definitely recommend this tiny free museum if you’re in the area.

FACTS

Address: 21 Portland Place, Marylebone, London, W1B 1PY

Website: aagbi.org/education/heritage-centre

Opening Hours: 10am-4pm Mon-Fri

Prices: Free

Tate Britain

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Tate Britain

Following my visit to Tate Modern a few weeks ago, I decided to head to Tate Britain in Pimlico. This gallery, which specialises in British art, does hold more attractions for me than Tate Modern does, and has some of my all-time favourite pictures.

Inside Tate Britain

Inside Tate Britain

The bulk of the permanent collection forms the ‘Walk Through British Art’ which allows the visitor to explore 500 years of art chronologically. I do like this ordered way of doing things. Naturally enough, I started at the beginning.

Tate Britain

The early pictures in the collection suffer in my mind from a comparison with the National Portrait Gallery. They’re similar in style but unlike the NPG, they aren’t of anyone famous. One exception is the picture of Elizabeth I, and I was amused by an angular painting of a pair of identical twins holding their babies, apparently born on the same day.

Elizabeth I

Steven van der Meulen, Steven van Herwijck. Portrait of Elizabeth I, c.1563

Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers

Henry Fuseli. Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers, ? exhibited 1812

The rooms take you through the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, featuring such artists as Lely, Gainsborough, Hogarth and Constable. Along the way I popped into a room to view John Martin’s incredible apocalyptic canvases.

The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum

John Martin. The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum, 1822

I came to my favourite room in the gallery, which focuses on nineteenth century and Pre Raphaelite art. I’ve been reading a book about poetical deaths recently, so I was fascinated to see the picture of Chatterton. Millais’ picture of Ophelia, one of my favourites, is also displayed here as well as Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, which always reminds me of The Family From One End Street.

1890 room

My favourite room

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

John Singer Sargent. Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889

As well as familiar favourites, I came across a few unfamiliar pictures which I really loved.

Beyond Man’s Footsteps

Briton Riviere. Beyond Man’s Footsteps, exhibited 1894

The Doctor

Sir Luke Fildes. The Doctor, exhibited 1891

The next few rooms cover later art, which isn’t generally as interesting to me, although I find Francis Bacon’s picture of a man screaming rather chilling. Also, I quite like a Lowry.

Study for a Portrait

Francis Bacon. Study for a Portrait, 1952

The Pond

L.S. Lowry. The Pond, 1950

Before leaving I ventured to the back of the gallery to see the Turner Collection and the works of William Blake, both of which have their own spaces.

Turner Collection

Turner Collection

The Ghost of a Flea

William Blake. The Ghost of a Flea, c.1819–20

After my visit, my conclusion is that I should go to Tate Britain more often. There are some incredible paintings here, including some of my favourites, and while I can readily view them online, nothing compares to the real thing.

FACTS

Address: Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG

Website: tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Mon-Sun

Prices: Free (there is a charge for special exhibitions)