Elsyng Palace


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Forty Hall, Forty Hill, Enfield, EN2 9HA


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Statutory Address:
Forty Hall, Forty Hill, Enfield, EN2 9HA

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Enfield (London Borough)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


A multi-phase complex monument with medieval origins, later converted to an early Tudor courtier house belonging to Sir Thomas Lovell which was then taken over and adapted as a royal palace by Henry VIII. The monument includes the buried archaeological remains of the manor and palace of Elsyng, its associated ponds, ridge and furrow, and terraces possibly belonging to a former garden. It also includes part of the Turkey Brook where water features have been recorded.

Reasons for Designation

Elsyng Palace is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Period: Elsyng Palace has a complex multi-phase history from medieval origins and its conversion to an early Tudor courtier house of Sir Thomas Lovell which was then taken over and adapted as a royal palace by Henry VIII;

* Potential: for the significant stratified archaeological deposits including the many structural elements which retain considerable potential to increase our understanding of the history and development of the royal palace;

* Historic significance: as a royal residence belonging to Henry VIII and the childhood residence of King Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I;

* Survival: a rare example of a royal palace where the buried remains have seen little disturbance by later activity and are therefore extremely well-preserved;

* Diversity: for the range and complexity of features including the main palace building complex, the apparent survival of elements of a late C16 or early C17 water garden, ridge and furrow and other earthworks, which, taken as a whole, provide the potential for detailed examination of the palace and its setting.


The earliest known reference to Elsyng dates from 1374, when Jordan de Elsyng is recorded as holding part of the King’s fee in Enfield. In 1381, the manor of Elsyng is recorded as part of the holdings of Thomas Elsyng, Citizen and Mercer of London. The first manor house on the Elsyng Palace site is likely to have been founded in the C14, when the independent sub-manor emerged. Excavations on the palace site in the 1960s apparently discerned a medieval timber-framed building under the palace. C11 pottery has been found on the site as have floor tiles which suggest the presence of high status activity by the late C14.

In 1487 the manor house and estate belonged to Thomas, Lord Roos and later to his son Edmund. Edward Causton, vicar of Enfield from 1466-91 left money for a statue of the Virgin Mary to the chapel at Elsyng. In 1492 when Edmund was declared insane, his brother-in-law Thomas Lovell gained custody of the estate and made Elsyng his residence. Lovell was a Knight of the Garter, speaker of the House of Commons, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Constable of the Tower and Steward of the Royal Household. Substantial alterations were carried out, including a royal suite built for the use of Henry VII who visited twice in 1497 and 8. Among the manorial assets may have been a set of fishponds later transformed into ‘pond groves’.

In 1524, the estate was bequeathed to Lovell’s brother-in-law, Thomas Manners, later Earl of Rutland, and in 1539, it was exchanged for other lands with Henry VIII. The principal royal interest in the manor was Enfield Chase, a large tract of enclosed hunting land lying to the west of Forty Hill. Elsyng was surrounded by a small hunting park which may have been carved out of the Chase at this time. It was later known as Little Park or New Park.

In the following two years the extensive manor house was converted into a royal palace. It is clear from the Earl of Rutland's archives that the palace already had an outer and inner court. In addition, structures mentioned in the accounts of 1543 include various lodgings and chambers, stables, kitchens, buttery, scalding house, scullery, pantry, rush house, coal house, spicery, granary, poultry, bowling alley and almshouse. The palace provided a childhood residence for the future King Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I. Prince Edward and Princess Elizabeth were brought the news of their father, Henry’s death whilst at Elsyng in 1547. After his accession Edward carried out repairs to the palace and Elizabeth visited several times whilst Queen. An account of 1568 lists the principal rooms including bedchambers, library, lodgings, and subsequent accounts mention the hall and chapel.

By 1597, however, the palace was in decay and in 1608 a warrant to demolish it and use the materials at Theobalds Palace (nr Cheshunt, Hertfordshire) was issued but not fully carried out; one side of the courtyard was demolished, but further repairs at Elsyng followed in 1609–10. At this time there is evidence of ponds, walks and orchards ‘there are growing about the pond walks and orchards, willows and sallows’ (letter from William Edwards to Robert Cecil dated 1597). In 1610-11 a piece of ground on the west side of the palace was dug and levelled, and fruit trees were planted, and a new kitchen garden was laid out with prune and whitethorn trees planted on the grades (perhaps terraces). In 1612 James I granted the keepership of the palace to Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke. Wilton, Wiltshire was always his principal seat, and Herbert laid out a celebrated garden there to the designs of his French architect, Isaac de Caus c 1645. In 1641, Herbert purchased the palace from Charles I and probably lived there until his death in 1650. The pond groves north-west of the palace site may have been established by Herbert, paralleling his work on the gardens at Wilton. Certainly records show that in 1618-9 a stone cistern was built to convey rainwater to the garden over the bowling alley, four arbours were repaired in the garden in 1621-2, and in 1627-8 a Portland stone sundial was sent from Scotland Yard to be included in the garden. An arbour and latticed seats were also built in Lady Anne Dormer’s palace lodgings’ garden.

In 1629-36 Sir Nicholas Rainton, later Lord Mayor of London, began building a new house, Forty Hall, on adjacent land to the south of Elsyng Palace, but by 1656, Rainton's nephew and heir, also Nicholas, had acquired Elsyng. A survey of his property was drawn up and the palace buildings were still standing at this time and were described as: ‘One very antient Greate House called Endfield House with the Courtyardes Gardens Orchards & Courtyarde with the field adjoining called the Walks containing by estimation 7 ... acres’ (Gillam 1997, 54). The palace was demolished soon after 1656. Excavations revealed part of an L-shaped building, interpreted as a threshing barn, located above the ruins of Elsyng Palace. This was probably constructed by Rainton in the C17 after the palace demolition and the rest of the site became agricultural. This was short lived, however, as c 1700 a double avenue of lime trees was planted leading northwards from the front of the Hall across the site of the palace to Turkey Brook and this appears to mark the transformation of the agricultural use to that of a pleasure ground.

A 1773 Sale Plan shows the Lime Tree Avenue and a rectangular pond at the north end of it. Archaeological survey here in 2010 recorded part of an ornamental cascade which was connected to the pond, most likely serving as a reservoir to the cascade system, all of which probably dates to c 1740. The sale catalogue stated that 'canals' are 'fortunately placed for Embellishments and form Cascades that rush impetuous'. By 1773 the series of earlier fish ponds at the north-west area of the park had been transformed into pond groves - informal ponds and winding walks in a wooded setting. These are labelled 'Pond Groves' on the 1773 plan which shows a large rectangular lake with three islands as well as a small narrow canal in which were two smaller ponds. The transformation of the ponds may well have occurred earlier in 1597 or was carried out by Herbert in the mid C17 (see above).

The sale was unsuccessful, but the estate was put up for sale again in 1785. The catalogue suggests that, 'to augment the natural beauties of the Vale in front of the Home, a Magnificent Lake could be easily formed' out of the 'running Brook and successive Ponds (full of Carp and Tench)' (Gillam 1997, 54). The estate subsequently passed by purchase to the families of Meyer in 1799 and Parker Bowles in 1895 until purchased by Enfield Urban District Council from Derek Parker Bowles in 1951 and converted into a museum with much of the grounds forming a public park. Ongoing site maintenance has included dredging of the pond in 1981 when the feeder stream was also recut and extended.

INVESTIGATION HISTORY Partial excavation was carried out on the site in 1963-7 with elements of the work summarised in Jones and Drayton 1984. Ongoing research on the site has been carried out by Enfield Archaeological Society (EAS) since 2004 and geophysical survey was undertaken in 1998 and 2000 and Lidar survey in 2011-13. Substantial documentary evidence remains including contemporary building accounts.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The monument includes the buried archaeological remains of the manor and palace of Elsyng, its associated ponds, ridge and furrow, and terraces possibly belonging to a former garden. It also includes part of the Turkey Brook where water features have been recorded.

DESCRIPTION The Elsyng Palace site lies to the west of Forty Hill, 10km north of Enfield. The public road, Forty Hill, forms the east side of the c 23ha site. To the north the ground falls to the boundary formed by the Turkey Brook; to the west the park gives onto farmland; to the south is the New River and Forty Hall and its gardens.

A geophysical survey suggests that the palace was approached from the south-east by a causeway from the Forty Hill roadway; its position confirmed by a watching brief in 2012. This shows as a depression about 170m long and 10-15m wide which appears to have a narrow ditch running along much of its northern edge. Its west end would align with a gatehouse at the east end of the palace outer court.

Substantial remains of the palace structures have been revealed in excavation often just below the modern ground level with walls, a vaulted drain and foundations to a considerable depth of over 1.8m (Jones & Drayton 1984, figs 13, 21 and 22). Five structural phases of the manor house and palace have been identified; the third phase is probably Henry VIII's work. The main palace buildings appear to form an asymmetrical plan with an outer court and an inner court to its west. The outer court is centred at approximately NGR 533860 198884, measuring about 50-60m on each side. Excavations have revealed the base of a water tank feature which may have formed a focal point in the centre of the courtyard and the robbed remains of walls along the east side of the court have also been revealed; the north range and south wall partially excavated or shown by parch marks. The inner court is centred at approximately NGR 533782 198915 measuring about 60-70m east-west by about 50m north-south. A geophysical survey has revealed possible square enclosures within the outline of the court platform which is at a level of about +32m OD. Remains of walls of buildings on the platform have been found in excavations as well as a drain, cess pits and garderobe chute within the building.

South of the main palace complex are further features seen on the Lidar survey including a long linear depression running for about 120m from NGR 533775 198866 at the north-west to at least NGR 533858 198775 in the south-east. It is about 8m wide and at its south-east end, it appears to join another similar depression heading north.

North-east of the palace complex is an area c 60m square of linear depressions and banks, centred at about NGR 533932 198856, each spaced about 5m apart. The pattern of the ridges and linear depressions tend to suggest cultivation. To the east is another area of c 1.3ha containing very shallow long linear furrows centred roughly at NGR 534038 198840. The furrows are widely spaced at 8-10m and follow the natural slope, suggesting a function related to field drainage and cultivation.

South-west of the palace buildings are further features which may be part of a garden revealed on the Lidar survey. Centred at about NGR 533614 198787, this is a large square area with a 200m long ditch and bank on the north and east sides. It appears to be subdivided into four quadrants by linear depressions. A pond which may be associated with the garden can be seen on the 1773 map and is extant today (2015). Further features such as a rectangular scorch mark visible in aerial photographs have been revealed in the area.

A series of probably medieval fish ponds that were transformed into pond groves or water gardens lie at the north-west corner of the park. These are labelled 'Pond Groves' on the 1773 Sale Plan which shows a large rectangular pond some 320m long by 40m wide containing three islands. These are still extant except for the small western island which had gone by 1868. A brick structure 4m square was found during dredging which might have formed part of the west island. There appears to be a mound on the eastern round island which may have been topped with a decorative structure; this is currently (2015) overgrown. The large pond is surrounded by woodland cut through with walks, and a walk leads along the narrow causeway between the large pond and the Turkey Brook, now transformed into a cycle track. The large pond is fed by a feeder channel which runs west to east from the Turkey Brook where it enters the lake there is a sluice of possibly C19 date.

On the 1773 plan can also be seen a small narrow channel in which were two smaller ponds and these can still be seen today (2015) at the eastern end of the large pond as shallow depressions mostly infilled. Lidar has revealed that there is an upper terrace and a lower terrace, each about 60m square formed by low banks between 2-4m wide; the lower terrace surrounds the narrow channel containing the two small ponds. The terraces may have formed a garden and the low banks may have been raised walks within it. The top terrace is centred at about NGR 533716 198933 and the lower terrace of the gardens is centred at about NGR 533727 198982, and forms a level plateau at about 28m OD.

There are three other rectangular ponds on the 1773 map on the east and south sides of the large pond but only one can be seen today (2015); the other two are infilled.

In the C18 the Turkey Brook was transformed into a formalised and controlled water course with a cascade system that appears to have modified a c 820m stretch of the brook. It included a reservoir and two sets of brick-built cascades. Two earlier features are also evident along the course of the brook, interpreted as a weir and a ford.

A 2m length of a brick structure was recorded in 2009-10, and was interpreted as a weir. It crosses the bed of the Turkey Brook at an angle, north-south. The north end continues into the brook’s bank but the south end has been truncated by later revetting of the brook when it was widened, probably in the C18. The weir is 0.85m wide and is formed of three courses of brick on a clay base, the whole retained by edging planks. The bricks suggest a date of C17 or earlier. A brick structure interpreted as a ford was also recorded in 2009-10. A portion 5.4m long by 2.10m wide crosses the bed of the brook, NE-SW. It comprises at least two brick courses edged by single lines of brick stretchers. Again it probably pre-dates the C18 cascade system.

A reservoir was sited where a double avenue of lime trees crossed the brook to the north side and to walks beyond and in doing so created the illusion of a wider expanse of water. The reservoir is estimated to have been some c 52m long by c 22m wide at the west end and c 28 m wide at the east end. Its western edge was lined with clay and was recorded in excavation down to c 1.2m deep.

The cascades each featured a weir plus stepped brickwork down to an inclined brick surface forming the waterfall. Each cascade was brick-built and measured over 6m by 5m with retaining walls built into the sides of the brook. At the west end of each was a 0.60m wide brick weir wall surviving to a maximum of 0.50m above the bed of the brook, and east of this was an angled wall with three bricks stepped down to the east to a gently sloping brick surface. The fall from the west to east cascade is about 1.17m.

EXCLUSIONS All modern timber bridges, timber jetties and fishing platforms, pathways, fences, signs and lifebelt stands are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
LO 59
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Colvin, H M, Ransome, D R, Summerson, J, The History of the King's Works, (1975)
Gillam, G, Forty Hall, Enfield (Enfield Archaeological Society), (1997)
Jones, I, K, Drayton, I, The Royal Palaces of Enfield (Enfield Archaeological Society Research Report No. 4), (1984)
Bartlett, A, D, H, 1998, Site of Elsyng Palace, London Borough of Enfield. Report on Archaeogeophysical Survey (unpublished report)
Compass Archaeology, 2002, Elsyng Palace, Forty Hill, Enfield, the Scheduled Monument and its Setting. An Archaeological Desk-Based Study (unpublished report).
EAS 2010 'Survey and limited excavation of an C18 ornamental cascade system', archive report
Enfield Archaeological Society, 2011-13, Elsyng Palace: Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Study (unpublished report)


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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