Eltham Palace


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


Ordnance survey map of Eltham Palace
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Greater London Authority
Greenwich (London Borough)
National Grid Reference:
TQ 42445 73978

Reasons for Designation

Palaces are large residential complexes ranging in date from before the Norman Conquest to the post-medieval period. Medieval palaces were designed to accommodate the household of a sovereign, a close relative of a sovereign, an archbishop or a bishop. They served the dual purposes of residence and the exercise of administration, and therefore usually comprise a series of buildings including a great hall, which was used both for hospitality and for meetings, a chapel, private apartments, offices and service buildings such as kitchens and brewhouses. Commonly, especially from the 14th century, these buildings were arranged around one or more courtyards, and many palaces were enclosed by walls and/or a moat as a mark of status as well as defence. Medieval palaces are characterised by the finest craftsmanship in construction and furnishing and by an innovation in architectural style, often as a result of contacts with foreign monarchs and clergy. All examples are associated with individuals and events of historical importance. Royal and episcopal courts were mobile in the medieval period and required a number of palaces, both in towns and in the country, although most were located within easy reach of the city of London.

Less than 200 medieval palaces have been identified in England. As a rare monument class which provides an important insight into the lives and characters of a group at the apex of medieval European society, all examples with significant surviving remains are considered to be of national importance.

From the 14th century Eltham Palace was one of the largest and most frequented royal residences in the country. It survives well as a series of standing structures, notably the great hall of c.1480, earthworks and buried features. Part excavation on the site has demonstrated a high level of survival for archaeological remains while leaving the majority of deposits intact. References to the palace and descriptions of it have been relatively numerous in historical documents and their study, combined with the interpretation of excavated remains, has enabled the identification and understanding of an unusually high number of archaeological features. The palace is rare in having originated as a bishop's palace, which in turn developed from a medieval manor house, the remains of which also survive. The survival of these superimposed features will preserve evidence for changes in living conditions and social, domestic and economic activities on the site which will provide us with valuable information about the development of high status residences in the medieval period and beyond. A unique feature of the site is the appropriation of its physical remains and its emblematic resonances illustrating attitudes towards the heritage in the 1930s. As a site open to the public Eltham Palace serves an important educational and recreational function.


The monument includes the buried remains of the 11th century manor and the remains of the bishop's and royal palaces which overlie it; it also includes the remains of the outer court and parts of the gardens of the royal palace which lie outside the moated enclosure. The attached Eltham Court, Listed Grade II*, is excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.

Eltham Palace is situated 500m south west of Eltham parish church on the edge of a natural eminence. The ground slopes away to the south and west of the site towards the Thames and the City of London. The remains of the medieval manor, bishop's palace and royal palace occupy a moated island reached from the north east by a stone bridge; on the north east side of the bridge is an area called Court Yard where the remains of the outer court of the royal palace are located. To the south and east of the island are the remains of the gardens of the royal palace. The moated island and gardens are now maintained by English Heritage as a monument open to the public.

Eltham Palace was established in 1295-1305 by Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, on the site of an earlier manor house. In 1086 the manor of Eltham had been owned by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and occupied by Haimo, sheriff of Kent. By 1278 it had become part of the de Vesci estate which was granted to Bek in 1295. After ten years Bek passed the property to the crown but continued to occupy it until his death there in 1311. Thereafter it was occupied as a royal palace and, over a period of three centuries, was altered and extended. By the early 17th century it had fallen into `fayre decay' and in 1651 was bought by Nathaniel Rich who demolished some of the buildings. At the Restoration the manor returned to the crown and from the 17th to the 19th centuries the site was occupied as a farm. In the 1930s the standing remains of the medieval palace were partly restored and incorporated into Eltham Hall, a country house built by Stephen Courtauld. In 1945 the crown lease passed to the War Office and the house and grounds were subsequently occupied by the Army Education Corps and renamed Eltham Court. In 1995 the management of the site passed to English Heritage.

The moated island is trapezoidal in shape and approximately 1ha in area. It is retained by a perimeter wall of brick and stone, Listed Grade I, which survives to a height of up to 2m above the interior. At each corner are the remains of a square tower. Part excavation along the western edge of the island has demonstrated that the wall originated at the end of the 13th century as part of the bishop's palace. The earliest remains of the wall in this area are located about 5m to the east of the present wall, indicating that the island was formerly slightly smaller than at present and that it was later extended westward. Remains of the original corner towers, which were octagonal, survive at the north west and north east corners. The wall is known through documentary records to have been substantially rebuilt shortly after the palace passed to the crown in the early 14th century. Later repairs and alterations included the addition, in 1935, of a staircase bastion to the eastern perimeter wall giving access from the terrace of Eltham Court to the landscaped garden in the moat below.

The perimeter wall was constructed to provide a defensive enclosure around the buildings of the bishop's palace which survive as a series of exposed building foundations, Listed Grade I, and buried archaeological deposits. Excavations on the north side of the great hall in 1975-9 revealed the remains of the bishop's hall, a rectangular stone building aligned north-south and measuring 18.8m in width and at least 22m in length. The interior of the building was floored with tiles which have been dated to c.1300-05. A recess in the north wall has been interpreted as a dais, with a fireplace of brick and stone to the south of it. On the west side of this hall the remains of a stone-flagged porch were identified, and along the east side a pentice which allowed covered access to adjacent buildings. The kitchens are believed to have been located at the south end of the hall, their remains now overlain by the great hall which was built to replace it in the late 15th century. The excavated remains of the earlier hall have been partly reburied. At a distance of 4m to the north of the bishop's hall the remains of a barrel-vaulted cellar were discovered, aligned east-west and measuring 7.2m wide and 19.7m long. The presence of ventilation shafts in the walls has been taken to indicate that the cellar was used for storing perishables. The dating of associated archaeological deposits indicates that the building was constructed at the end of the 13th century and was therefore contemporary with the adjacent hall. The room above the cellar has been identified as the bishop's chapel which is referred to in documentary sources as the `great chapel over cellar'. It continued in use as the royal chapel until the early 16th century when a larger chapel was built on the same site. The remains of the chapel have been partly reburied.

The excavated remains of the bishop's palace were found partly to overlie the remains of earlier structures including a timber building dated by associated pottery fragments to the late 11th century. The remains of a subrectangular building of timber and turf were also found, constructed in the late 12th century and demolished in the early 13th century; this building was superseded by another building in the early 13th century represented by a single post- pit. Finds of roof slates of the late 13th century are considered to indicate the presence, outside the excavated area, of the remains of a further building. These buildings are thought to include the manor house, or sequence of manor houses, which preceded the construction of the bishop's palace at the end of the 13th century. Henry III is known to have stayed at Eltham in 1270, indicating that substantial accommodation was in existence at that time.

The remains of the bishop's palace and earlier manor are overlain by those of the royal palace which occupied the site in the three centuries after 1311. The bishop's hall, aligned north-south, continued in use in the royal palace until the late 15th century when it was replaced by the great hall, which overlies the south end of its predecessor on an east-west alignment.

The great hall was built for Edward IV in c.1480. Although restored in 1914, and altered in 1934-1935, it remains essentially a medieval structure. The hall is of six bays, built of ashlar and ragstone with a tiled roof and some internal rendered brickwork. Screens and a gallery occupy most of the easternmost bay, and the western bays are projected in a transept-like manner. The hall's hammer beam roof survives, partly restored, and the principal framing of the east screen is mainly late 15th century. Many of the internal fittings are 20th century in date, including the first floor balustrade to the gallery above the screens passage and the west timber screen of 1935, and the stone flagged floor of the 1950s.

In the early 16th century the bishop's chapel was demolished and its remains overlain by a larger chapel building, 33.7m by 11.9m. The remains of sounding troughs were discovered beneath the new choir. Attached to the north side of the chapel the foundations of the chaplain's house were located measuring 10.2m by 6.9m. The chapel was still standing in 1603 but was later demolished. The excavated remains have been largely reburied.

Archaeological excavations in the 1950s and 1970s also revealed the remains of the royal apartments, which were built along the western edge of the island in the later 15th century. The foundations of these buildings have been exposed and are Listed Grade I; they occupy an area over 10m wide extending almost the full length of the western perimeter wall. At the southern end of the range are the remains of the king's lodgings, adjacent to the north are the queen's lodgings, and to the north of these a gallery. The lodging range thus formed the spine of an E-shaped complex from which the chapel, great hall, and to the south the privy kitchen extended eastwards. The northern half of the complex opened onto the inner courtyard of the palace which was the principal open space through which the main buildings were approached; this area is now largely occupied by the lawn and drive at the entrance to Eltham Court. The southern half of the complex gave onto a series of smaller courtyards surrounded by service buildings; in the western part, between the great hall and the privy kitchen, were the main kitchens of the palace, and at the east end of the hall were the buttery and pantry. The remains of these buildings are now overlain by the Courtauld house and the lawn to the south of it. Further ranges of buildings are known to have stood against the northern and eastern perimeter walls. Until the later 15th century the royal apartments were located on the eastern side of the inner courtyard; these lodgings were built in 1352 to replace those built by the bishop, which may have been on the same site. The remains of these buildings are believed to survive as buried features partly overlain by Eltham Court.

The moat around the island survives as a depression approximately 20m wide and 3m deep which has been partly landscaped to form a feature of the early 20th century gardens around Eltham Court. In the northern and eastern arms of the moat is a long curved pond, fed by a fountain at the north end of the western arm; the remainder of the western arm and the southern arm are now dry; occupied by a formal garden and a lawn respectively. The date of origin of the moat is unknown although it was certainly in existence by the end of the 13th century when the retaining wall of the bishop's palace was constructed along its inner edge. The moat is now crossed by two bridges: one on the north east, which led to the outer court of the royal palace, and one on the south which led to the palace gardens.

The bridge on the north east, which is Listed Grade I, is constructed of stone and brick and has been dated to the later 15th century. It replaces a stone bridge known through documentary sources to have been built in 1396. At the south eastern end of the bridge is a short length of brick wall containing two arches, one blind and one open; this represents the standing remains of the palace inner gatehouse which, at the beginning of the 17th century, extended over both sides of the entrance. The bridge served as the principal entrance to the inner court of the royal palace, which was approached through the outer court immediately to the north east in the area now called Court Yard. The outer court is believed to have originated in the 14th century as a series of lodgings and service buildings which were rebuilt around a rectangular courtyard in the late 15th century. Occupying an area nearly as great as the inner moated enclosure, in the early 16th century it was noted for its large size.

The remains of the outer court include both standing buildings and buried archaeological deposits. The standing buildings take the form of a range of late medieval timber-framed houses, Listed Grade II*, known as the Lord Chancellor's Lodgings; these buildings are occupied as domestic residences and are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included. They represent the western end of a range of buildings which formerly extended over 106m to the north east and included a spicery, pastry and coal house. The remainder of the range is believed to survive in the form of buried archaeological deposits, partly overlain by the present standing buildings which are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath them is included. Extending south eastwards from the northern end of this range are the buried remains of a shorter range, approximately 68m long, which included the main gatehouse to the court and palace. A further range, roughly parallel to the first, ran south westward towards the edge of the moat. An open area approximately 70m by 60m was thus enclosed. Further buildings, including a poultry and a scalding house, lay immediately to the south. All of these buildings, known through documentary sources, are believed to survive as buried features and their buried remains are included within the scheduling.

The southern arm of the moat is crossed by a timber bridge resting on brick and stone piers and is Listed Grade I. The piers are believed to date from the late 15th century when the construction of a new bridge was documented. The bridge led to the gardens of the palace, which lay on the south and east sides of the moat; these were enhanced in the 16th century by Henry VIII, who required the planting of a `pleached' alley (a way covered by interwoven trees), running eastward from the bridge and northward along the eastern arm of the moat. This area is occupied by a broad `L'-shaped bank of varying width which originated in the medieval period and was altered in the early 20th century as part of the Courtauld landscaped garden. It reaches its maximum extent south east of the bridge where it is approximately 35m wide. Here there is a series of low earthworks including a linear bank, parallel with and at a distance of approximately 10m from the southern edge of the moat, which is believed to represent the remains of the bank which was constructed in the 16th century alongside the pleached alley. Further buried remains of the alley and other garden features are believed to lie on the eastern part of the moat's external bank.

All standing structures in current occupation or use are excluded from the scheduling except the great hall (which although Listed Grade I and in use for events and meetings is deemed by virtue of its special character and fragility to require the protection that scheduling gives against changes to its fabric), the stone bridge on the north and the fragment of the gatehouse which stands adjacent to the south east of it, the brick and stone parts of the bridge on the south, the island's retaining wall with corner towers, and the exposed building foundations in the western part of the island which are included; the timber parts of the south bridge are excluded from the scheduling; the ground beneath all excluded features is, however, included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


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

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Books and journals
Beresford, C, Eltham Palace, (1995)
Colvin, H M, The History of the King's Works, (1963), 930-937
Hussey, C, Eltham Hall, (1937), 568-573
Strong, D E, Forman, F A, Eltham Palace, (1958)
Thurley, S, The Royal Palaces of Tudor England, (1993)
Charlton, J, 'Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society' in Eltham Palace, , Vol. 31, (1987), 8-24
Woods, H, 'London and Middlesex Archaeological Society' in Excavations at Eltham Palace, (1982), 214-265
Woods, H, 'London and Middlesex Archaeological Society' in Excavations at Eltham Palace, (1982), 214-265


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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