A Very English Day

A palace, a museum (of sorts), and a West End show. Oh, and grey skies and rain, too. What could be more English than all of that?? But once again, everything I did today was new to me and I would never let a little rain ruin my day anyway!

Today was the first day of this trip with any rain, but luckily for me, the stuff I was planning on doing was (mostly) indoors anyway and the weather was moderately cooperative for the times when I was walking from A to B, so I didn’t get too wet (minus the healthy splash on the legs I got from a car driving through a puddle – ugh). And it was actually nice to wake up early this morning to hear rain falling softly outside my window (nice because I knew I could roll over and go back to sleep!). And let’s be honest, I’m in England, so some rain is to be expected. The good news is that the weather for tomorrow and Tuesday looks fine, if a bit cloudy, so I’ll survive.

Enough about the weather and back to today! As I didn’t have a blog post to finish this morning, I decided to do a little online exploring for places to visit. Almost immediately, I found an article that mentioned Eltham Palace, which I’d honestly never heard of before, but it looked interesting and, being in Greenwich, I knew it would be easy to get to (about a two-mile walk), so that’s where I decided to go. Boom! I’m kind of a sucker for castles/palaces/royal residences, so that helped sway my decision, too. Although, looking into it more and having been there now, the “palace” label is a bit of a misnomer. It’s a gorgeous house, but it was built in the 1930s on the site of a former royal residence, but the current building was never a royal residence. But Henry VIII grew up there (long before the current house was built), so that gives it some good royal street cred, right? There are also elements of the old structures, notably the Great Hall, which was incorporated into the construction of the current home by the people who built it. And who were those people? Stephen and Virginia Courtauld acquired the lease to the land and commissioned the new, Art Deco-style home in 1933 and lived there for about ten years, until just before the end of World War II. I’m not a design expert, but the Art Deco-ness stands out to anyone, as you’ll see below, as it has the same feeling of Old Hollywood movies of the same era. In addition to the house, Eltham is also known for its gardens, which I made sure to explore as soon as I arrived to make sure the rain didn’t ruin my chances (happily, the entire walk to the palace and my exploration of the gardens were unimpeded by rain). Considering this is a palace I’ve never heard of before, I was a little surprised at the £15 entry fee, but it’s only money. You can’t take it with you, after all! Anyway, it was worth the money as I really enjoyed it, especially as it wasn’t very crowded, so I was able to really explore each of the rooms. Add it to your must-see list, especially if you’re already out and about in Greenwich.

Nearly all of my pictures from today are from Eltham (more on why in the next section), so I included quite a few. It’s a very photogenic place!

This is the local pub closest to where I’m staying, though in all the times I’ve stayed here, I’ve only stopped in once. I’ll have to get a drink there before I leave!

Back in Greenwich! This walk wasn’t particularly beautiful, but I always love a good sign!

When I got to Eltham, I realized I hadn’t yet taken a directional sign photo, so I had to rectify that.

A glimpse of the gardens as I was walking to the ticket office.

Eltham Palace as seen from the 15th-century bridge that crosses the moat (the bridge is one of the original pieces of the structure that were incorporated into/retained when the current house was built).

Even without the sun shining on them, the gardens were gorgeous. I always love when water can be incorporated into outdoor spaces!

More of the gardens.

This seemed to be the perfect angle to get a shot of both the gardens and the house.

I’m glad I took the selfie earlier in the day, before my hair had a chance to get bigger and bigger thanks to the rain.

I like the hills behind the gardens here.

Walking into the front door of the palace. There was also a cultural festival happening, hence the dragon. 🙂

Inside the house (on the top level, where the bedrooms are), I found this guy! Turns out the Courtaulds had a pet lemur named Mah-Jongg (nicknamed Jongy) who had free reign of the house. This was his room.

Virginia’s (Ginie) bedroom. The Art Deco style is on display!

She (unsurprisingly) had the most opulent bathroom in the house.

Quite the bathtub!

Stephen’s bedroom. On the right side, you can see the “hidden” door that connects his bedroom to Ginie’s.

This bedroom belonged to one of the Courtalds’ nephews. Stephen and Ginie took in two of their nephews when they were boys, so there was another bedroom similar to this one, with a shared bathroom between the two. That shared bathroom had the only shower in the house, as they were still a novelty at the time. It only produced cold water though – brrrrr!

This is the Great Hall of the original royal residence, which was incorporated into the current house.

The ceiling in there was a sight to behold!

Back on the main level – this is the dining room.

Art Deco fireplace.

The library, which served as Stephen’s man cave.

The boudoir, on the other hand, was Ginie’s space.

I loved the look of this built-in sofa. Never seen anything like it!

Apparently the boudoir would often get overrun with guests, so this room just off of it (called the Map Room – look at the walls) is where Ginie would then retreat to.

The drawing room is where the Courtaulds would entertain guests after dinner.

Moving into the basement, the first thing that greeted me was a central vacuum system. Who knew such things existed in the 1930s??

Also in the basement was this games room. Because of the constant threat of bombs during the war, the Courtaulds and their guests often had to shelter there, so they wanted it to be comfortable.

There was also a place to sleep, when needed.

After my royal(ish) adventure, it was time to move on to the next part of my day, where I headed to Spitalfields to visit Dennis Severs’ House. This is the place I hinted at in my last couple of posts, but didn’t want to reveal what it was until I actually went to it. And going to it almost didn’t happen, even though I got there in what I thought was plenty of time before my matinee (more on that in a bit).

So what exactly is this place? I found the website to be a little cagey in its descriptions of what to expect here, but it did explicitly say that advance booking isn’t required, so I was surprised to find a line of people waiting to get in when I arrived. What gives?? Dennis Severs’ House isn’t really a museum, but rather a “still-life experience”, where visitors get a brief introduction (literally two minutes) and are then let into the house to explore it on their own in groups of 8-10 people (hence the line of folks waiting to get in). The whole setup, as designed by Dennis Severs himself (who lived in the house for 20 years as he designed the space for future visitors), is that you’re walking through the home of the fictional Jervis family, silk weavers who lived in the house for nearly 200 years. Everything is set up as if they just left the room you’re in before you arrived, so you’ll see half-eaten meals, half-drunk cups of tea, freshly slept-in beds, etc. As you move from room to room, you’re meant to pay attention to and observe everything you hear, see, and even smell as each room is like a microcosm of the era. And you’re meant to do all of that in silence (though people would make comments in low voices, so it’s not as if talking is forbidden). It’s a very sensory-driven experience, where you’re meant to just let your eyes run over everything, hear the faint background noises, smell the scents of the house, and generally immerse yourself in the (fictional) reality of the Jervis family. I’ve never done anything like it! For that reason, and because of the care that Severs clearly put into this, I highly encourage you to visit. The entry fee is £10 and it’s worth it! Assuming there’s always a line to get in (given the limited number of people allowed in at one time), I’d recommend getting there right at opening time or at least make sure you don’t have to be locked into being out by a certain time. As a point of reference, I waited in line for maybe 35 minutes and spent about 30 minutes exploring the house. Drop a comment here if you do visit as I’d love to hear your thoughts!

As with yesterday’s visit to the Sir John Soane’s Museum, no photos are allowed inside (having been through it, I completely understand how they would be a distraction here), but I did take a few outside.

Making my way to Dennis Severs’ House on the bus. I only took this picture because I almost never take the bus in London because I always feel like it’s a hassle since I don’t know the routes. But Google Maps took care of that for me. 😀

The front door.

I snapped a photo of the entire building after I finished inside. You can see there was still a line!

After Dennis Severs’ House, I had to make a bit of a dash to catch another bus to make my way over to the Duchess Theatre to catch the show I booked on Friday – The Play That Goes Wrong. Because I already had a ticket (thank you TKTS for the great deal!), I wasn’t going to miss the show, so as I was waiting in line at Dennis Severs’, I was worried I would have to skip it altogether to get to the show on time. I’m glad that I didn’t though, as I got to have a unique, immersive experience and then go laugh my butt off at a great show. The Play That Goes Wrong is exactly what it sounds like – it’s about a murder mystery play put on by an amateur dramatics group that, well, goes wrong. The cast is great, the theatre is intimate without feeling crazy-small (and I actually had a lot of room for my legs), and the show was genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, especially the second half. Do yourself a favor and go see it! Be sure to check TKTS for a good deal though as my center seat in the stalls (perfect spot for seeing everything) was only £28. After seeing this show on this trip and The Mousetrap when I was here in January, I feel like I need to find at least one show to go to on every trip going forward. I always enjoy them!

Surprising to no one, you don’t take pictures during a play (duh), but I still like to get a picture of the theatre.

In addition to being a fixture at the Duchess, there’s also a UK and a US tour for the show, so find it somewhere and see it!

To wrap up another great day on this trip, I got to come back to the house and watch a brand-new episode of Doctor Who! The new series just started last weekend, so tonight’s was only the second one in and it was really enjoyable. As many times as I’ve been to the UK, I’m almost never visiting at the same time that new episodes are airing, so I’m really glad I was on this trip. And, being a new episode, it continued the new-to-me theme of this trip, too. 🙂

Roll on tomorrow! I only have tomorrow and Tuesday left on this trip before I fly home on Wednesday (boooooo!), but it will be great to get home to Scott, as always. Tomorrow is my day out with my great friend Matt, though our plans have changed a bit from what we previously talked about doing. Check out the post to find out how those plans came to life!

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!