Eltham Palace and gardens is an art deco house in south London, with extensive gardens and a medieval wing. Before we visited, I wasn’t sure whether my children would enjoy themselves there. The prospect of keeping a three- and six-year old happy on a tour around an art deco residence was a little daunting. But I was amazed at how much fun they had discovering the palace. In fact, it was me who had to drag them away, a good hour past our usual lunchtime.
Eltham Palace history
Eltham Palace dates back to medieval times, and was adapted for Stephen and Virginia Courtauld (known as Ginie) in the 1930s by architects Seely and Paget, who built a modern extension onto the original great hall.
Stephen and Ginie were modern-day aristocrats from the family that owned the rayon manufacturing business. They were committed socialites; bon viveurs, by all accounts. They filled their home with all the latest gadgets and furnished it in a striking, resplendent art deco style that set a trend for decades to come.
Stephen and Ginie Courtauld were fond of entertaining, and the rooms in their former home reflected their love of inviting guests to lavish parties. Their house was full of gleaming golden furnishings, elegant, elaborate wallpaper and smooth, polished wooden panelling.
Is Eltham Palace child-friendly?
Eltham Palace is now run by English Heritage. I was impressed by how far the English Heritage Eltham Palace team had gone towards making the house visitor- and child-friendly. On our way in, we were given an animal explorer’s map. The Courtaulds were big animal lovers, with an array of unusual pets, including Mah Jong, the Eltham palace lemur who had his own room and access to a range of tasty nibbles. Young visitors could go round the house, looking for animals and stamping their map when they spotted them.
My two children loved the range of dressing-up opportunities at Eltham Palace. Soldier’s outfits, tin hats and and WRVS volunteer costumes sat in a trunk in the basement, which was used as a bomb shelter during the Second World War. A chest in the medieval great hall furnished us with jester’s outfits. And my daughter had fun dressing up as Ginie Courtauld, in the dressing room leading off Ginie’s chambers.
Multi media tours
But my children enjoyed the family guided tour even more than the dressing up. Staff handed out multi media units at the entrance, and showed us how to use them. The kits came with headphones and a tablet, which played a short video for each room. In the videos William, a nephew of the Courtaulds, explained what used to happen in the room, and acted out little dramas involving the servants and his relatives. As well as the videos, in most of the rooms little games appeared on the tablet. The videos and games kept my children completely captivated. This all made it easy for me to wander round and have a good look, without a youngster tugging on my sleeve.
The family tour games were suitable for children up to the age of 11 or 12. My three-year old was just about old enough to enjoy most of them, with a little help.
And even I enjoyed creating my own Ginie Courtauld-style mirror.
We spent so long exploring the house that we didn’t have time to visit the gardens, which had their own family tour. Adult tours of the house were also available on the media units, but I chose to join the children on the family tour, which still had plenty of snippets that would interest adults.
Food and drink
Eltham Palace has a pretty, conservatory-style café, where we ate a very late lunch from picnic boxes for the kids, and tasty homemade soup for me.
The lunch wasn’t mega-cheap – £4.25 for a picnic box with a sandwich, drink and snacks – but that’s typical of London. The best thing about the café was that it overlooked the play area, so I was able to relax for a few minutes with a coffee, watching the children through the glass walls while they played outside.
Eltham Palace is beautiful in the summer, with people eating picnics and relaxing on the lawn, Courtauld-style. The gardens really come into their own then, too, with medieval fairs and other family events to make regular use of the wide, rambling grounds.
Have you been to any country houses with children? Did you enjoy the experience?
Where is Eltham Palace?
Eltham Palace is in a leafy part of south London, very close to the centre of Greenwich. There is a decent amount of parking at Eltham Palace.
Eltham Palace Address: Court Yard, Eltham, Greenwich, London, SE9 5QE
Eltham Palace opening times:
During winter, Eltham Palace is open on Sundays from 10am until 4pm. It’s open every day except Saturday during the summer, but there some exceptions, so do check the website if you fancy going on a Saturday. And there are often weddings at Eltham Palace, which means it shuts to the public for the entire day. Check the website for details. Entry is free to English Heritage members and the under 5s. See the website for non-member prices.
English Heritage gifted us entry for the purpose of this post.
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