Painshill and Eltham Palace

An eclectic pair of places, both quite unusual and wonderful in different ways, representing the strong personalities of those who created them.

Painshill is a classic 18th landscape garden filled with follies designed to remind visitors of the Grand Tour, a European rites of passage for wealthy young men of the time. Charles Hamilton created these gardens between 1738 and 1773, inspired by his two Grand Tours, to share the experience with his wife who was unable to travel.

He ran out of money and had to sell the estate. It changed hands over the years, before being broken up in 1948 and left to decay. In 1980 work began to bring it back to life, based on descriptions from the time, and archaeological work on the site. A significant amount of the site has now been restored, most spectacularly at the Crystal Grotto.

One of the more unusual heritage homes I’ve visited, Eltham Palace was once a royal palace, where Henry VIII grew up. It fell into disrepair though until the super wealthy Stephen and Virginia Courtauld somehow got permission in the 1930s to restore the Great Hall and add an Art Deco house, built primarily for entertaining.

They only lived in the house until 1944 when it became too difficult to get sufficient servants to run a house of this size. They moved to Scotland for seven years and then spent the last 20 years of their lives in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Eltham Palace was home to the Royal Army Educational Corps for 50 years before passing onto English Heritage. It is a fascinating place to visit, with an excellent mini-iPad like guide to the house and gardens.

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