Thursday, 6 September 2012
A deco treasure trove.
A few years ago, when I was doing my Capital Ring circumnavigation of the London suburbs, I found one of the best things was coming across completely unexpected delights of landscape or architecture. It's not all wonderful of course and the walk involves trudging along some pretty ordinary suburban streets; but you just never know what's round the next bend. I remember on one leg of the journey walking up the hill from Eltham Station to find myself standing on a stone bridge and looking down into a moat full of carp. I don't think that until that day I had even heard of Eltham Palace. The notice board explained how in the 1930's Stephen and Virginia Courtauld had obtained the lease on the virtually derelict medieval palace and had had a huge modern extension built and furnished in the Art Deco style. I didn't have time to have a look round but, being a bit of a fan of Art Deco, promised myself a visit at some later date. Yesterday I finally got round to it.
If the bizarre mixture of modernism and mock classical with overtones of African and Mesoamerican influence that is Art Deco is your cup of tea you will love Eltham Palace. The Courtaulds were toe curlingly rich of course and the Palace was a huge indulgence. No expense was spared and the house was equipped with every modern convenience as well as the most fashionable furnishings. The wood veneer alone must have cost a small fortune. I can not imagine what dreadful people the Courtaulds must have been but English Heritage have done a brilliant job of restoring the palace to it's former glory and allowing us proles to see how the other half lived.
I don't suppose that Stephen and Virginia Courtauld would have liked post-war Britain that much and in 1950 they decamped for Southern Rhodesia. I wonder why?