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Fulham Palace

June 27, 2017
by the gentle author

You leave Putney Bridge Station, cross the road, enter the park by the river and go through a gate in a high wall to find yourself in a beautiful vegetable garden with an elaborate tudor gate. Beyond the tudor gate lies Fulham Palace, presenting an implacable classically-proportioned facade to you across a wide expanse of lawn bordered by tall old trees. You dare to walk across the grass and sneak around to the back of the stately home where you discover a massive tudor gateway with ancient doors, leading to a courtyard with a fountain dancing and a grand entrance where Queen Elizabeth I once walked in. It was only a short walk from the tube but already you are in another world.

For over a thousand years the Bishops of London lived here until 1975 when it was handed over to the public. But even when Bishop Waldhere (693-c.705) acquired Fulham Manor around the year 700, it was just the most recent dwelling upon a site beside the Thames that had already been in constant habitation since Neolithic times. Our own St Dunstan, who built the first church in Stepney in 952, became Bishop of London in 957 and lived here. By 1392, a document recorded the great ditch that enclosed the thirty-six acres of Britain’s largest medieval moated dwelling.

Time has accreted innumerable layers and the visitor encounters a rich palimpsest of history, here at one of London’s earliest powerhouses. You stand in the tudor courtyard admiring its rich diamond-patterned brickwork and the lofty tower entrance, all girded with a fragrant border of lavender at this time of year. Behind this sits the Georgian extension, presenting another face to the wide lawn. Yet even this addition evolved from Palladian in 1752 to Strawberry Hill Gothick in 1766, before losing its fanciful crenellations and towers devised by Stiff Leadbetter to arrive at a piously austere elevation, which it maintains to this day, in 1818.

Among the ecclesiastical incumbents were a number of botanically-inclined bishops whose legacy lives on in the grounds, manifest in noteworthy trees and the restored glasshouses where exotic fruits were grown for presentation to the monarch. In the sixteenth century, Bishop Grindal (1559-1570) sent grapes annually to Elizabeth I, and “The vines at Fulham were of that goodness and perfection beyond others” wrote John Strype. As Head of the Church in the American Colonies, Bishop Henry Compton (1675-1753), sent missionaries to collect seeds and cuttings and, in his thirty-eight tenure, he cultivated a greater variety of trees and shrubs than had previously been seen in any garden in England – including the first magnolia in Europe.

At this time of year, the newly-planted walled garden proposes the focus of popular attention with its lush vegetable beds interwoven with cosmos, nasturtiums, sweet peas and french marigolds. A magnificent wisteria of more than a century’s growth shelters an intricate knot garden facing a curved glasshouse, following the line of a mellow old wall, where cucumber, melons and tomatoes and aubergines are ripening.

The place is a sheer wonder and a rare peaceful green refuge at the heart of the city – and everyone can visit for free .

Cucumbers in the glasshouse

Melon in the glasshouse

Five hundred year old Holme Oak

Coachman’s House by William Butterfield

Lodge House in the Gothick style believed to have been designed by Lady Hooley c. 1815

Tudor buildings in the foreground with nineteenth century additions towards the rear.

Sixteenth century gate with original oak doors

The courtyard entrance

Looking back to the fountain

Entrance to the medieval hall where Elizabeth I dined

Chapel by William Butterfield

Tudor gables

All Saints, Fulham seen from the walled garden

Freshly harvested carrots and vegetable marrows

Ancient yews preside at All Saints Fulham

Visit Fulham Palace website for opening times and details of events – admission is free

12 Responses leave one →
  1. June 27, 2017

    What a fantastic place, thanks for sharing the wonderful photos. Valerie

  2. Ann Llewellyn permalink
    June 27, 2017

    I’m a new reader of your delightful revelations. I lived on West Hill for six years and never knew this place existed. It was before 1973 though. Where does the poor old evicted Bishop live now?

  3. June 27, 2017

    This Fulham Palace complex is perfection, here it is called a ‘sheer wonder’ just like a National Trust property. Its free to visit that’s most generous, so American cousins come on over. !Yes there is a US of A connection in the American colonies, Bishop Henry 1675 collected garden seed & cuttings read on in GA’s text. My connection is down south in Oklahoma. The old Holm oak shown, is huge, sorry too big for tree huggers. This specimen tree is similar shape wise, to the ?1,000 year old Tortworth Chestnut growing in a Glos meadow, we have a nice double. Poet John. PS – Super place for overseas visitors its a complete package hidden from general view in our biggest city – London.

  4. Shawdian permalink
    June 27, 2017

    Absolutely splendid. I am doing an extensive course in English History covering the period
    1200 to 1603, so it is nice to see Fulham Palace where the great lady Elizabeth 1 spent time other than the usual Hatfeild and Hampton Court two beautiful pieces of historic architecture not to be missed. Fulham Palace captures the period perfectly, making you feel you are back in time sparking off the imagination what it must have been like through the ages especially when Elizabeth 1 made her grand appearances in those superb extrovert gowns she is renound for. The luscious Palace Gardens once enclosd by the longest moat in England are a delight to behold and encouraged me to start growing my own herbs and vegetables, if you enjoy sketching and painting landscapes this historic treasure is not to be missed. Thank GA :)

  5. Helen Breen permalink
    June 27, 2017

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for the delightful excursion through such a historically rich property. Layer upon layer, I even had to look up “accrete” and “palimpsest” – that’s good. Wonderful photos as usual.

    I could definitely find my way there on the Tube on my next visit across the pond. The piece filled me with such ecclesiastical calm, that I plan to re-read THE WARDEN by Anthony Trollope …

  6. June 27, 2017

    Great photos.

  7. Robin permalink
    June 27, 2017

    Magnificent!!

  8. June 28, 2017

    I have been close to Fulham Palace several times both in the 1970s when I lived in Wandsworth and in more recent times but have never visited. I will now, after seeing your excellent photos and being treated to your historical overview.

    I often wondered what lay behind the greenery on the north side as I walked along the Putney shoreline. I looked it up a few years ago but after reading this post I have a far better idea of what is in store.

  9. June 28, 2017

    Over the last 60 years I have followed Fulham FC and on occasion gone to games. Bishops Park is quite the most attractive walk to a football ground imaginable. And yet, to my shame, I have never gone through that doorway and discovered what you have just portrayed. Thank you. On my list before the football starts!

  10. Pam permalink
    June 28, 2017

    What Gorgeous Pictures! I would love to send England, top to bottom. Thank You!

  11. Peter Holford permalink
    July 6, 2017

    I was brought up across the river in Putney and frequently passed this place either on the bus going to school in Hammersmith or heading to the match at Fulham with my dad. I sometimes looked at it from the bus and wondered what it was like but it was off limits like so many of the open spaces. The area around the river between Putney and Barnes was another no-go area – now it is the London Wetland Centre and a large area of sports fields and facilities. I need to go back and have a look for myself! It wasn’t really such a deprived childhood though with Putney Common, Barnes Common, Putney Heath, Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park to explore!

  12. Gabrielle Tirimanne permalink
    July 10, 2017

    What wonderful pictures and such a glorious garden. It will be on my list of places to visit when I next come to London. Thank you for them.

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