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At Fulham Palace

July 29, 2014
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

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeanie Dee permalink
    July 29, 2014

    Beautiful, here I am miles away on another continent, always dreaming of when I can visit home. In the meantime always look forward to my night time read before hitting the hay, and now have yet another choice of places to visit, thank you Gentle Author.

  2. Janet M permalink
    July 29, 2014

    Lovely writing GA.

  3. Sheila Hanson permalink
    July 29, 2014

    Lovely write up. Made me feel as if I was there. I just joined your site and am enjoying your writing and pictures. Thank you for a pleasant experience.

  4. July 29, 2014

    Wonderful photos, thanks for the trip down memory lane! Valerie

  5. July 29, 2014

    Second to none: The English garden architecture! – I love the Coachman’s House (by William Butterfield) and would love to live there…

    Love & Peace

  6. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    July 29, 2014

    How amazing!So rural in London,must go there!

  7. Roger Tiller permalink
    July 29, 2014

    What a beautiful place, love the photos i must go there, free admission what more can you ask.

  8. Linda Vipond permalink
    July 29, 2014

    Loved the article about Fulham Palace – brilliant gardening photos – will definitely visit very soon to enjoy the gardens and palace!
    Thank you!

  9. Peter Holford permalink
    July 29, 2014

    What a surprise! Living in Putney and going to school in Hammersmith, I used to peer from the trolley-bus to get a glimpse of this palace. Walking to Fulham football club also gave no reasonable view of it. It was just a closed, mysterious place. Time for a visit I think.

  10. Lydia permalink
    July 29, 2014

    What a beautiful place – I have never heard of it before and perhaps that will be remedied on our visit next year. How fascinating to learn about London, a city I lived in for years, from the other side of the world where I live now. What on earth did I do when I lived there to have missed so much? The best thing is I can now look forward to visiting all these places….

  11. Peter Holford permalink
    July 29, 2014

    Also I think that All Saints church was the one that figured in the film ‘The Omen’ in the scene where Patrick Troughton (ex-Doctor Who) was impaled by the flag-pole that fell from the roof. Almost the same view as in the film.

  12. July 29, 2014

    Thanks for the tour – I felt I was there myself.

  13. July 29, 2014

    oh my! i’ve passed by here so many times and never known…..and in this particular glorious summer it’s obviously at its best! thanks for the little tour!

  14. Pauline Taylor permalink
    July 29, 2014

    I agree with all the comments once again. Such a beautiful place with so much history, if I lived nearby I think I would be going in there every day!!

  15. August 1, 2014

    London is full of surprises.

  16. November 10, 2023

    I was born in the East End and have traveled all over London, but what ABSOLUTELY amazes me about London is that I keep finding new places to visit. I have lived all over the world (e.g. Paris, Amsterdam, New York, Toronto etc etc), but NO WHERE, as of yet, can compare with the FINDS of London. Such a pity people are trying to ruin it!!!

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