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In The Grounds Of Fulham Palace

July 18, 2020
by the gentle author

You enter the park by the Thames 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 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 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


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

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Janet Howe permalink
    July 18, 2020

    Just to say thank you for all the lovely articles and beautiful photographs. You have raise my spirits on many a dull morning .

  2. Jillian Foley permalink
    July 18, 2020

    What a beautiful place. How I would love to visit but living in Hove and now finding difficulty in walking cannot make the journey. Would love to live in the Coachmans House! If I still lived in Palmers Green which I did until 1952 I could make it. Fantastic history as well which I will read all over again.

  3. Pauline Taylor permalink
    July 18, 2020

    Thank you GA, this has been a real morale booster on an otherwise very dreary morning, I would love to be able wander in the beautiful gardens, to smell the lavender and admire the cosmos, which just will not grow in my garden. Never mind, I do have a garden and I consider myself so fortunate compared to those who are still trapped indoors, what I would have done with no garden for the past three months plus I just can’t bear to imagine.

    The history of Fulham Palace makes fascinating reading as well and the stories that those stones could tell must be endless, I think I shall be inspired to read more about it now, so thank you again.
    Stay safe.

  4. July 18, 2020

    A true oasis. Thank you!

  5. July 18, 2020

    Wow, absolutely beautiful. I won’t miss it next time I’ll go in Lindon – whenever that is. Thank you and have a good week-end.

  6. July 18, 2020

    My art director’s heart swelled to see those perfectly-arranged vegetable patches. This was a wonderful post, top-to-bottom, and I feel as if I have taken the tour
    myself. Thanks for chronicling this unique (free!) attraction.
    Mother Nature + GA = Pure delight.

  7. Chris Webb permalink
    July 18, 2020

    There is often a stall selling fresh produce. I wonder whether it is open at the moment.

  8. paul loften permalink
    July 18, 2020

    Thank you for the magnificent photos. I have been past there a few times on the way to see Fulham FC play when my team plays at the Cottage. I didnt realise that it was a hidden pearl in the midst of a very busy part of London. I will try to make a point of paying it a visit

  9. July 18, 2020

    One more delightful place to add on to my list of places to visit. Great info and photos as always. Thank you.

  10. July 18, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, many thanks for such a lovely jaunt through the grounds of Fulham Palace with its rich layers of history and magnificent grounds. And your pictures are outstanding. Such a beautifully kept preserve.

    Just the sort of place I would love to visit if I were in London on my usual summer jaunt. But, alas, not this year…

    Also I had to look up “palimpsest” – “writing material (such as parchment or tablet) used once or more times after earlier writing had been erased.”

  11. Frances Bulwer permalink
    July 18, 2020

    I was inspired by your article and photos to go to Fulham. It is a wonderful oasis of calm, beauty and history in London and we loved our visit. Thanks!

  12. July 18, 2020

    Thank You So Much for these Lovely pictures of Fulham Palace!! I would Love to walk in those grounds!!!?????????

  13. Peter Holford permalink
    July 18, 2020

    I used to travel past this place every day on the trolleybus (that dates me!) to school and every other weekend on the way to watch Fulham FC with my dad. I often wondered what was in there but it was very much a closed venue, inaccessible to all. It is a place that I will visit one day on a visit to London.

    All Saints Church is not as historic as the church at the other end of Putney Bridge which was the location for the Putney Debates with the Levellers under the chairmanship of Oliver Cromwell to decide the type of society to create after the Civil War. But All Saints is perhaps better known. It was the location in the film, The Omen, where Patrick Troughton came to a grizzly end.

  14. July 18, 2020

    What beautiful photographs and a wonderful introduction to somewhere I must visit.
    Thank you GA… never cease to amaze us all.

  15. Pence permalink
    July 18, 2020

    What a glorious garden. I often dream about having that sort of vegetable garden layout, but then wake to the realisation that under my care it would quickly descend into total anarchy,

  16. Charles Moss permalink
    July 18, 2020

    An absolute delight. Lovely article. Having lived in London for many years in my earlier life (now living in Australia), I was totally unaware of the the existence of Fulham Palace. Thank you for the history and wonderful photos.

  17. July 19, 2020

    Next time I am London, I mean to visit.

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