London’s secret palaces
May 23, 2022
Cocooned by Kew Gardens, it was at Kew Palace that King George III found a peaceful refuge as rumours of his mental health swirled around court. Ascend the wooden stairs of London’s smallest palace and ponder where, in the late 18th century, the king, his wife Queen Charlotte and their 15 offspring spent their summers. Chancing upon the queen’s cottage, hidden among the gardens, it’s as if you’ve discovered her secret mausoleum, untouched since 1818. She kept pet kangaroos next door.
Richmond TW9 3AE
An unusual marriage of three buildings with a colourful history, Eltham Palace in Greenwich is part medieval palace, part Tudor residence and part 1930s millionaire’s mansion. Home to kings since the 14th century, King Edward III and Henry VIII spent their youth here, 200 years apart. Fallen from royal favour by the 1930s, the palace caught the eye of textile millionaire Stephen Courtauld and his eccentric wife Virginia, who built an Art Deco home with a room for their pet lemur. Once you’ve toured the palace, explore the rose garden and ponds in its 19-acre grounds.
Court Yard, London SE9 5QE
With a prison in one of its towers, Lambeth Palace on the south bank of the Thames tells the turbulent history of the Anglican faith. The home of the Archbishops of Canterbury, the palace has been a holy sanctuary for nine centuries, with ten acres of gardens set within brick walls. Behind its red and white Tudor gateway you’ll discover the study where the Anglican prayer book was penned and a new multi-million pound library. Here, among gilded manuscripts and religious texts – the largest such collection outside the Vatican – you’ll find the execution warrant of Mary Queen of Scots.
Lambeth Palace, London SE1 7JU
Lambeth Palace Library, 15 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7JT
St James’s Palace
At the heart of St James’s Palace lies a real heart: that of King Henry VIII’s first child, entombed within the Chapel Royal. The chapel’s sturdy red brick façade was put in place the year that Henry VIII became the head of the Church in England – if only walls could talk. Less well known than nearby Buckingham Palace, but by no means less frequented by the royal family, St James’s Palace has been home to kings, queens and their families for more than 300 years. It’s still a busy working palace, and the home of royals including Princess Anne.
Marlborough Road, St James’s, London SW1A 1BQ
Scene of a royal beheading, Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House is where King Charles I met his end, executed on the charge of high treason in 1649. The house is all that’s left of what was once Whitehall Palace, which once had 1,500 rooms spread over 26 acres just south of Trafalgar Square. Elaborately decorated, lavish artwork by Rubens, still in situ, adorns the ceiling, bordered by gold leaf and illuminated with chandeliers. It’s under these masterpieces that the monarch would ‘cure’ his subjects of skin disorders dubbed ‘the King’s evil’ by a simple touch.
Banqueting House, Whitehall, London SW1A 2ER
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