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Eltham Palace: Art deco interiors restored

Eltham Palace Image copyright English Heritage

Once the home of King Henry VIII, Eltham Palace became famous in the 20th Century for its art deco interiors. These have now undergone a £1.7m restoration, the results of which will soon go on display.

The English Heritage property reopens to visitors on Friday with five refurbished rooms, some never seen before by the public.

Image copyright Historic England Bridgeman Images

The first of the refurbished rooms is the walk-in wardrobe of its former owner Virginia Courtauld.

Mrs Courtauld and her millionaire husband Stephen bought the palace as their main residence in 1936 and hosted many lavish parties there.

In recognition of her role as a glamorous hostess, English Heritage has stocked her walk-in wardrobe with clothes based on this painting of the couple, which shows them in their home in London's Grosvenor Square perusing plans for Eltham Palace.

Image copyright English Heritage, Christopher Ison

Visitors are encouraged to try on replicas of Mrs Courtauld's red dress and fur cape, sourced from antique fairs and flea markets.

Image copyright PA

The wardrobe was made from cedar wood and the frame from mahogany which has been reproduced in sapele - a wood similar in texture to the protected hardwood original.

Image copyright English Heritage

"Eltham Palace is one of the best preserved examples of luxury art deco design on public display in Britain," assistant curator Lester Oram said.

Its many wooden doors inlaid with animals, are some of the most representative designs from this period, he added.

Image copyright PA

The Courtaulds were particularly enamoured of Eltham's medieval hall, which was bombed by the Germans during World War Two.

Mr Courtauld was on watch that night in September 1940 and helped to extinguish the fire. He took a keen interest in history and also produced a guide to the hall.

Image copyright PA

The Courtaulds were friends with many people in high society and government, including the Conservative MP Richard Butler who drafted his 1944 education bill at Eltham Palace.

He possibly warned the Courtaulds about the impending war when they bought Eltham Palace in 1936, Mr Oram said, because they took the precaution of reinforcing the basement with cement to make a bunker which they and their staff would later use.

Image copyright PA

The basement was split into two rooms, one a temporary living quarter and the other a games room with a billiard table for their entertainment in confinement. Conveniently the bunker was located next to the wine cellar too.

Image copyright English Heritage

The billiards room is one of the five new rooms on display. It features a mural by the British artist Mary Adshead, a renowned mural painter in the 1930s whose work they would have seen on luxury cruise liners.

Image copyright English Heritage

This mural depicts St Cecilia and was brought from the Courtaulds' previous home in Grosvenor Square.

The Courtaulds lived in the palace from 1936 until 1944. It became the home of the Royal Army Educational Corps in 1945 and English Heritage took over its management in 1995.

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