Visit London’s Free Tudor Palace

A short walk from Putney Bridge Station is a surviving Tudor Palace that you can visit for free! Here’s the story of Fulham Palace.

Fulham Palace | Look Up London

History of Fulham Palace

In 704 the Bishop of London, Waldhere purchased the Manor of Fulham. I wonder if it ever crossed his mind that it would continue to be a residence for Bishops of London until 1973.

Back then the Manor of Fulham encompassed a much larger site than today, with the estate including Hammersmith, Acton, Ealing and Finchley.

It was known as a Palace, despite not being officially royal, because the Bishops were thought of as “Princes of the Church.” Throughout its history it would also host Royal guests including King Henry VI c.1449, Queen Elizabeth I in 1601 and King George III (for a simple breakfast!) in the mid 18th century.

In the early Medieval period the palace was a moated, domestic space covering around 36 acres.  Remains of this moat (first mentioned as a “great ditch” in 1392) can still be seen today.

Fulham Palace Moat | Look Up London

Due to the rising costs of maintenance, it was permanently filled in (amidst protest from the public) in 1921-24.

In the mid-13th century the old Manor House was rebuilt on a new location on the site of the current buildings. Over the centuries there have naturally been many changes, but the earliest visible buildings were constructed under King Henry VII. 

Portrait of King Henry VII in Fulham Palace Great Hall

Tudor Courtyard

The courtyard and great hall were built c.1495 by Bishop Fitzjames. If you’ve ever been to Hampton Court, the classic four-sided, red brick courtyard is a recognisable Tudor style.

Fulham Palace | Look Up London

I love the two wooden-framed windows overlooking the attractive fountain in the centre.

The Great Hall

Quiet and serene today, this space was used as a Great Hall during some of the most turbulent years of the Reformation.

Great Hall, Fulham Palace | Look Up London

At the centre of the upheaval of political and religious beliefs was the Bishop of London, Edmund Bonner (b.1500). He was chaplain to Thomas Wolsey and a devout Catholic but switched allegiance to King Henry VIII and dutifully took the Oath of Supremacy and began doing Thomas Cromwell’s bidding.

Image credit: Public Domain. 18th century print of an 16th century portrait

Under King Edward VI (and an increasingly Protestant government) Bonner was imprisoned in the Fleet while another Bishop – Nicholas Ridley – was appointed.

However Bonner was released when the Catholic Mary I ascended the throne in 1553.

As the newly restored Bishop of London, charged with restoring Catholicism under Queen Mary I, he adopted her moniker of “Bloody Bonner” and was responsible for the execution of 290 protestant ‘heretics’.

In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs Bonner is depicted as a thug and even shown overseeing the torture of Protestants in the Palace orchard.

Image credit: Fulham Palace Trust

When Mary died in 1558 Bonner was again thrown into prison, this time the Marshalsea. Thanks to his status he avoided a gruesome execution and died of natural causes in the Marshalsea in 1569. He was then buried secretively at midnight in St George the Martyr, Southwark.

Fulham Palace in the 18th and 19th Centuries 

In the 1760s Bishop Terrick demolished the medieval chapel and rebuilt most of Fulham Palace in the fashionable ‘Strawberry Hill’ Gothic style style named after the eponymous riverside London home

It was short-lived however and Bishop Howley, who didn’t like this ‘Gothic nonsense’(!) created a much more traditional Georgian facade and created drawing and dinings rooms.

Fulham Palace | Look Up London

Another addition from Howley (his coat of arms appear over the door) was the fairytale pale pink porter’s lodge. This was built c.1815 and is known as the Gothic Lodge so perhaps he had a slight soft spot for the style after all!

One of the newest addition is in a faux medieval chapel built in the 1860s by Bishop Tait.

The Chapel

The chapel was designed by William Butterfield and when complete in 1867 was a startling mix of multicoloured brick and mosaic.

This is the view today and only a few hints of the OTT Gothic Revival style survive.

Fulham Palace Chapel | Look Up London

They include the former mosaic reredos by Alexander Gibbs.

And if you pull back the curtain behind the new high alter you can see where white paint covers the former bling.

The frescos were added after the Second World War and include a sneaky clue to the year they were completed. Supposedly these kneeling figures are Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, a nod to the coronation year of 1953.

Fulham Palace Gardens

From the 16th century the surrounding grounds were one of the most important botanical gardens in London. You could have found tulips, walnuts and maple trees.

This increased under the stewardship of Bishop Compton who was responsible for the Church of England in the British colonies and used these connections (and his vast wealth) to cultivate exotic plants from across the world.

In 1795 the gardens were described as ‘a singularly beautiful spot’.

Image Credit: John Rocque, 1746

It’s probably Compton’s garden layout that appears on the John Rocque map in the mid 18th century (above) but interestingly it’s only labelled as ‘The Eights’. Jean O’Neil in her Garden History speculates that this is because the Bishop of London didn’t subscribe to the publication and so was left out!

Sadly successive Bishops weren’t as interested in the international collection and many specimens were sold off. That being said there are still many wonders to hunt down in the garden, namely the ancient holm oak which is over 500 years old.

Today the garden still covers 13 acres, mostly laid out in the same way that Bishop Terrick designed it in the late 18th century.

One of the loveliest features is the walled garden which incorporates the old Tudor wall.

Fulham Palace Today

During both the First and Second World Wars the grounds and buildings of Fulham Palace were put to good use.

In 1918 a hospital was established here to look after wounded soldiers and during the Blitz of 1941 over 200 locals sheltered here for severals nights before more permanent locations could be found.

Image Credit: Fulham Palace Trust. Military hospital patients in the great hall, 1919

The last Bishop to live here was Stopford. Between 1974 and 2011 the site was run by the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham but today it’s looked after by Fulham Palace Trust and open for free, daily.

For more information about visiting and tours, see their website.

Related Blog Post

Another former palace that’s full of surprises can be found in Greenwich. Read all about Eltham Palace here.

History of Eltham Palace | Look Up London

Latest Blog Posts

1 Comment

  • Fulham Palace is a hidden gem! I never knew about its fascinating history until stumbling upon this article. Definitely adding it to my must-visit list for my next trip to London. Thanks for sharing!

    June 6, 2024 at 2:07 pm

Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.