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THE royal palace of Eltham is a subject which has often engaged the
historian's pen and the pencil of the artist; and, as intimately associated with many national events, it possesses an interest to which neither the lapse of time nor its own decay can ever render us indifferent. A visit to the "old
Hall of Eltham,” forms one of those incidents in life to which we look back with as much pleasure as the pilgrim was wont to do after he had paid his devotions at the "shrine of our Lady of Walsingham.” Every feature in this primitive abode of kings, this favourite resort of our native princes, arrests attention, and carries us back into the days of chivalry and romance. While sauntering through its deserted, and, as we may truly say, its desecrated court, imagination delights to expatiate among those recorded scenes of court festivity, military fêtes, and national solemnities, of which it has so often been the scene. The very echoes which, if at all disturbed, now only reply to the thresher's song or the lowing of cattle, were once roused into loud and long-continued reverberations by the plaudits of knights within, and popular acclamations from without. In the twilight, the dim figures of its long line of possessors seem to flit before our eyes ; while the mind is busily occupied in filling up the picture, from the days of Edward the Confessor down to those of James the First:
“ Again, again, along the wizard's glass,
In waving plumes they reappear and pass." It is gratifying to think that, whilst the plough may be said to have passed over many of our classic and historical sites, the Hall of Eltham is still spared. The ground on which it stands is sacred in the eyes of every patriot: it is an interesting field of study for the artist and antiquary; and in beauty of situation challenges the admiration of the most ordinary observer. Its position on a gently elevated surface, commanding a fine view in nearly every direction, surrounded by an extensive chase, and in the immediate vicinity of the capital, made Eltham highly eligible as an occasional residence for the sovereign. But the surrounding country has undergone so many alterations, Eltham itself is so shrunk, dilapidated, and “curtailed of its fair proportions, that it is impossible to form a just estimate of what it must have been during the feudal period; adorned, as it undoubtedly was, with all the embellishments of art, inhabited by kings, with “ kings for their guests,” and frequented by the elite of English beauty and chivalry.
Enough remains, however, to fill a long summer day with agreeable amusement and profitable entertainment; and to those who take pleasure in contemplating such monuments of the regal sway in England, the old palace of Eltham has attractions peculiarly its own.
Nearly all the writers who have given their attention to the topography of Eltham and its vicinity, complain of the great want of authentic records, for the satisfactory elucidation of its early history. This is a subject of much regret; obscurity is intimately connected with the origin of the place; the documents which we possess consist chiefly of those casual notices embodied
HISTORIES OF ELTHAM.
in the old Chronicles, where the subject is of only secondary consideration, and often merely alluded to by way of illustration. During the last twenty years, particularly since the discoveries of some subterranean passages within the walls, Eltham has been a subject of frequent description in the periodicals * of the day; and that frequency is a proof how much it has attracted, and still continues to attract, the public attention.
In the well-known county histories of Kent, as well as in all the topographical works which we have seen, the description of Eltham is given in nearly the same words, each successive writer contenting himself with what he has read, rather than what he had personally observed in the venerable ruin itself. We are far from presuming to do much more than our predecessors in the same walk; but, as the objects of our study and research are chiefly to ascertain and retail what has been done, rather than what is to be seen at Eltham, we shall, as usual, willingly avail ourselves of the old chronicles as our principal authorities, and, avoiding mere technical description, endeavour to bring the subject home to the mind and eye of the reader. But whilst to a certain class of readers we can only address the following well-known lines
“Oisifs de nos cités, dont la mollesse extrême
Ces tableaux éloquents sont muets pour vous”– to another, a more congenial fraternity, we can speak with confidence, and calculate on their sympathy and support:
“ Mais toi, qui des beaux-arts sens les flammes divincs,
Ton âme entend la voix des cercueils, des ruines;
Eltham, anciently written Ealdham and Aletham, carries a proof of its antiquity in the very name, which is a compound of two Saxon words signifying the old home, town, or dwelling; "heim,” being still the modern German word used to express the same meaning, and, with some characteristic prefix,
* Among the lesser works expressly devoted to accompanied with illustrative engravings of Eltham, have Eltham Palace, Mr. Buckler's “ Historical and Descrip- appeared from time to time, during the last fifty years. tive Account,” published about sixteen years ago, and Some years ago, “ The Graphic and Ilistorical Illusjust when the repairs had been coinmenced, under the trator,” edited by E. W. Brayley, Esq., F.S.A. &c direction of Mr. Smirke the Architect, is the best. But opened a fine field of investigation; but, much to the in "the Gentleman's Magazine,"—the grand reperto- regret of every littérateur and antiquary, it was disrium of subjects of this class—some excellent papers, continued. It contains a good paper on Eltham.
is frequent in Saxon topography. But this is so well known as scarcely to require a passing remark. Bounded by Greenwich, Woolwich, Plumsted, and Kidbrook on the north ; by Bexley on the east; Chiselhurst and Mottingham on the south, and the picturesque village of Lee on the west, Eltham enjoys most of the advantages that result from a position in the centre of a rich cultivated neighbourhood.
The manor of Eltham is said to have existed as a royal demesne in the time of Edward the Confessor; to have been given by William the Conqueror
to one of his family, Odo Earl of Kent, and Bishop of Bayeux, * after whose disgrace and banishment, it reverted partly to the crown and partly to the Norman family of Mandeville, from whom it took the name of Eltham-Mandeville. That portion which fell to the crown was, according to Dugdale, given by Edward the First to John de Vesci, who was related to queen Eleanor by his marriage with Isabel de Beaumont, and afterwards, by an exchange of other lands with Walter de Mandeville, became sole proprietor of the manor.
We shall not, however, detain our readers by tracing the descent with genealogical minuteness. From the Vesci family it passed into that of de Ayton
thence to Scroop of Masham; who afterwards presented it to queen Isabel in 1318, or probably a year later. About the middle of the following century, it was granted to Robert Dauson for seven years; and in the beginning of his reign, Henry the Eighth bestowed it successively upon Sir Henry Guildford, Comptroller of the Household, and Sir Thomas Speke. By Edward the Sixth it was granted
From the Doomsday record it appears “Hanno twenty-two acres of meadow: there is pasture for fifty the sheriff of the county holds of the bishop Aletham, hogs. In the time of Edward the Confessor it was which is taxed at one suling and a half. The arable valued at sixteen pounds, when it came into the present land is twelve carucates: on the demesne there are two owner at twelve pounds; now at twenty pounds. Alploughs: there are forty-four villans and twelve bordarswold held this manor of the Confessor."—Hasted's who employ seven ploughs: there are nine slaves, and "Kent;" also “ Eltham Palace." Lond. 1804.