London: Fulham Palace

dsc09171I don’t think Fulham Palace gets much press, because I wasn’t aware it, well, existed, until I was searching for attractions near Hammersmith one day and it popped up on Google Maps (incidentally, it is nowhere near Hammersmith by London standards, but that’s still how I found out about it).  Even Marcus didn’t realise there was still something there to visit, and he lived in Putney for a while back in his student days (he used to go for runs in a park nearby, but assumed the palace was in ruins, as so many of these things are).  So on a day when I couldn’t be bothered to go all the way into central London, but a few stops on the District Line seemed just right, we headed up to Putney Bridge to check it out.

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First of all, the gardens around Fulham Palace are pretty damn fabulous.  We were there in mid-November, and as you can see, the trees that actually change colour were still in peak autumn foliage.  Also, there were a lot of squirrels, which isn’t really unusual in London parks, but I like them just the same.

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There was also a walled garden, which is probably pretty nice when in bloom, but my favourite thing by far was the Bishops’ Tree, as seen above.  It was meant to commemorate some of the more notable bishops who lived in the Palace, and featured a pair of thrones, a few bishops climbing the tree (and one laying on a log nearby), and a cat sitting on a stack of books, all carved out of wood.  It was seriously amazing, and just kind of casually hidden off to one side, so you probably wouldn’t notice it unless you walked around the Palace, like we did (there may have been a sign pointing to it, but it definitely gave no indication of its fabulousness).

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Fulham Palace itself dates back to about 700 CE, when the site was acquired by the Catholic church to become the country home of the Bishop of London, though the oldest parts of the current building were “only” built in the late 15th century, and there are substantial Georgian and Regency additions.  The site was occupied continuously by the Bishops of London for 12 centuries, but the Bishop of London now has a home near St. Paul’s instead (the last bishop to live at Fulham Palace moved out in 1975) so the house was no longer needed, and became a museum/cafe.

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The museum is free, which is probably a good thing, because it’s not terribly large.  There’s really only two main rooms, with a few display cases in the shop as well.  However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t fun things to do.  As you can see, I zeroed in on the bishops’ mitre pretty damn quickly (though I am not at all religious, my parents are, and I was, er…strongly encouraged to be an altar girl when I was a kid.  When the bishop came to our church to do confirmations, I had to hold his staff.  Someone else got to hold his hat, and I was totally jealous.  Well, look at me now! I guess it’s not terribly flattering though…).

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There was also a wall full of herbs (and poop) to sniff and identify the smells (these things were blatantly intended for children, but I didn’t let that stop me), and a few archeology related exhibits (check out that mummified rat!), but mostly it was a chance to learn more about the Palace, and some of the bishops who lived there.  After the Church of England was formed, bishops were allowed to marry (though Elizabeth I preferred that they didn’t, and was pretty irate when her bishop did), so some of their families lived here as well.  However, the 16th and 17th centuries were turbulent times to be alive, and some of the Bishops of London were rather ill-fated, as you’ll see in the pictures below.

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Yep, they had fabulous prints of all the bishops adorning the hall between the museum rooms.  These ones portray William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury under Charles I, who was despised by the Puritans for his “high church” ways and influence over Charles, and was beheaded after Charles’s downfall.  And then there’s poor Nicholas Ridley, who was burned at the stake with Bishop Latimer, as memorably detailed in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (I had to read it for a Tudor Britain class, and the Oxford Martyrs have always stayed with me. Not literally).  Ridley’s print was available on a tote bag in the shop, but I didn’t notice any of the others, which is a shame, because I really like Laud’s cheeky wink.

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The other room housed a temporary exhibit, entitled (rather unimaginatively) “The Architects and Craftsmen of Fulham Palace.”  I’m sure you can guess what it was about.  The first known architect to work on the Palace was the excellently named Stiff Leadbetter; back in the 18th century, he redesigned it in a Gothic, Strawberry Hill style for Bishop Terrick, although some Regency jerk-bishop decided he hated Gothic architecture (Boo-urns!), so had it remodeled by another delightfully named architect, Samuel Pepys Cockerell.  There were some chunks of stained glass here, and other bits and pieces of plaster and such, but I think the exhibit was a little bit too text-heavy, and I found myself skimming over some of the captions.

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As I mentioned before, the small shop had some displays in it, including a copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs open to the very passage I was just talking about (I also vividly remember the section on Cranmer, the other Oxford Martyr, because he had at one point signed some sort of document that went against his morals, so he held his document-signing hand directly into the flames, so it would be burned off first.  Cranmer sounds hardcore).  Part of the library had also been preserved, along with a secret door that had a caption informing me that secret doors were a must-have for any fashionable home at the time it was built (I wish that was still the case. I want a damn secret door).

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The Great Hall was also open to the public, though there was really nothing in it save for a sign that flatly stated that Bishop Bonner kept a torture chamber in here, with no further explanation.  I looked it up, and it seems that he was a Catholic bishop who served under Mary I, and very enthusiastically tortured and executed Protestants, and forced others to work as slave-labourers on his land.  What a creep!  His ghost supposedly hosts the grounds, so I’d try to steer clear of that douche-phantom, but seriously, who puts a torture chamber in the Great Hall?  You’d think he would have at least tried to hide it in the basement or something.  He sounds like a psychopath, and unfortunately, he never really got his comeuppance (he was imprisoned when Elizabeth I took the throne, but died of natural causes before they did anything to him). I initially included a picture of the balloon bishop to cheer us all up after sadistic Bishop Bonner, but then I looked up Arthur Winnington-Ingram, and it seems he was a bit of a douche himself.  While I don’t think he actually killed or tortured anyone (it being not socially acceptable for English bishops to do that sort of thing in the 20th century) he was apparently so xenophobic towards Germans during WWI that even Asquith accused him of “jingoism of the shallowest kind.”  Yikes, these Bishops are not a good-hearted lot. Definitely nowhere near as delightful as the balloons led me to believe.

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There’s also a cafe next to the museum, which appeared to have reasonably appetising cakes, though I didn’t partake, so I can’t say for sure.  Although the museum was small, it was also free, so I can’t complain that much, and I think that excellent Bishops’ Tree, those great prints, and all the fascinating history that took place here made it worth the (short) trip (even though the museum could have said more about the dark sides of many of the bishops, since that is the most interesting part), but I certainly wouldn’t travel across London for it or anything.  2.5/5.  Oh, and on the subject of churches, I should mention that there’s an (unrelated) church nearby the museum where the scene from The Omen where the priest is impaled with the lightning rod was filmed.  If you walk here from Putney Bridge, you can’t miss it! It’s called All Saints’ Fulham, and is pictured below. (Plus one more bishop; I love those damn prints, even though they make the bishops look nicer than they actually were.)

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10 comments

  1. Lovely post. I discovered Fulham palace for the first time the other day too and I live in Fulham! The whole of Bishops park is so pretty, will be going back to go inside the museum soon! 😊

  2. Oh my god, how is that tree not famous? It’s amazing!
    In the photo of you sniffing the herb wall (poop for real?), I spy quite the dashing bishop in the background. He’s like a romance novel bishop.
    The prints of the ill-fated bishops are wonderful – Laud looks completely unconcerned by what’s happened to him.

    1. I hope it wasn’t real poop, but I suppose it could have been real manure or something. Although it seems like it would be a pain to source and regularly replace that. I assume it was more like “authentic smells” poop scent that all these museums source from somewhere mysterious.
      Believe it or not, the romance novel bishop is supposed to be Thomas a Becket of Canterbury martyrdom fame. I wouldn’t have recognised him without the name plaque, because I’ve never seen him look dashing, or even remotely attractive for that matter, in any other painting or illustration.

  3. I find it quite amusing how they glossed over the bishops torture chamber. I’ve probably got a very black sense of humor, but something about there being a random torture chamber inside a stately home just seems absurdly humerous to me. Not that I expect it was very funny for his poor victims.

    1. It definitely is kind of funny, in a macabre way. Especially because he kept it right inside the entrance hall, so when visitors came over he could be like, “and on your left is my torture chamber, mind the rack.” I was definitely disappointed they didn’t say more about it, because it was way more interesting to me than all of the stuff in the museum!

      1. It does seem a very random thing to install in your stately home. I guess they just want to focus on the godly, historic history of the building, and not spoil the image with their chamber of horrors!

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