What Is Fulham Palace?

Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Fulham Palace is the former country residence of the Bishop of London, but is now a tourist attraction within the city. The site is owned by the Church Commissioners and is run by the Fulham Palace Trust in conjunction with the local Hammersmith and Fulham Council. It contains one of Britain’s largest moated areas, a house dating back to the 1500s, botanical gardens and a play area for children. The venue is mostly used as a tourist attraction and art gallery, and is free to enter for the general public. Some rooms within the building can be hired for private functions such as weddings and conferences.

The site of the Bishop’s country retreat is located deep within modern London. It is in the area known as Fulham and is next to Craven Cottage, the home stadium of Fulham Football Club. The palace also sits on the banks of the Thames River before it curves around eastwards to Westminster. While it is now at the center of a wealthy area of modern London, in the past, it was considered rural enough to be a country retreat for Catholic and Protestant bishops.

Roman and prehistoric artifacts have been recovered from the site of Fulham Palace, but the modern building dates back to 1495. Bishops owned the site from 691 onwards and were lords of the manor from the 11th century until the end of feudalism. While the bishops formally gave up residence of the palace in 1975, they were kicked out on a couple of occasions including during the English Civil War and World War II.

Historical records date the moat around Fulham Palace to at least 1392, but archaeologists believe the moat is a lot older. The moat, a ditch filled with river water from the Thames, was filled in around 1924 at the Bishop’s behest. This led to a Parliamentary debate and protests from angered locals. Restoration efforts began in the 21st century to dig out the ditch again while repairing other areas of the palace including the vinery, the Gothic lodge, moat bridge and the potting sheds.

The main building of Fulham Palace is now home to a museum, art gallery, café-bar and a reception area. The museum includes a permanent collection of paintings, of both bishops and monarchs, and archaeological remains from the site’s history. Several of the rooms have been restored to their Georgian splendor, while other artifacts show how the building looked during the Tudor and Victorian eras.

There are guided tours of both the building and the botanical gardens. The old palace vinery produced grapes for Elizabeth the 1st of England and the gardens were also home to the first spices exported from Virginia. The modern gardens include a meadow, woodland, lawns and a walled garden. There is also a knot garden filled with herbs.

One feature popular with visitors is the Bishops’ Tree: a carved piece of cedarwood that features the images of four bishops. At the top sits anti-slavery campaigner Bishop Porteus. Below him are effigies of Bishops Bonner, Creighton and Compton. The carving was commissioned by Delores Moorhouse for her late husband and was carved by Andrew Frost.

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