Bishop’s AvenueFulham SW6 6EA
Thursday 28 October 2015
Linda and I approached the Bishop's Palace in Fulham via the Bishop's Park from Putney Bridge Station. We knew we were in West London because of the relentless roar of aeroplanes overhead, but the Park was pleasant, and soon we came to the handsome wall which surrounds the Palace grounds.
The Palace is leased by the Church Commissioners to the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (more about this later) and they are gradually restoring the vegetable garden which used to help feed the Bishops of London. They have a bit of a way to go yet, and of course their brassicas had been ravaged by pigeons. On the other hand, the glasshouses are already producing tomatoes, cucumbers and the odd pepper, and we much admired the show of dahlias outside the glasshouses. The knot garden is also being restored, and we very much liked the dark red sedums and grasses planted there.
But it was time to visit the Palace and so we headed towards it, realising that t was half term when we saw lots of families in the grassy surrounds of the building.
The way into the Palace is through the handsome courtyard, with fountain, and there we paused to answer some questions from a young volunteer, garnering information to help seal a Lottery bid for more improvements.
Eventually we were in the Palace, and started in the Great Hall, actually quite modest, and panelled in dark wood. This week it is the scene of the dressing up opportunities so essential for historic buildings these days. It also had a fine gallery, and an attractively carved wooden fireplace surround. The light was not ideal for pictures, so there are some more here.
Here we learned that the Palace had been the home of the Bishops of London since the dawn of time (well, 704 AD, just as King Ethelred was abdicating) until 1973, when they moved to Dean's Court, convenient for St Paul's Cathedral. But that time, Fulham Palace was not only decrepit (bomb damage and old age) but also unsuitable for the modern church. Much of it had been leased out to various individuals and organisations. So the Church Commissioners allowed the Borough to take it over, and they are making a sound job of turning it into a community space.
In Bishop Sherlock's Room, added, apparently, in 1753, we saw a modest exhibition about what had happened to the Palace since 1973. There was lots of information about the Volunteers, who are clearly crucial to the place, the renovation and planning that is going on, and the various activities which have taken place over the past 40 years.
As we moved on, we came to some very entertaining pictures of Bishops of London by a modern artist whose name we could not find. There was Ridley, with the flames behind him. Also Bishop Laud, the High Churchman who encouraged Charles I to go in for more 'bells and smells' that the ordinary people of the seventeenth century thought appropriate.
Then we went on to the main museum which is about the history of the diocese as well as the Palace. This was of course a family home, once the reformation had allowed Bishops to marry; bishops wives, of course, became homeless when their husbands died, though it seems that grace-and-favour homes at Hampton Court might be made available. The Museum told us about food supplies, and entertaining, and also about the huge range of the duties of the Bishops of London, since they were responsible for parishes outside the UK.
For those of us who had come from the other end of London and were wondering what the bishops were doing all the way over here, the museum provided clear explanation. With the ford over the river here, this was a key commercial and strategic point, and of course access to London by River was always available. So from pre-Roman times there had been people here, as archeologists have demonstrated.
A brief film made the useful point that, while this is not the 'finest' Tudor, or 18th century house, its various incarnations demonstrate continuous occupation. We saw photographs of the Palace's use as a hospital in 1918 and 1919, and read about the fire watchers who saved St Paul's from destruction during the Blitz in 1940-41.
Finally, after a quick visit to the shop, housed in the library, we made our way to the Chapel, rather a depressing 19th century building; the paintings on the brick walls were hard to see, though they look quite interesting on the website!
We enjoyed our visit, but would be lying if we said it was wonderful or amazing. If the lottery application is successful, and we hope it is, it might well be worth visiting in future years to see the progress they are making.