For centuries, this Grade I Listed building situated in extensive grounds by the River Thames was the country residence of the Bishops of London.
Now, explore the history of Fulham Palace and a few of its legendary residents…
Anglo Saxon London
London in 658 was tiny by today’s standards. Excavations in the 1980s concluded that Anglo Saxons lived in an area of some 600,000 square metres stretching from the site of the present-day National Gallery in the west, through the Covent Garden area, and finishing around Aldwych in the east.
By 600AD, England was divided into a series of small kingdoms and London was part of the East Saxon kingdom. It was also around this time that the first St Paul’s Cathedral was founded.
St Cedd was a monk involved in the establishment of the Christian faith within the kingdom of the East Saxon.
His success meant that he was consecrated Bishop of London around 654 AD.
At this time the Bishop of London had not yet acquired the Manor of Fulham so St Cedd would have probably spent most of his time at St Paul’s Cathedral.
It’s worth noting that the exact dates of the early Bishops of London are uncertain until St Dunstan in 957 AD.
Habitation on the land on where the Palace stands can be traced back as early as 700AD. At this point, ownership passed to Waldhere, the first bishop thought to have resided on the site.
While up until the 10th century the capital of the Kingdom of England was in Winchester, London had become increasingly important as a political centre. In 958, just after Dunstan became Bishop of London, King Aethelred the Unready favoured the city as his capital and issued the Laws of London.
Saint Dunstan was Bishop of London for two years before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury.
He remains the patron saint of goldsmiths and silversmiths as he worked as a blacksmith, painter and jeweller.
Dunstan is probably best known for his famed cunning at defeating the Devil – one story relates how he nailed a horseshoe to Satan’s hoof when he was asked to re-shoe the Devil’s horse.
The beginning of the 16th century marked the early years of the Tudor period.
For a Bishop of London it marked a key turning point in allegiances when the son of King Henry VII, Arthur Tudor, died suddenly; meaning Henry, Duke of York – later Henry VIII – became heir to the throne.
By 1502, the Bishop of London was Lord of the Manor of Fulham and would have been entitled to rents, livestock and farm produce from his tenants; and in return maintained bridges and ditches.
In 1502 William Warham was consecrated Bishop of London and became Keeper of the Great Seal. His tenure of both offices was short as in 1504 he became both Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury.
Later he assisted Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s Cardinal, in the secret inquiry into the validity of Henry’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon. Although officially he was supposed to be one of the Queen’s counsellors, he didn’t help her much as he greatly feared the King’s displeasure, saying ‘ira principis mors est’ (“the King’s anger is death”).
The English Reformation was the series of events in the 16th century by which the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Reformation, which started under Henry VIII, gathered pace during the reign of his son Edward VI. This established Protestantism throughout England, meaning the end of clerical celibacy, the Mass and the imposition of compulsory services in English.
In Fulham, by this point the Bishop would have surrendered many of his powers as Lord of the Manor and solely gathered rent from local residents.
Ridley came from a prominent family in Tynedale, Northumberland. After an education at Cambridge and the Sorbonne in Paris, in 1540 he was made one of the King’s Chaplains.
Throughout his tenure as Bishop of London he was centrally involved in the ‘Vestments controversy’ which fundamentally concerned English Protestant identity, doctrine and various church practices.
While ultimately successful in that endeavour, things didn’t end well for Ridley. In 1553 at the cross of St Paul’s he proclaimed Princesses Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate in a sermon. As a result he was ultimately convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1555.
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1558 ushered in the Elizabethan era. This is often considered the high point of the English Renaissance and Tudor culture.
This ‘Golden Age’ saw the flowering of poetry, music and literature. The era is most famous for theatre, as William Shakespeare and many others wrote plays that broke free of England’s past style of theatre.
It was an age of exploration and expansion abroad, while back at home, the Protestant Reformation became more acceptable to the people.
Edmund Grindal was a chaplain of Nicholas Ridley, who then made him precentor of St Paul’s Cathedral.
He was first nominated for the position of Bishop of London in 1553 to succeed Ridley, but the accession of Queen Mary and return of Catholicism put paid to that and he became an exile in Europe.
He returned from exile on the day Elizabeth I was crowned in 1559 and finally assumed his post as Bishop later that year.
He introduced the tamarisk to England, which he grew at Fulham, as well as grapes. These were the first to ripen within reach of the royal court and were sent annually as a gift to the Queen.
In the early part of the 17th century the gardens at Fulham Palace appear to have suffered from some unsympathetic attention.
The antiquary John Aubrey records among his memoranda, “the Bishop of London did cutte-down a noble Clowd of trees at Fulham”, which resulted in the sharp remark from Sir Francis Bacon, a keen gardener, “that he was a good expounder of dark places.”
King Charles I’s court jester said of William Laud, “give great praise to the Lord, and little Laud to the devil” – which didn’t go down well, as Laud was known to be rather touchy about his diminutive stature.
He was Bishop of London four four years then went on to be Archbishop of Canterbury. In this new role, Laud’s zeal to impose uniformity on the Church of England had the unintended and unfortunate effect of making him some serious enemies.
In 1640 he was accused of treason and despite a trial reaching no conclusion, the Houses of Parliament obtained a Bill of Attainder, declaring him guilty without further trial and he was beheaded notwithstanding being granted a Royal Pardon.
On Sunday, 2 September 1666 The Great Fire of London broke out, started at a bakery on Pudding Lane and spread rapidly west across the City of London.
The fire destroyed about 60% of the City of London, including Old St Paul’s Cathedral, 87 parish churches, 44 livery company halls and the Royal Exchange. However, the number of lives lost was surprisingly small; it is believed to have been 16 at most.
In Fulham, at much the same time Henry Compton became Bishop of London, John Dwight became the first successful English producer of stoneware. Dwight’s pottery was at the junction of New King’s Road and Burlington Road, a short walk from Fulham Palace. Initially Dwight copied German stonewares, using similar forms and motifs such as armorial medallions and bearded facemasks. By the 1680’s however his pottery was producing simpler wares that would form the basis of a ‘London stoneware’ style.
Henry Compton’s main interest was in gardening and botany and during his thirty-eight years at Fulham Palace he was able “to collect a greater number of green-house rarities and to plant a greater variety of hardy exotic trees and shrubs, than had been seen in any garden in England” (Faulkner 1813).
Many of these were imported from overseas, including the early settlements in Virginia, and the first magnolia in Europe (magnolia virginiana) was grown at Fulham.
The exotics were grown in early greenhouses called stovehouses. Some of Compton’s trees, including his famous cork oak (quercus suber) lived on into the early 20th century, whilst the species he grew, such as the Virginian black walnut (julgans nigra), are still represented amongst the collection of rare trees in the Palace grounds today.
The 18th century was a period of rapid growth for London, reflecting an increasing national population, the early stirrings of the Industrial Revolution and London’s role at the centre of the evolving British Empire.
Christopher Wren’s masterpiece St Paul’s Cathedral was finished in 1708, so Robert Lowth would have been only the seventh bishop to have sat there.
It was a turbulent time: in 1780, the city was rocked by the Gordon Riots, an uprising by Protestants against Roman Catholic emancipation. Severe damage was caused to Catholic churches and homes, and 285 rioters were killed.
There were but two bridges crossing the Thames. London Bridge and the new Westminster Bridge, which opened in 1750.
Just before he became Bishop of London, in 1762, Robert Lowth wrote ‘A Short Introduction to English Grammar.’
This unassuming-sounding tome, intended for adults, sought to fill an absence of simple textbooks on the English language. Most linguists of the period were students of Latin which he considered to be, “forcing the English under the rules of a foreign language.”
Lowth’s dogmatic assertions appealed to those who wished for certainty and authority in their language, and within a decade of its publication, versions of it were adapted for use in schools and the book remained in educational use until the early 20th century – some 200 years later.
By now, the gardens at Fulham Palace were not merely remarkable, but thanks to the efforts of Bishop Compton in the late 1680s, they had become world renowned.
Plants grew in the garden from seeds and specimens sent to the Palace from all over the world including the West Indies and Virginia, in the USA.
Subsequent bishops lacked the horticultural zeal of Bishop Compton, but the fame of the gardens had by that point become assured.
Biebly Porteus was a moral crusader.
William Pitt translated Porteus to the bishopric of London from his post as Bishop of Chester and within a year he had become a leading advocate within the Church of England for the abolition of slavery.
A man of strong moral principle, Porteus was concerned with what he saw as the moral decay of the nation during the 18th century. He was a vigorous campaigner against the causes of this, which he saw as wickedness, immorality and licentious behaviour at such venues as pleasure gardens and theatres.
When the Thames froze over in 1789, the Bishop and his wife walked over the river to Putney.
During the 19th century, London was transformed into the world’s largest city and capital of the British Empire.
By 1897 its population had increased almost six times to 6.7 million people from a century earlier.
While the city grew wealthy as Britain’s holdings expanded, 19th century London was also a city of poverty, where millions lived in overcrowded and unsanitary slums. Life for the poor of this era was immortalised by Charles Dickens in such novels as Oliver Twist.
Creighton was the first bishop to reintroduce the wearing of the mitre into the Church of England since the English Reformation of the 16th century.
He and his wife were both historians, Creighton being the first editor of the English Historical Review. He received and replied to 20,000 letters a year, without a secretary.
Every July they would hold a month of garden parties at Fulham Palace, with several thousand guests at a time.
The Creightons had seven children, one of whom, Walter was a keen actor who staged plays at the Palace.
Mrs Creighton founded Bishop Creighton House in 1908. This community centre still continues today.
By 1900 Fulham had transformed from a village to a suburb within easy reach of Central London thanks to the advent of the Metropolitan District Railway, and the population of the Diocese itself was approaching six million.
During the First World War, the Bishop’s Meadow became first an army training ground and then, in 1916, allotments. This reduced the Palace gardens from 36 acres to 13. The Palace itself became a hospital in 1917. Bishop Winnington-Ingram, a chaplain to the Rifle Brigade, was called “the most successful recruiting officer in the country.” He went out to the trenches in 1915, with his car, which the troops nicknamed ‘Fulham Palace’.
In 1901 Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, aged 42, became the youngest ever Bishop of London, having proved himself both an able orator and popular Bishop of Stepney.
Bishop Winnington-Ingram was a keen sportsman, playing tennis on the grass court in the Palace garden, and taking every Friday off to play golf. He invited schools to the Palace grounds for hockey and tennis matches, continued the tradition of the Palace garden parties and welcomed ‘working people’ to tea every Saturday. He also held parties for the children of the clergy annually on Holy Innocents Day, 28 December.
His decision to infill the Palace moat was less popular, but he went ahead in spite of the protests in the local and national press; it took three years from 1921 to 1924. A section either side of the moat bridge was excavated in 2011.
During the Second World War, the Palace had a Barrage Balloon on site. These were large gas filled ballons tethered to the ground and flown above major UK cities to try and prevent enemy aircraft flying too low.
The balloons were tethered to winches and were winched up and down depending on weather conditions and bombing intelligence. A team of twelve people were billeted on-site to look after one balloon.
By 1945, the Church had begun to find it increasingly difficult to bear the cost of running such a large, expensive building, with the Church Commissioners’ architect describing the Palace as being “badly planned and inconvenient.”
Bishop Fisher had the challenge of supporting morale on the Home Front in London during the Second World War.
He, and those of his six sons who were still at school, lived with his wife at the Palace during most of the war. His wife would take half of the children and sleep on one side of the Palace, whilst her husband went to the other side with the remainder, thus maximising the chances if there was a direct hit on the Palace.
Many bombs fell in Fulham, including some in the kitchen garden, the river bank and the allotments, but none on the Palace itself.