By Kate Kern, learning and engagement manager
At Fulham Palace I’m proud to say (as often as possible) that what makes us stand out is the rich history of the site. The Palace is one of the earliest and most intriguing religious powerhouses; the Bishop of London was once one of the most powerful people in England, wielding power similar to the current Prime Minister due to their unique position as ‘king’s bishop’. With the religious upheaval of the reformation this high profile job could be a difficult tightrope to balance, and one Bishop was burned (literally) for his religious beliefs. The stories of the Bishops give personal insights into major historical events such as the creation of Magna Carta, the crusade against slavery and the impact of the First World War on ordinary people. This summer we’re taking inspiration from the Palace’s long history – hosting a series of family fun days, designed to be fun for all ages, which draw on different aspects of this history.
Our first family fun day explored the popular Tudor festival of May Day. We know the Tudors celebrated spring and new beginnings with feasting, dancing, music and storytelling, which helped a lot when it came to planning our event! May Day was so popular because it was one of the few times that the social barriers came down and people from all backgrounds were able to mix more freely. The themes of new beginnings and inclusivity provided the ideal setting for the re-launch of Fulham Palace, inviting the local community to come and celebrate as the Tudors would have done at the Palace 500 years ago. We welcomed over 1,300 visitors who enjoyed maypole dancing, birds of prey and making May crowns. My favourite part of the day was getting all the staff and volunteers dressed up in Tudor costume – the garden apprentices looked especially authentic!
It was daunting to plan the second event following the success of May Day. At the end of June we looked at the eventful life of St Dunstan, a Saxon bishop of London who was a key advisor to the first King of England. He was an accomplished artist and musician and became the patron saint of silversmiths, goldsmiths and ironmongers. The Palace welcomed the Society of Ornamental Turners with their beautiful rose engine, the Antique Breadboard Museum and early harper Richard de Winter alongside Fulham Palace’s own bodgers and beekeepers. The great hall was turned into a serene scriptorium with calligraphy demonstrations; young visitors had the chance to enjoy sensory storytelling about the life of St Dunstan and decorate their own horseshoe in celebration of St Dunstan defeating the Devil while making horseshoes! In case you’re wondering how Dunstan did it – it involved a hot poker, as this folk rhyme describes:
St Dunstan, as the story goes,
Once pull’d the devil by the nose
With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,
That he was heard three miles or more.
Our next event is on 28 July and we will be investigating the lost medieval chapel of Fulham Palace. You may have come across the mysterious parchmarks that appear in the main lawn each summer. These are the remains of the first chapel at the Palace and this year we will be recreating it with your help. Come along and join Alexis, our community archaeologist to help re-build the chapel from the ground up, see stonemasons at work, get hands on with archaeology and much more.