In 1538, the thirtieth anniversary of his accession to the throne, Henry VIII began to build his magnificent hunting lodge, Nonsuch Palace. Henry had just acquired the manor of Cuddington, including church, village and manor house, which he promptly demolished to make way for his new dream home. The palace, richly decorated with stucco and carved slate in the Renaissance style, was conceived on a grand scale to celebrate the long-awaited birth of his heir, Prince Edward, and the construction must have made a considerable impact on the nearby villages of Cheam and Ewell.
The palace was built around two courtyards and was about the size of a modern football pitch. The outer courtyard was a fairly typical building of the period, but the inner courtyard was one of the most extraordinary structures in Renaissance Europe.
The upper part was timber-framed and decorated with a complex series of high-relief stucco panels, separated by carved and gilded slate.
Henry VIII died in 1547, when the building was almost complete. and Mary I sold the palace to the twelfth Earl of Arundel, Henry Fitzalan, who later, in an attempt to persuade Elizabeth I that he was her ideal man, bankrupted himself by completing the Palace and gardens. The palace passed to the Earl’s heir and son-in-law, John, Lord Lumley (whose family tombs are housed in Cheam’s Lumley Chapel, see Lumley Chapel page), who, having inherited massive debts along with the Palace, gave Nonsuch back to Elizabeth and became Keeper of the Palace.
The palace remained in royal hands until 1649, when it was confiscated after the Civil War, although it was later returned to Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria.
The Exchequer moved to Nonsuch at the time of the plague in 1665, and during the Fire of London the following year. Charles II gave the palace to his mistress, Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, who was created Baroness Nonsuch. In 1682 she sold it for its building materials, to pay off her gambling debts, and the once famous palace was gradually demolished.
The palace was excavated in 1959 and the Banqueting House in the following year. Although the excavations had to be filled in, to prevent deterioration of the foundations, valuable information was gained and a large number of finds recovered, including pottery, glassware, stucco and decorative slates. A case of material from the excavation may be seen at Whitehall and architectural reconstruction drawings (made before the excavation but still giving much accurate information) are on view in several rooms of Whitehall. Of particular note is the full-size photograph over the fireplace in the tea-room, of a painting bequeathed to the Nonsuch Park Joint Management Committee. This shows Nonsuch Palace sometime between 1660 and 1682, while George, 1st Earl of Berkeley, was Keeper of the Palace.
Whitehall’s Nonsuch Palace Model
The official unveiling of Whitehall’s Nonsuch Palace Model was held on Tuesday, 27th March, 2012, when the model was unveiled by Councillor Graham Tope with model-maker Ben Ruthven-Taggart, Professor Martin Biddle from Oxford University, who made it all possible with his Nonsuch dig in 1959, David Aldous-Cook as Chairman of the Friends of Whitehall, and an invited audience.
The first picture shows, from left, David Aldous-Cook the Chairman of the Friends, Councillor Graham Tope, Professor Martin Biddle from Oxford University and Ben Ruthven-Taggart who created the model shown in the second picture.
After the unveiling the audience were able to view the model in all its glory and then were invited into the tea room for refreshments and a slice of a splendid Nonsuch Model cake decorated with an image of one of the Turner architectural drawings of the Palace.
Actually creating this model has called upon the outstanding expertise of the dedicated model-maker, Ben Ruthven-Taggart, www.modelhouses.co.uk who had previously made the model now exhibited in the Mansion House. He has the knowledge and ability to so adequately overcome the problems involved in miniaturisation.
The Model is constructed in a variety of materials. The main structure is built in wood with architectural details added in various plastics, fibre-glass resin and brass. The most fascinating feature of the palace was its fantastically designed stucco plaster panels decorating the walls of the inner court and the exterior of the building. There are 695 stucco panels in all. For the purposes of building the model it was not practical to carve each panel individually. Instead a total of 149 panels were made depicting gods and goddesses, battling soldiers in classical attire, the busts of Caesars and many other compositions of figures.
These master panels were carved and then cast in silicon rubber moulds and reproduced in plastic resin. The resin casts were arranged very carefully on the model so that no duplicate panels were near to one another. This gives the impression of each panel being unique.
Between the stucco panels, there were on the original building borders of slate roughly 6″ wide, carved with a gilloche pattern and decorated with gold paint. These were represented on the model using thin brass sheets which had been acid etched with the design of the gilloche pattern. The brass was sprayed with black paint and then gently sanded with emery paper so that the brass is visible in the etched pattern. This replicates the detail of the gold paint exactly.
The layout of the original garden is shown in the model together with miniature figures and a carriage. The model is now available to view during normal opening hours.