Come What May
“Eltham Lodge was designed by Hugh May and built in 1663 for John Shaw, 1st Baronet, banker to King Charles II,” introduces John Bunney, former Captain of Royal Blackheath Golf Club. Eltham Lodge is the clubhouse. “It is May’s last surviving newbuild. The only trace of his wing at Windsor Castle is a now internal window. Eltham would originally have had transom and mullion windows but was Georgianised by the 4th Baronet Shaw. Some of the sash windows are a panel lower inside. There are no remaining drawings or letters by May although John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys wrote about him extensively.”
The distinctive and deep timber bracketed eaves are a strong exterior feature, resembling Beaulieu House in County Louth and the demolished Eyrecourt in County Galway. “Eltham is similar in scale and appearance to three famous buildings in The Hague: The Huygenshuis, The Mauritshuis and The Sebastiaandoolen.” John notes, “It is possibly the first Flemish bond brick building in England. The porte-cochère on the garden front is a later addition.”
If a building is mentioned by the two scholars Nikolaus Pevsner and John Summerson, it’s worth visiting! “Eltham is very much a domestic house, not a grand palace, built in the clean air away from the plague and fire of the city,” he explains. “In the 1960s the cupola was removed – there may have been a rooftop terrace originally. In 1663 there were five dormers on each roof plane which can be seen in early drawings and as evidenced in the timberwork of the roof. These have been since reduced to two on each elevation. The formal gardens with fruit trees and the tapestries in the Great Chamber have all gone.”
Grinling Gibbons joined Hugh May’s team: his offset Great Stair is fully preserved. “In 1893 Eltham Lodge became a golf club,” finishes John. “But the ethos of a house in the country has been retained. May’s mantra was ‘Let one room be turned to perfection and the rest to convenience!’” The King’s Bedchamber and East India Library on the first floor overlook the entrance. The architect went for broke at Eltham Lodge with suites of rooms turned to perfection.