Fulham Palace was the home for the Bishop of London starting in the 11th century and continuing all through until 1973. Throughout its use, it housed 120 Bishops of London. Now it contains a museum and botanic garden and is free to visit. The most interesting thing about it, though, is its long history. Each Bishop of London was responsible for Fulham Palace in three different ways: being a patron, a pastor, and a politician.
Each Bishop of London added or changed Fulham Palace to accommodate their personal preferences or the needs of the time. Leading Fulham architects and landscape designers have been used over the years to make these changes.
Because there were so many alterations, Fulham Palace displays a unique mix of styles and fashions that documents the history of the building. While most of these changes are spectacular, some changes meant removing pieces of history that make it impossible for us to enjoy today. One of these changes was the gardens of Bishop Compton, which contained over 1,000 exotic plants in the late 17th century, but were removed by one of his successors.
The Fulham Palace estate was responsible for the Diocese of London. While Fulham Palace operated as a home for the Bishop of London, it was also the centre of administrative work. This building also served the community during World War I, as a makeshift hospital to house wounded soldiers when there was no other place for them to go. Various Bishops also donated some of the lands of the estate to form Bishop’s Park and the allotments.
Since the London Diocese takes in the royal palaces and the Palace of Westminster, the Bishops were connected to the leaders of the day, both monarchs and other politicians. This link made them a part of important historical events like the divorce of King Henry VIII and the end of the slave trade.
Bishops Through the Ages
While there are too many Bishops to list and talk about here, there are several which contributed interesting pieces of history that should be noted. Bishop Waldhere (AD 693-716) was the one who wrote the earliest letter on parchment that is still intact today in Western Europe.
During the tenure of Bishop Bonner (1553-1559), Fulham Palace was briefly used as a jail to house and interrogate prisoners.
Bishop Henry Compton (1675-1713) was interested in botany and imported plants from all over the world. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, he also oversaw the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In the 1760s, Bishop Terrick remodelled the entire building to fit the Gothic revival style of the time. He also added crenellation on the top of the building and a walled garden.
Fulham Palace is home to an extensive botanical garden that has been thriving since the 16th century, making it the second oldest garden in London. Some species of vegetation like the tamarisk tree are said to have gotten their origins in England from Bishops cultivating them in this garden. Bishop Grindal (1519-1583) grew grapes in this garden that were sent to Elizabeth I.
Some Bishops were more concerned with the gardens than others, so during the early part of the 17th century, they fell into disarray. Luckily, they survived and started to thrive again before too long.
Fulham Palace was affected by the World Wars like all parts of Europe. During World War I, the grounds of the palace were used to grow food. The palace itself was used as a military hospital for part of the war. The cost of maintaining the estate during this time was very difficult, and Bishop Winnington-Ingram considered giving up the estate, but in the end, he decided to keep it in the church.
During World War II, Fulham Palace did not fare as well. It was damaged by bombing, and this paired with the normal cost of running the estate put a substantial financial burden on the church. In 1973, the church finally decided to move operations and housing to a less expensive location.
The Tait Chapel
Fulham Palace has four chapels on the estate. The Tait Chapel was created for Bishop Tait in 1867. It was dedicated to the Blessed Trinity. After being damaged in World War II, it was remodelled in the 1950s for Bishop Wand. Mosaic pieces were moved, and the windows were replaced. Now it houses beautiful wall paintings that depict various Biblical scenes such as “The Risen Saviour” and “The Fall.”