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Nonsuch Palace

In the civil parish of Ewell.
In the historic county of Surrey.
Modern Authority of Surrey.
1974 county of Surrey.
Medieval County of Surrey.

OS Map Grid Reference: TQ22766313
Latitude 51.35399° Longitude -0.23844°

Nonsuch Palace has been described as a certain Palace.

There are no visible remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Nonsuch forms one of a group of broadly contemporary royal palaces, including Oatlands and Hampton Court, built around the south western periphery of London by Henry VIII. Although its buildings were comparatively small and lacked a great hall or other large, formal reception rooms, Nonsuch was, as its name suggests, envisaged from the start as a showpiece, a building without equal. Construction work began on 22 April 1538, the 30th anniversary of the King's accession, and also celebrated the birth of his long awaited son and heir, Prince Edward, six months earlier. The main planning displays a typically Tudor emphasis on symmetry, balance and order, with the allegorical decorative embellishments of the inner court and gardens providing an additional element of fancy, grandeur and mystique. No expense was spared, and the resultant palace was regarded by contemporaries as a success, playing a key role in the development of Tudor architecture and the acceptance of the Renaissance style in England. During the late 16th and early 17th centuries, important visitors from all over Europe visited Nonsuch to marvel at its buildings and gardens. The earlier medieval village of Cuddington represents a comparatively rare example of a nucleated medieval rural settlement within the Thames sub- province of south eastern England. This area, densely wooded during the medieval period, is characterised by medium to high densities of dispersed farmsteads. Medieval rural settlements were organised agricultural communities, sited at the centre of a parish or township, that shared resources such as arable land, meadow and woodland. Settlement plans varied enormously, but when they survive as earthworks their most distinguishing features include roads and minor tracks, platforms on which stood houses and other buildings such as barns, enclosed crofts and small enclosed paddocks. They frequently included the parish church within their boundaries and as part of the manorial system most settlements included one or more manorial centres which may survive as visible remains as well as below ground deposits. The archaeological remains of settlements are one of the most important sources of understanding rural life in the five or more centuries following the Norman conquest. Although largely surviving in the form of earthworks and below ground archaeological remains, Nonsuch Palace and its gardens are well-documented by detailed building accounts, contemporary descriptions and illustrations. Part excavation and survey have confirmed that the monument retains evidence relating to the original form, extent and appearance of the palace. The wholesale demolition of Cuddington village to make way for the later palace is an early example of village removal, and part excavation, historical research and survey have added to our understanding of its original form. The monument, which occupies two separate areas on the western edge of Nonsuch Park, includes the Tudor royal palace of Nonsuch, its formal gardens and banqueting house, and the earlier medieval village of Cuddington, demolished to make way for the construction of the palace. Nonsuch Park is an area of public open space lying between the towns of Ewell to the south west and Cheam to the north east, on the south western outskirts of modern metropolitan London. The monument survives in the form of below ground foundations and associated buried remains, a ruined structure and earthworks. The main palace buildings of Nonsuch, situated near the eastern edge of the monument, survive in the form of buried foundations. They were constructed mainly between 1538-1547 for the ageing Henry VIII, and, as with all of his palaces, he played an active part in drawing up the design. Nonsuch and its two associated deer parks lay within a vast, newly created royal hunting forest known as the Honour of Hampton Court, also served by Oatlands Palace 13km to the west at Weybridge. The new chase was close to the capital because the King's deteriorating health prevented him from travelling to his favourite hunting grounds in Oxfordshire. As its name suggests, Nonsuch, although essentially a private royal hunting lodge, was also intended to rival and surpass the architectural splendour of other Early Renaissance palaces, particularly the great continental examples such as Fontainebleau in France. The original appearance of the main buildings, most of which were demolished between 1682-88, is recorded by four contemporary illustrations, the most detailed of which is a water-colour of the south eastern facade by Joris Hoefnagel, dating to 1568. Investigations carried out in 1959-60 confirmed that the foundations range around two adjoining, NNW-SSE aligned quadrangular courtyards each covering around 60 square metres. These were served by an attached, rectangular kitchen block to the north east. The main approach to the palace was from the north west, and the outer court was entered from the carriage road by way of a centrally-placed, turreted gatehouse. Historical sources indicate that the cobbled and paved courtyard was surrounded by tall, brick and stone, two-storeyed ranges topped with crenellated parapets. Suites of rooms opened off from central staircases on each side of the courtyard. The adjoining, half-timbered inner court lay to the south east and was reached by steps leading down through an inner gatehouse. Its basic plan mirrored that of the outer court, elaborated by tall, inward-facing bay windows, octagonal projecting corner towers and, decorating its timber-framed upper storeys, a sequence of plaster-stucco panels depicting, in high relief, scenes from classical history and mythology, framed by borders of incised and painted black slate. The palace gardens were unfinished at the time of Henry VIII's death in 1547, and so date partly to the later 16th century, when the Nonsuch Estate had passed to Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, and his son-in-law, John, Lord Lumley. The extent and original appearance of the walled gardens which surrounded the main palace buildings have been revealed by the analysis of contemporary descriptions and illustrations, a survey of 1993-95 and part excavation in 1930, 1959-60 and 1996. They survive as a levelled landscaped area of 3.2ha containing boundary earthworks, buried wall foundations and associated archaeological features, originally enclosed by walls over 4m high. Around the inner court to the south east was the privy garden and, surrounding the outer court, a kitchen garden and orchard. The natural hillslope to the south east was partly removed to form the south eastern edge of the gardens, and investigations revealed the foundations of a brick revetment which originally supported the resultant, 1.9m high scarp. The privy garden was embellished with Tudor knots, topiary and maze hedges, a central fountain and statuary representing royal emblems and heraldic subjects. A now demolished stable or coach house was sited in its south western corner. The south eastern sector of the privy garden has been partly disturbed by the construction of a modern park keepers lodge, which is excluded from the scheduling. Beyond the garden wall to the north west is a level sub-rectangular platform interpreted as a Tudor bowling green and an originally open, grassed area known as the plain. Adjoining the south western side of the walled garden and of identical alignment and dimensions is the Wilderness, originally an area of dense oak and elm plantations and sports areas divided by broad sandy walks, enclosed by a tall hedge and surviving boundary earthworks. The north eastern half of the Wilderness has been disturbed by the buildings of Cherry Orchard Farm, a post-medieval farm demolished in the 1970s. Immediately to the south west is a smaller, sub-square compartment on a slightly different alignment, thought to represent the Grove of Diana. This is known from contemporary descriptions to have contained decorative water features, including a grotto or pool, and neo-classical marble structures which included a temple and a group of allegorical statuary depicting Actaeon's punishment by the goddess Diana. Adjoining the grove on the higher ground to the south west is a rectangular garden compartment, the south eastern corner of which contains the ruined remains of the palace banqueting house, Listed Grade II. This enjoyed panoramic views of the surrounding parkland and survives as a raised, 1m high octagonal platform, with four circular corner bastions. The platform is edged by a brick revetment constructed during the early 20th century, incorporating some original Tudor bricks. Documentary sources and evidence from the excavations reveal that the centrally placed banqueting house, which survives in the form of buried foundations, was a small, roughly square timber-framed building of two storeys with viewing balconies and an underground cellar. Traces of a contemporary bakehouse were found around 30m to the north west, and other associated demolished structures, including a well and wash-house mentioned in a survey of 1650, can be expected to survive as buried foundations within the garden compartment. Part of the south western sector of the compartment was heavily disturbed by the construction of the cutting for the modern A24 Ewell bypass, and this area is therefore not included in the scheduling. An electricity sub-station constructed near the western edge of the monument to the west of the bypass is excluded from the scheduling. The site chosen for Nonsuch was occupied until 1538 by the church, houses and fields of the small medieval village of Cuddington. Henry VIII obtained Cuddington, which was in existence by Domesday, from its owner Richard Coddington, in exchange for the manor of Ixworth in Suffolk. The King's survey of 1537 records that the medieval settlement had four main farmsteads grouped around a church and newly-built manor house. These were demolished to make way for the palace, and the 1959-60 investigations revealed that the palace's inner court was laid out around the surviving foundations, and above the graveyard of, the originally Norman, flint and stone-built church. Underlying traces of an earlier, timber-built church were also discovered, and over 100 burials were found within the surrounding graveyard. The foundations of outbuildings associated with the earlier manor house were revealed beneath the south western range of the palace's outer court. Further below ground remains of the medieval settlement can be expected to survive in the areas beyond the main palace buildings. Vicarage Lane, a south west-north east aligned trackway which runs along the north western edge of the western end of the monument, is thought to have formed part of the original access route into the medieval village. The royal palace stood near the centre of Nonsuch Little Park, a planned landscape and deer park which covered an area of around 268ha. To the north was Nonsuch Great Park, later known as Worcester Park. Most of Worcester Park and the southern part of Nonsuch Little Park have been covered by modern housing developments. Some original features associated with the Tudor Little Park have been identified in the areas beyond the monument, within modern Nonsuch Park. These include, around 450m north east of the main palace buildings, the possible site of the great stables, and a length of in situ Tudor wall, thought to represent part of the original park-keeper's lodge, now incorporated into the north eastern garden wall of Nonsuch Park House. This is a later, mainly 18th century mansion 850m north east of the main palace buildings. Within its gardens is a chalk quarry thought to be the source of material used to construct the royal palace. The mansion house also contains an inscribed caen-stone date plaque of 1543 reset into its north western entrance porch. Nonsuch Park House and its garden wall are Listed Grade II. Just to the north east of the monument, a large, south west-north east aligned,'L'-shaped ditch, known as Diana's Dyke or the Long Ditch, has been interpreted as a Tudor drainage or ornamental feature. Further below ground archaeological evidence, earthworks and environmental remains relating to the approaches, grounds, water-supply and drainage of the palace can be expected to survive in the areas beyond the monument. Nonsuch became Crown property again in 1592 and Elizabeth I often stayed at the palace and hunted in the parks. Charles II granted the estate to the Babara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, in 1670, and, after a period of neglect, the buildings were demolished, the materials sold and the Little Park disparked. Later land use, including past cultivation and other agricultural activities, scrub growth and tree planting, and the excavation of anti-glider trenches during World War II, will have caused some disturbance to the monument. (Scheduling Report)
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:53

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