Architect creates model of monarch’s palace after discovering material on banks of Thames

Thursday, 17th February 2011

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Published: 17th February, 2011
by DAN CARRIER

IT was a piece of careful detective work sparked by squelching through Thameside mud – and the result is the first complete view for hundreds of years of a palace once occupied by Henry VIII.

Architect turned archaeologist Nicholas Wood, who lives in South Hill Park, was mudlarking along the banks of the Thames in Greenwich at low tide when he noticed wooden piles driven into the murky tidal banks. On closer examination, he realised they dated from Tudor times – and discovered they were part of a long lost grand palace that served as a riverside home for the Monarchy.

Mr Wood was so inspired by his chance discovery that he set about researching the building that once stood in the grounds of Greenwich Park – and has now built a highly detailed scale model from balsa wood, which he handed over to the Greenwich maritime museum this week.

“After I saw the posts and pieces of Tudor tiles and pottery sticking up from the mud, I called the Museum of London and they confirmed the area was once the site of a Tudor palace,” said Mr Wood.

He soon discovered plans and paintings long forgotten in museum archives and decided the time had to come to rebuild the home to kings including Henry VII and VIII, his ill-fated wife Anne Boleyn, and for a time Queen Elizabeth I, albeit on a rather smaller scale.

“I found that there were two good drawings done by a Dutchman called Wynaerd,” said Mr Wood. “They were very detailed.”

He also found an archaeological survey completed 40 years ago that found other foundations under the lawns of the Greenwich Observatory. 

To ensure he got the interiors right, Mr Wood was also given a behind-the-scenes tour of Hampton Court, dating from the same period, and was allowed to crawl among the rafters in the roof to check he got the construction techniques right. He also brought some invaluable personal experience to bear. 

Mr Wood said: “I lived at St John’s College, Cambridge, which was built between 1511 and 1518 – the same time as the palace – so I knew what the interiors would look like.”

“I was also able to check from the Wynaerd pictures and the foundations where fireplaces would have been: I married them up to the chimney pots above.”

And the posts that set him on his way were also correctly identified as supporting a slipway into the Thames for boats. 

“It all tied together quite nicely – I am quite good at measuring things and I was able to get its length and size right,” said Mr Wood.

And the finishing touches to the rooms have been helped by the legendary Gospel Oak doll’s house afficionado, Christine Baybars, which makes the palace feel like King Henry may walk through one of the studded oak doors at any time.

Mr Wood said: “I’ve included a Tudor chess set with a game on the go.”

His interest in mudlarking came about when he worked for the Greater London Council in the early 1980s.

“I was a housing architect for them and when the GLC was being run down I had some time on my hands,” said Mr Wood. “I used to use my lunch breaks scouring the beaches of the Thames just outside County Hall when the tide was low.”

Mr Wood also worked for the Saudi Arabian King Fahd on a project to map and rebuild parts of the country’s ancient capital, and has also worked on similar schemes in the Roman city of Pompeii. He has built replica models of the type of homes the people of Pompeii would have lived in.

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