Nonsuch Palace

Nonsuch Palace by Hendrick Danckerts
Nonsuch Palace by Hendrick Danckerts

In 1538 Richard and Elizabeth Codington sold the manor of Cuddington to Henry VIII, who started building Nonsuch Palace. Henry VIII wiped away the old village of Cuddington including the old manor/mansion house and the church when he started work on Nonsuch Palace and created two parks - The Great Park and The Little Park. The Great Park was to the west of modern day London Road and covered about 911 acres - much of what is today Stoneleigh and Worcester Park. The Little Park was about 671 acres and was to the east of modern day London Road, covering what is today the land between Ewell and Cheam (including of course, modern day Nonsuch Park). The total area of the palace grounds was not just limited to the manor of Cuddington as Henry acquired about 150 acres each from the Manors of Ewell and from Malden.

Outline map showing the Great and Little Parks
Outline map showing the Great and Little Parks

The original idea behind the Palace was for a hunting lodge attached to Hampton Court Palace. The King would then have hunting grounds stretching from Hampton Court to Walton on the Hill. But soon Henry decided to build a palace to impress foreign kings, particularly the French King François I, with his wealth and power.

The Palace was built on the site of the original parish church and excavations in 1959 suggest that this church would initially have been just a plain hall (technically an undivided nave and chancel) dating back to the 1100s. The 1100s church was extended and by the time Henry acquired the manor it had some form of tower on its western face.

Close to the old church was the old manor house which together with a barn (approx. 155ft by 36ft), some stables and a wall, complete with gatehouse, formed an enclosed courtyard. The property was small and this is reflected in the size of the manor house. The main room, the hall, was only 24ft by 18 ft; the house had several bedrooms, three living rooms, 7 servant's rooms, and a kitchen. Of course there would have been a dovecote and kitchen gardens with orchard. Close to the old manor house were four separate farms complete with farmhouses, barns and stables.

Detail from the 1933 OS Map - click to enlarge.
Detail from the 1933 OS Map - click to enlarge.
The approximate location of the Palace and the location
of the smaller Banqueting House are marked in red.

Work started on the Palace on Henry's 30th birthday 22 April 1538, when an army of workmen started razing (totally clearing) the site. Building the palace took about 9 years, employed an estimated 500 workmen and after just 7 years had cost £24,536 (about £10.3m at 2008 prices based on RPI). This was much more than Hampton Court Palace which cost approx £16,000 and was about 3 times the size of Nonsuch! Back in 1538 a carpenter would only be paid about 6d a day (say £123.23 a day at 2008 prices. based on average earnings). To save costs Henry recycled stone taken from Merton Priory which had been surrendered to the Crown on 29th April 1538 as part of the dissolution of the monasteries, and work on dismantling the priory started within a week and soon 3,600 tons of stone were carted away.

It's not certain that all this stone went to Nonsuch but the palace needed a further 96 loads of stone from Reigate, and 364 loads of Liege and Caen stone were carried from Ditton. The palace also used some 259,000 tiles from Kingston and Streatham. Brick and lime kilns were built on site using 5 loads of bricks from Hampton Court. The lime kilns alone consumed 89 loads of lime. Many building supplies arrived from London via the Thames at Kingston including 250,000 nails supplied by just one ironmonger. Surrey and the southeast was scoured for the 1000 loads of timber which included 15,000ft of floor boards.

Crude outline of Nonsuch Palace (not to scale)
Crude outline of Nonsuch Palace (not to scale)

The palace was relatively small (only 330ft x 165ft) and shaped a bit like a square figure eight 8 as it consisted of two quadrangles sharing a common side. The main gatehouse was on the North Front and had brick and stone turrets built in the traditional Tudor style. This opened onto the outer courtyard. After crossing the courtyard and passing through the opposite wing you entered the inner courtyard. This was paved with stone and the ground floor walls were also made of stone but the upper floors were mainly stucco reliefs on timber frames. The reliefs, all near life size, were in three tiers - Roman emperors at the top; gods and goddesses in the middle and various scenes at the bottom - the Labours of Hercules on the west side, the Liberal Arts and Virtues on the east side, and Henry VIII together with Prince Edward forming the centre piece of the south side of the inner courtyard. The timber framing was clad with carved slate covered in gold leaf to set off the white reliefs. The South Front had a smaller gatehouse complete with clock, and towers at each end topped by onion-shaped cupolas and weather vanes; this is the face most frequently seen in pictures and drawings. Like the inner courtyard, the exterior of the South Front was covered with stucco reliefs made by William Kendall and his 24 workmen. The king's apartments were on the west of the inner courtyard with the queen's apartments on the east, and a gallery in the south wing. The gardens were formal with several statues and may have included representations of Ovid's Metamorphoses. It was the first major Renaissance building in England.

Many of the Palace workmen were Italian, including Nicolas Bellin of Modena. Bellin had worked at Fontainebleau and is thought to have been responsible for the elaborately carved gilded slates surrounding the stucco reliefs of the Inner Court and on the South Front. It has been suggested that the reason for using Italian workmen was partly to annoy the French King, who was still building Fontainebleau using the skilled craftsmen from Italy. Bellin was accused of defrauding the French King who asked for his repatriation back to France. Henry refused to do this as Bellin was Italian and not French so this must have been a particularly irritating to the French King!

Contemporary reports suggest that Nonsuch was a stunning building so it is no wonder that it very soon acquired the reputation of being one without equal in Europe (i.e. there was no such palace ever built before).

A woodcut of Nonsuch Palace
A woodcut of Nonsuch Palace

Henry VIII died in 1547 before the external decorations of the palace were completed and the Sheriff of Surrey, Sir Thomas Cawarden, was granted a 21-year lease by Edward VI on a dwelling and some land in the manor of Cuddington (sometimes now called Nonsuch) in 1547 at a rent of £5.5s.8d or about £1,800 at 2008 prices (based on RPI). Three years later he became Keeper of the King's House of Nonsuch, though this may have referred to the separate banqueting hall (Banketyng House) with its guest rooms. The banqueting hall was located some 300 yards to the south west of the palace.

Detail from a drawing by Joris Hoefnagel 153
Detail from a drawing by Joris Hoefnagel 1538

In 1556 Cawarden's lease ended unexpectedly (possibly confiscated, as in that year he was arrested for conspiracy) and the King's House together with the mansion of Nonsuch and associated land (in Nonsuch, Ewell, Cuddington, and Cheam, and the Little Park of Nonsuch) was granted to Henry Fitzalan, twelfth Earl of Arundel (and Lord Chamberlain to Henry VIII) by Queen Mary I in exchange for some cash and some estates in Suffolk.

The Earl is said to have completed the Palace and in 1559 entertained Queen Elizabeth there. It was reported that
'her grace had as gret chere every nyght and bankets; but ye sonday at nyght my lord of Arundell made her a grete bankett at ys coste as ever was sene, for soper, bankete, and maske, wt drums and flutes, and all ye mysyke yt cold be, tyll mydnyght; and as for chere, has not bene sene nor heard. On Monday was a great supper made for her, but before night she stood at her standing in the further park, and there she saw a course. At nyght was a play of the Chylderyn of Powlles and theyr mysyke master Sebastian Phelyps and Mr. Haywode; and after, a grete banket, wt drumes and flutes and the goodly bankets and dishes as costely as ever was sene, and gyldyd. . . . My Lord of Arundell gayfe to ye Quene grace a cubard of plate.'
The Earl died in 1580 leaving the bulk of his property to his son-in-law Lord Lumley. Lumley built up a splendid library and created the first Italianate garden in England. Queen Elizabeth made further visits to Nonsuch and obviously liked the area as in 1590-2 she purchased the palace and the Little Park in exchange for lands to the value of £534 (say £96,500 at 2008 prices, based on RPI). In 1599 it was said that
'Her Majestie is returned again to None-such, which of all other places she likes best'; and it was on the occasion of this visit that the Earl of Essex, having returned from Ireland without the queen's permission, burst into her bedchamber at ten o'clock in the morning, and though received kindly at the time, was committed four days later to the custody of the Lord Keeper.'
James I, who frequently used the Palace for hunting and racing, appointed Lord Lumley Keeper of the Palace and Little Park. (So the Earl inherited the Manor, then sold it to the crown in the early 1590s only to be appointed about 10 years later to run the manor) Lumley died in 1609, and was succeeded by his nephew, Splandian Lloyd. Meanwhile in December 1606 the Earl of Worcester was appointed Keeper of the Great Park at Nonsuch. There was a lodge in the Great Park which became known as Worcester House and the Great Park gradually became known as Worcester Park.

The manor of Cuddington (excluding Nonsuch Palace and the two parks) stayed in the Lloyd family till 1704 when it passed to Robert Lumley Lloyd, rector of St. Paul's, Covent Garden and the chaplain to the Duke of Bedford. On his death the chaplain bequeathed the manor, and other parcels of land in Surrey, to the Duke. In 1755 the manor was sold by the Duke to Edward Northey of Epsom who also that year bought the manor of Ewell.

Nonsuch from the North West (Unknown Flemish artist)
Nonsuch from the North West (Unknown Flemish artist)

James I settled Nonsuch Palace and the two parks on his Queen Henrietta Maria in 1625. Charles I is known to have made 4 visits to Nonsuch (1625, 1629, 1630, and 1632).

During the Civil War the palace and its estate was confiscated, along with other royal palaces, by Parliamentary Commissioners. Initially it was leased by the Government to Algernon Sidney (at £150pa.) but the Government later decided to use it as a bond against the unpaid wages of Colonel Robert Lilburne's regiment. Lilburne offered Nonsuch Palace and The Little Park to Major-General Lambert who apparently bought it at a discounted price (Lilburne's men would have had to accept just 60% of their unpaid wages). The Great Park and Worcester House were purchased in 1654-6 by Colonel Thomas Pride, who died in 1658 at Worcester House.

At the Restoration Nonsuch Palace and the two parks were restored to Queen Henrietta Maria and at her death Nonsuch Great Park (or Worcester Park) and Worcester House was leased by Charles II to Sir Robert Long for 99 years. One of the conditions of the lease was that Sir Robert should from time to time convert part of the premises into pasture without destroying the trees and bushes, so that the same might become fit for deer in case the king were minded to restore and make the same park a park as formerly.

During the plague of 1665 Nonsuch Palace was taken over as offices for the Exchequer (see also Samuel Pepys's diary entries 26/71663, 29/9/1665, 20/11/1665, and 28/11/1665) and in 1670 Sir Robert Long complained that Roundheads and the Exchequer staff had used many of the trees for fuel and timber and generally neglected the estate leaving it in a badly dilapidated state.

Sir Robert Long died in 1673 leaving the lease to his nephew, but despite this Charles II gave the estate to his mistress Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland who became Baroness of Nonsuch. Barbara dismantled the palace and quickly sold it and its contents to repay some of her gambling debts. (It is said that she lost £20,000, worth about £2.6m at 2008 prices (based on RPI), together with some jewellery in just one nights gambling) She also divided much of the parks into farms.

This page was researched and written by Peter Reed in 2009

If you want to visit the site of Nonsuch Palace we suggest that you follow The Nonsuch Trail. We also have an interesting page on the Nonsuch Palace Gardens.

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