|Royal Blackheath Golf Course||Greenwich|
Royal Blackheath Golf Course is laid out on the former Great Park of Eltham Palace, incorporating the new landscape of Eltham Lodge that was established after Sir John Shaw took over the lease of the Palace estate from the Crown in 1663. Eltham Lodge was built for Shaw in 1664 and is now the golf clubhouse. Other remnants of the earlier landscape include C17th garden walls and an early-mid C19th garden pavilion. The history of golf at Blackheath dates back to the arrival of James I from Scotland and the Blackheath Golf Club was instituted in 1608. The prefix Royal was added in c.1849 and in 1923 the club moved from Blackheath to merge with Eltham Golf Club, which had been established in 1892, leasing the former Great Park for its golf course.
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The golf course is laid out on parkland formerly belonging to Eltham Palace known as Great Park, one of three deer parks within the estate of the Palace, and incorporating the later landscape of Eltham Lodge. The royal palace at Eltham originated in medieval times when a moated manor house was acquired in 1305 by the future King Edward II and later given to his wife Isabella. It was an important royal palace until the C16th when the palace at Greenwich became the favoured residence, although hunting continued at Eltham. During the Civil War Cromwell's soldiers were billeted at the Palace and many parkland trees were felled to provide timber for ship-building. After the war, the estate lands reverted to the Crown and were thenceforth largely farmed.
In 1663 Sir John Shaw, who had bankrolled Charles II in exile, took over the lease of the estate from the Crown, and built Eltham Lodge here in 1664, on the site of an earlier lodge of Great Park. Designed by architect Hugh May (1622-84), who pioneered the classical revival, this fine red-brick building was the first Palladian mansion in London. Eltham Lodge is now used as the golf clubhouse; it was extensively refurbished in the mid-C18th and much of the interior dates from that time. From 1845-89 it was the home of Mrs Anne Wood, the aunt of Kitty O'Shea, who was mistress of the Irish nationalist and statesman Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-91). In December 1889, Kitty's husband William, formerly a strong supporter of Parnell, filed for divorce on the grounds of her adultery with Parnell, which led directly to his replacement as leader following a split in the party as a result of the scandal. The O'Shea Room in the clubhouse recalls this past connection. When the railway line to Eltham was built in 1866, Mrs Wood successfully argued that it should be constructed to the south of the Great Park.
The mansion, now in the middle of the golf course, was set in fine grounds with the south front overlooking the landscape with woodland belts to the west and east, the latter having a large pond. A smaller pond fringed with willow in the north-east is known for its great-crested newts. Apart from some notable London plane trees, there are few mature trees that pre-date the golf course layout, with golf course planting including Leylandia, willow and other species. Near the house are remnants of C17th garden walls, a C17th cottage much altered in the C19th and an early-mid C19th wooden garden building is to the south-east. Other remnants of the earlier landscape survive elsewhere, notably in The Tarn (q.v.), which contains an ice house.
In 1892, the Great Park land was leased from the Crown by Eltham Golf Club for its golf course, and in 1923 a new lease was taken when Eltham Golf Club amalgamated with the Royal Blackheath Golf Club, when the latter club moved from its course on Blackheath (q.v.). The use of Blackheath as a golf course dates back to the accession of James I after the death of Elizabeth I, when on arrival from Scotland he moved into the royal palace at Greenwich. Golf (or ‘goff’, as it was then called) had been played in Scotland for some 150 years but was not played in England; members of the new king's Scottish entourage probably played on the heath as early as 1603. James's son, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, is known to have played golf here in 1606, and Blackheath Goff Club was instituted in 1608, although there are no documentary records prior to 1745. As such it is generally regarded as 'the oldest golf club in the world'. The club's first course on Blackheath was 5 holes, which was extended to 7 holes in 1844. In around 1849 the club changed its name to the Royal Blackheath Golf Club; the Club had the Prince of Wales as its Royal Patron from 1899, and later Edward VII; the Duke of Edinburgh remains a Royal Patron. At the outbreak of WWI the Club's golf competitions were postponed and in 1915 members were made Honorary Members of Eltham Golf Club. When the club formally amalgamated with Eltham Golf Club and moved to Eltham, the decision to cease playing on Blackheath was largely due to the increase in other sports played there as well as cars, and golf is now banned on the heath.
During WWII, Eltham Lodge was occupied by the Home Guard and the little-used golf course suffered bomb damage, principally when a landmine landed just outside the front of the Lodge, damaging both house and green. Repairs to the house were commenced in 1954 and in 1956 a new lease of the Lodge and course was negotiated with the Crown. Some improvements were made to the design of the course in 1970, undertaken by Frank Pennink, and in the same year a museum and library were created to celebrate the history of the club, and display historic artefacts. The Club celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2008.
Bridget Cherry & Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 2: South (Penguin) 1999; Darrell Spurgeon 'Discover Eltham and its Environs', Greenwich Guide-Books, 2000; Royal Blackheath Golf Club website History and Timeline sections: www.royalblackheath.com