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Pilgrimage to Nonsuch Palace
April 10, 2016£30
A Journey Upstream
In Search of London Lost
Toward a King’s Stone Dream
That Isn’t There.
Come Join Us
The Nonsuch pilgrimage begins in Kingston, the morning of Sunday 10th April, 2016. Tickets are limited, available on a ‘first-come first-served’ pre-booking basis, and cost £30 p/p. Contact us here to book, or for any queries about the event.
This pilgrimage is open for people with or without religion. We will visit various holy places along the way, but not solely in the form of Churches – we shall also meet the Coronation stone used to crown eight Saxon Kings – and the oldest road bridge in Britain – and of course the River Hogsmill, our guiding path, whose winding path shall carry us through London’s ancient green wilderness.
Nine miles is not an especially short distance, but we shall walk slowly, with lots of stops, so this pilgrimage should be suitable for most people of average fitness. But if you don’t usually walk this far, do expect a few aches afterward. Walking is intensely moderate exercise.
The Renaissance was a time of cultural destruction and rebirth. Henry VIII is usually remembered for his negative embodiment of this cycle – divorces, deaths and demolition. But we should not forget what he created. And perhaps the greatest building Henry ever built is the least remembered: the legendary palace of Nonsuch.
Nonsuch Palace was Henry VIII’s most ambitious architectural work, and opened a whole new era of Renaissance style in England. It was created to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a Tudor son – Henry’s son Edward (the future King Edward VI) in October 1537. The palace was named ‘Nonsuch’ to represent Henry’s intention that it should be ‘non-pareil’, unequalled before or after.
Tear it Down – Build it Up
Built from the stones of the demolished Merton Priory, London’s most important monastery, and sited on land made available by the forced clearance of the entire village of Cuddington, Nonsuch was a classic Henrician act – great destruction to enable great creation. Henry employed the finest Italian craftsmen of its day, winning them from the employment of the King of France. More money was spent on Nonsuch than even Hampton Court cost. No expense was spared.
Nonsuch palace was hardly used by Henry himself. Its vast stucco mythological friezes are interpreted as designed to instruct for his son, Edward, and also to outdo his rivals in Europe – especially Rome.
It was Elizabeth I who seemed to enjoy Nonsuch the most. She spent significant amounts of time here, apparently taking the waters regularly. And culture naturally followed the Queen. It was to Elizabeth here that Thomas Tallis’s masterpiece Spem in Alium was first performed.
Today, the most remarkable thing about Nonsuch Palace is its total disappearance. Nothing whatsoever remains of this once incredible building – except its memory and the impact of its having happened. Every last stone was sold to pay off the astonishing gambling debts of Charles II’s mistress, Barbara Countess of Castlemaine, who allegedly once lost 2.5 million pounds in a single evening.
So, on Sunday April 10th 2016, we are making pilgrimage to this invisible palace. It is a journey on foot of nine miles, to encounter Henry’s lost dream of splendour.
After the empty space of Nonsuch, our pilgrimage will culminate at the tiny chapel of Lumley, the surviving chancel of the Medieval Church of Cheam (today the oldest building in Sutton). This micro-church is an elaborate memorial to John Lumley, a post-Henry owner of Nonsuch. In Lumley Chapel, at last, we can access Nonsuch Palace in a way we cannot do anywhere else in existence – we can see inside it. Here in the alabaster relief of Jane Lumley’s elaborate tomb, we can at last catch a fleeting glimpse of Nonsuch palace, in this single existing depiction of its interior. It is a tantalising vision, but we can say we saw it. And so, our pilgrimage is complete.
Going Against the Flow
This pilgrimage route is defined by the Hogsmill River, which we follow from its ‘end’ (into the Thames at Kingston) to its source (the spring pool at Ewell). The fresh spring waters of Ewell were one of Henry’s motivations for choosing this location for Nonsuch. The Renaissance fashion for Roman-style bathing and mineral water medical treatment were embraced by Henry’s court doctors, and Nonsuch combined the health and pleasure aspects of bathing, with Italianate fountains and hot-rooms. The Ewell water was long-famed as healthy, containing Magnesium Sulphate – ‘Epsom Salts’ – which would later give this area fame as a natural source of the purgative chemical.
This being water fit for a king or queen, we will naturally drink some – with proper filtration (but not too much).
Be sure to wear comfortable clothing, suitable footwear, and bring protection from wet weather. Don’t forget a bottle of water – though this will be available en route. Also, please bring lunch and delicious healthy treats to share with the group. As Henry would have done, we intend to feast…