With archaeological evidence of Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman settlers and the foundations of a medieval palace under the East Lawn, the present site of Fulham Palace is steeped in history.
From around 700, when the site was acquired by Bishop Waldhere, it served as a Bishop’s residence for over 12 centuries. At least since Tudor times, Fulham Palace was the Bishop of London’s country home, providing the Bishop and his family with a healthy rural retreat in summer months.
The Manor of Fulham was bought by Waldhere, the Bishop of London, from Tyrhtilus, the Bishop of Hereford, about 700AD. The Manor covered the whole of what is now Hammersmith and Fulham, Ealing, Acton and Finchley. The Bishops owned other manors in Middlesex, Essex and Hertfordshire.
Fulham Palace was one of several bishop’s palaces within easy reach of London, essential for attendance at court and Parliament, but away from the over-crowded city. In the 16th century there were 177 homes for 21 bishops, now there are 43 homes for 42 bishops.
Fulham was mainly used as a summer residence until the 20th century when it became the principal home of the Bishop of London. Until 1939, the whole of the building (over 100 rooms) was lived in by one family and a full staff of servants kept for the house and garden.
When in residence, the Bishop would run the Diocese from the Palace, receiving candidates for ordination and entertain members of the church and other dignitaries from all over the world.
The manor house became known as Fulham Palace because bishops were considered to be ‘princes of the church’. The site was occupied by the Bishops from about 700 until Bishop Stopford retired in 1975.
As Lord of the Manor, the Bishop was entitled to rents, livestock and farm produce from his tenants; and in return maintained bridges and ditches. In the early Medieval period, many of those tenants were not freemen and could not leave the estate. The will of Bishop Theodred, who died in 951, reveals that he owned slaves. The Bishop was also entitled to any ‘great fish’ (whales) that swam up the Thames.
The Bishop’s Steward presided over the manorial court with a jury of local men. Often held at Fulham, the court dealt with matters of landholding as well as petty crime. By the 16th century most of the Bishop’s powers had been taken on by the parish vestry and tenants simply paid rent. The Bishop ceased to be Lord of the Manor in 1868. The parish vestry developed into Fulham Borough Council and was then amalgamated with Hammersmith in 1965.
Although the Bishop of London first acquired the Manor of Fulham about 700, there is evidence of much earlier occupation of the site. Excavations from 1972 to 1986 by Fulham Archaeological Rescue Group revealed Neolithic (3000BC), Iron Age (800BC-43AD) and Roman (200AD-500AD) artefacts.
The Palace site was also found to relate to a wider scheme of earthworks in Fulham, some of which are still visible. As a result the area with the moat was designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument in 1976.
As part of the first phase of the restoration project, preliminary excavations were carried out in 2004, and archaeologists kept a watching brief on site for the duration of works in 2005/06. Excavations to the north of the Palace revealed remnants of the 16th century state apartments, and two medieval features; a pitched tile hearth and a chalk well