Eltham Lodge - Where Perfection Meets Convenience
Book review by Fiona Baker - Archive Data Manager - Parks & Gardens UK
John H Bunney’s evident appreciation of Eltham Lodge and its history shines through in this both well researched and captivating book. The book builds a picture of the Lodges’ remarkable past through the history of the Shaw family, (merchant traders and property owners). From the Lodges’ inception and build by Hugh May at the time of the Restoration of Charles II to its current presentation, which is home to the Royal Blackheath Golf Club.
With an honest introduction detailing the time taken to research, draft and write the book, it provides an encouraging nod to anyone who may who may choose to take on a project like this. Writing a book is a time consuming and lengthy process.
It is clear that this was a pure work of both admiration for the history of Eltham Lodge, it’s residents, visitors and its architect but also a personal project which enabled the writer to research and share imagery used within is wonderful, and presents the estate in all its grandeur. The depth of research in the book is extraordinary and provides a very descriptive journey through not only Eltham Lodges’ colourful history but also its influential Restoration Architect.
The pamphlet-length notes enable the book to be easy to read and enables the reader to ‘dip in and out’ of the content. It feels that the marriage of both the architecture and the park and gardens within the book provides a complete view of the estate and also brings to light the sheer brilliance of Hugh May. Highlighting May’s impact not only on designing buildings but his inclusion of designing the landscape and gardens surrounding Eltham Lodge is eloquently presented in this book.
It is unfortunate that May left little or no trace of his drawn creations but the research in the book from other sources has revealed great depth to his life, career and contacts. From the creation of Eltham Lodge, being one of three ‘Commissioners for Rebuilding the City of London” following the Great Fire, to his remodelling of parts of Windsor Castle; May was prolific and influential.
Eltham Lodge – Where Perfection meets Convenience, provided a well-rounded and in-depth history of Eltham Lodge and its evolution. This is a book for those with an interest in the historic Eltham Lodge but also those interested in Hugh May and his influential architecture and life. I feel this would provide a robust starting point for anyone looking to find out more about May and his work and to find out more about Eltham Lodge.
John Bunney is a retired member of HM Diplomatic Service, appointed OBE in 1997. John is a Middle East specialist with over 40 years’ experience of working in that region. On retiring from the Foreign Office in 2000, John worked with the senior management of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the World’s Nuclear Policeman - in Vienna to advise on the development of their then nascent all-source information analysis and evaluation process. In 2004, he set up his own consulting company, which delivered solutions to clients in different parts of the Middle East in business transformation and governance training for Governmental clients. He retired from business in 2019.
A life-long golfer, John was elected Captain of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in 2008; the year in which the Club celebrated 400 years of golf on Blackheath. In 2009, he began researching the history of the unique Restoration (1663) building that is Eltham Lodge – and with some interruptions due to business or other imperatives – he published Eltham Lodge in 2021.
John is currently working on a biography of one of the most fascinating later tenants of the Lodge, the nonagenarian and formidable Aunt Ben Wood, whose favourite niece and companion at the Lodge was Kitty O’Shea and whose numerous family contained two Admirals, a Field Marshal and VC winner, MPs, a Lord Chief Justice, extensively published authors, musicians and marriages into Family Brewers such as the Whitbreads and the Courages.
John is fluent in Arabic and French and also speaks German. He is married and lives in Westminster in London.