With the celebrations of the School’s 75th Birthday last year, we delved into the school’s past to learn more about life for students and staff through the decades. As is common knowledge, ‘Nonsuch High school’ was named after the legendary ‘Nonsuch Palace’, but it is surprising how little most of us actually know about ‘Nonsuch’. Firstly, ‘Nonsuch’ got its name two months into the building process which began on the 22nd April 1538, the 30th anniversary of Henry’s accession, because there was ‘no such palace elsewhere equal to its magnificence’. Notably, the palace was built from scratch, unlike most of Henry VIII’s palaces which were normally converted from other old buildings. It was a massive project, entailing the re-routing various main roads in order to give the King access to the best hunting grounds, and costing at least £24,000 (109 million in today’s money), predominately due to the rich ornamentation and scale of the building. The grandeur of the whole project could well have been a result of Henry’s ambition to compete with Francis I’s Château de Chambord in France.
Sadly, Henry died on the 27th January 1547 before construction was completed. Various factors, including Mary’s disinterest in hunting, led her to sell the hunting lodge onto the 12th Earl of Arndel who finished off the site’s construction after 1556. As is excitingly apparent in many Tudor novels, Elizabeth frequently stayed at ‘Nonsuch Palace’ and the site was returned to the throne during the last decade of her reign. It then passed through various hands as it was confiscated and sold off by Parliament after Charles I’s execution in 1649, but then returned again to the throne in 1660.
For a long time historians didn’t know too much about the site because it was taken down in 1682-3 by Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine who was Charles II’s mistress and had been given it in 1670. She used the money from re-selling the materials to pay off gambling debts- such a waste, think of the ever-so-convenient history trip which Year 8s could have taken annually when studying the Tudors! And although fragments of the building are held by the British Museum and some of the original wooden panelling can still be seen in the Great Hall at Loselely Park, only three contemporary images of the palace survive.
Apart from the discovery of pieces of pottery from the Palace when soldiers were digging trenches in WW2, Nonsuch Palace was left relatively untouched until 1959 when Martin Biddle excavated the site. Being one of the first post-medieval examples of archaeology meant that the excavation attracted over 60,000 people in a 12week period. The project was very successful and much information about both the layout of the site and its rich ornamentation was recovered. For more information on this, please visit http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba60/feat1.shtml. E.D