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“The Partners”: Seely & Paget and our archives

9 June 2023

Image above: a photo of the renovated Banqueting Hall in 1936, as designed by Seely & Paget. This picture appeared in a 7th August 1936 article in The Architect and Building News, found in our Eltham Palace ephemera.

John Seely and Paul Paget are best known for their work on Eltham Palace in the 1930s, transforming it from a medieval palace to an art deco getaway mansion for the wealthy Courtaulds.

Much is known about their professional relationship – they met at Trinity College, Cambridge, after which, in 1922, they went into the architecture business together. The extroverted Paget was the face of the company, and Seely was the mastermind designer.

The details of their personal relationship were known only to them, but their closeness is evident – they were referred to by each other and by friends and family as “the partners,” and they lived together at both 41 Cloth Fair in Smithfield and a holiday home on the Isle of Wight between 1930 and Seely’s passing in 1963.

In the past few weeks, our senior marketing officer made an exciting discovery among Royal Greenwich’s Eltham Palace ephemera: an original letter that Paul Paget wrote from his and Seely’s shared address in Cloth Fair on 12th January 1950. In it, Paget answers a research enquiry from Eltham College, regarding the heraldry pieces and restoration involved in their work at the Palace.

Read the full letter below (click to enlarge):

Though the restoration at Eltham Palace was quite controversial at the time, Seely and Paget evidently took considerable pride in their work. We see this in a back and forth tracked in the Times’s Letters to the Editor in summer 1936, preserved in our Eltham Palace ephemera, between both Seely and Paget and critical Times readers. The partners’ letters were written from both their Smithfield and Isle of Wight addresses. A highlight from the architect:

“Personally,” wrote Seely on Tuesday 28 July 1936, “I am not ashamed of the distant view of the Banqueting Hall which is now obtained, and the only lost feature of the foreground which I regret is the weeping willow. Alas ! not even the united taste and intelligence of three architects could preserve this from destruction by gale in 1934.

“On the chance of being invited to plan a cigarette factory, it would be really helpful to know in exactly what respect Eltham Hall commends itself to your correspondent as being so admirably designed for that purpose.

“Yours faithfully,
John Seely.”

Learn more about Seely & Paget, partners in architecture and in life, from English Heritage: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/histories/lgbtq-history/seely-and-paget-at-eltham-palace/