John Inigo Richards made his first sketching tours of Kent in the early 1750s, possibly in the company of his teacher, George Lambert. In 1753, he produced a watercolour of St Radigund’s Abbey (British Museum), which was a favourite subject of Lambert.
Richards married in Orpington, in western Kent, in 1769, though no information has yet come to light to connect either him or his bride to that place. Nevertheless, he painted a number of views around
Orpington from that date, in oil and watercolour, and particularly village churches, such as those at Downe (1775), Hayes (1775), Knockholt (1776) and St Mary Cray (1796). He also worked at Woolwich, producing a panoramic sketchbook study of The old ‘Justice’ hulk lying off Woolwich (BM, 1777). The present drawings are of Eltham, which lies between Orpington and Woolwich.
Eltham Palace was built as a manor house by Anthony Bek, Bishop of Durham, in the late thirteenth century. It was developed as a royal residence between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, and known as ‘King John’s Palace’ after John II of France stayed there as a hostage of the English in 1364. The Great Hall, featured in the present image, was built by Edward IV in the 1470s. The palace as a whole had fallen into ruin by the late seventeenth century, and for two centuries was used as a farm. By the late eighteenth century, the buildings were considered Picturesque and appealed to such artists as Paul Sandby and J M W Turner, as well as Richards. By the 1820s, they were considered worth protecting, while in the 1930s, they were restored and extended by the millionaires, Stephen and Virginia Courtauld.
Eltham’s old parish church, St John the Baptist, as shown in the present image, was founded in the twelfth century, and extended in the sixteenth century. However, in the 1870s, it was demolished and
rebuilt to designs by Arthur Blomfield.