The Tarn was part of the Great Park of the Royal Palace, which was on the site of what is now Eltham Palace. The Palace park consisted of the Great Park, Middle Park and Horn Park. The park was full of deer and a lot of hunting took place. Henry VIII was the last king to live at the Palace. He sheltered from the Great Plague here and Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood here. After Henry VIII died, it fell into decline.
During Oliver Cromwell’s rule, most of the deer were slaughtered. At this time the Tarn was actually called Starbuck’s pond and in May 1654, seven young men from Eltham including William and Thomas Starbuck were fined 2p each for playing cricket “on ye Lord’s day”.
In 1660 the Royal Manor of Eltham was granted to Sir John Shaw by Charles II to thank him for his help during the Civil War. Eltham Lodge was built in 1664 and the ice well that served the Lodge can still be found in the Tarn today. It was built between 1750 and 1760. The Tarn remained in Shaw family ownership until 1830, when it was returned to the Crown.
During the 1700s, most of the trees were felled to provide timber for shipbuilding at the local docks. From 1830, most of the area was farmland. In 1905 the land was purchased by Walter Claude Johnson, an architect who lived in Hyde Park Gardens, London. He built the house next to the Tarn today that was originally part of the Tarn. When completed, he sold it to Edwin Churchill, a famous gunsmith, in 1907. Churchill spent £500 on the house and grounds and named it “The Tarn”.
Greenwich Council acquired the land in 1934 from the Crown and landscaped the Tarn, much of which still exists today.