While exploring west London, we discovered Ham House and Gardens in Richmond and spent an amazing afternoon there with the family. This National Trust estate is very interesting for those who like historic houses (especially if they’re hiding secrets!) and will also satisfy those looking for great gardens and wide spaces. Let me introduce you to this perfect gem…
17th century Ham House
Ham House is one of the rarest estate in its category, as built in 1610 and still very authentic. It is a lovely red-brick Stuart mansion, on the River Thames, in Richmond.
It was the home of the Earl of Dysart and his daughter, Elisabeth, the Duchess of Lauderdale. The house has retained many of its original furnishings and displays a large collection of Dutch art in a long gallery.
The Earl of Dysart was educated with Prince Charles, son of James I of England. But he was also the young prince’s whipping boy. As we learnt there “It would have been unthinkable to actually beat the heir to the throne if he misbehaved, so the prince had a whipping boy who would take physical punishment on his behalf”.
Nevertheless, they both remained close friends as they grew to adulthood and even shared similar tastes in architecture, fashion and art.
In 1628 Charles gave the Earl of Dysart a lease on Ham House and the surrounding riverside estate in Richmond near London, where a new and fashionable house had just been built. But in 1637 he chose to modify the interiors to create a lavish set of rooms with sumptuous furniture to reflect his important position at court.
Unfortunately soon after the Civil War broke out and the Earl of Dysart spent the rest of his life fighting on the king’s behalf. But his daughter, Elizabeth, saved Ham House and made it the most beautiful and luxuriously furnished Restoration houses in England.
Since Elisabeth’s death the house remained in the Tolemache family (Elizabeth’s descendants from her first marriage) for the next 3 centuries with almost no changes, which is quite unique.
Ham House gardens
The gardens of Ham House were restored by the National Trust to a 17th century layout.
The gardens host the oldest orangery in Britain and an icehouse.
A few sculptures are scattered in the gardens, which enhances the perspectives…
The gardens also include a kitchen garden with many heritage crops, a maze-like area known as the Wilderness, and several summerhouses.
Spring is of course one of the best seasons to explore Ham House gardens and admire all the bulbs in full bloom. As said on the National Trust’s website, the head gardener Rosie Fyles has been inspired by the Garden’s history and accordingly transformed Ham House’s lawns (each the size of centre court at Wimbledon) and “filled them with crocus, tulips, muscari and wildflowers to create a show of colour and scent throughout the warmer months”.
What is valuable there is that the gardens offer several perspectives and layouts, where everyone can enjoy the quietness of the area and beauty of the estate.
Nobody mentioned this during our visit but this rumor was found online that Ham house was reputed to be “one of the most haunted in Britain”.
The Duchess of Lauderdale herself was said to walk the corridors and bedrooms. And another story, first reported in 1879, says that Elizabeth murdered her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache, to be able to marry the Duke of Lauderdale. Then room stewards have told finding mysterious footprints, and visitors spoke about a spectral cocker spaniel in the grounds.
All this will surely stimulate the curiosity of the most indecisive visitors … and even with no ghosts joining you during this visit of Ham House, I am quite sure you will enjoy wandering in the historic house and soaking in the sun in the manicured gardens 🙂
To go further:
Ham House: Ham Street, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 7RS
National Trust website