If you fancy escaping central London for a day, and heading somewhere a bit more leafy, then I can heartily recommend Richmond in west London. You can even take a boat all the way there if you like, and if you do venture out that way, then I can also recommend taking a wander down the Thames and stopping off at Ham House, a magnificent 17th Century mansion and National Trust property.
Ham House was built in 1610, but was leased to a courtier called William Murray by Charles I, as a gift in 1626. What did Murray do to receive such a splendid gift? Well, he’d probably earned it, as William Murray had the misfortune (or fortune, depending on how you look at it) of being the young Charles’s ‘whipping boy’. A whipping boy, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, was a young boy who was chosen to be schooled alongside a Prince (in this case Charles) and receive any punishment, meant for the future King, each time he misbehaved. It all seems a little unfair, but that’s how things were.
The two men became life long friends, and Murray set about renovating and decorating his new abode. Unfortunately, his enjoyment of his rather grand home was reasonably short lived, as Civil War broke out resulting in King Charles I having his head chopped off. No doubt Murray was thankful that Oliver Cromwell did not apply the ‘whipping boy’ protocol to the execution, but as a devout Royalist, found it necessary to leave the country. Murray’s daughter Elizabeth managed to keep the house away from Republican hands and no doubt breathed a huge sigh of relief in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne and all was well again with the wealthier echelons of English society. Her father unfortunately, did not live to see the restoration. However, Elizabeth wasted no time in returning Ham House to a place of entertainment and extravagance for all who moved in Whitehall circles and was rewarded by the restored King for her support during his exile with a rather handsome annual pension. Her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache died and Elizabeth married again, this time the Duke of Lauderdale, John Maitland.
Together, they transformed Ham House in to one of the finest Stuart houses in England and after Elizabeth’s death, the house was passed down through the children from her first marriage until it was passed to the National Trust in 1948.
That is a rather brief, whirlwind-esque appraisal of Ham House’s history, but if you have even the slightest interest in Stuart England, then it’ll give you a brilliant insight in to the life and times of 17th century courtiers.
The house itself is stunning. From the moment you step in to the aptly named Great Hall you really feel like you’ve rewound the clock 400 years. The equally aptly named Great Staircase, is just that and from then on you can loose yourself amongst the ornately decorated rooms, the furniture and textiles, wander down the Long Gallery and myriad of other assorted rooms and stroll around the gardens. The original walled kitchen garden still provides all the produce served up in the café.
The other thing I like about Ham House, is that you get a real sense of the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ life of the place, and can scour the kitchen and pantry and find out what life was like for those who served and worked behind the scenes to keep the whole place going. Whilst ‘upstairs’ you are guided through the secret passage ways, doors and staircases that pass discreetly between walls so that servants could move around the house completely unseen, popping out to collect plates or refill glasses with minimum interruption … as if they were ghosts.
Talking of ghosts, Ham House is also reputed to be haunted, by non other than Elizabeth herself and perhaps not too surprising for a Stuart mansion, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
So, if you’re in Richmond, why not pay Ham House a visit.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.