Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ham House: Fit for a King, or a Movie

We were especially glad that it was a beautiful, sunny day when I met up with a group of AWC ladies at the Richmond station Thursday morning, because we still had to walk a couple miles before we reached our destination.
This way to Ham House & Gardens
The walk took us along a lovely path beside the Thames, with gorgeous views of boats, manor houses, and the river.
Lovely views along the Thames
Before we knew it, we had arrived at Ham House, which was built in 1610 and given as a gift to William Murray by King Charles I in 1626.
Ham House
Why?  Well, they were childhood friends.  William had served as Charles' "whipping boy," which meant that whenever young Charles misbehaved, William was punished in his stead, since no one was allowed to lay a hand on the crown prince.  It was a much better position than it sounds, as William and Charles were educated together and became close friends.  Unlike some royal heirs I can think of (I'm looking at you, Joffrey Baratheon...) Charles did not want to see his friend punished for something he had done, so he tended to keep his behavior in check.  And when Charles became king, he rewarded William with this fabulous house and estate.  Not too shabby.

William left the house to his daughter, Elizabeth, who married the wealthy Duke of Lauderdale and transformed the house by building an addition on the back filling it with lavish furnishings.  The house remained in her family for 300 years before being turned over to the National Trust in 1948 with many of the original 16th-century furnishings intact.

Our tour began in the basement, where we saw the wine/beer cellar and the original kitchen.
The kitchen, with the original table
We also got to peek into a more "modern" kitchen across the hall.  In fact, we all stood in line to take a photo of this room.  Why?  Does it look familiar?  It was used as the filming location for the kitchen in the Crawley's house on Downton Abbey, where they set up a soup kitchen in season 2.
Scenes from Downton Abbey were filmed here!
As the tour continued, we learned that Ham House is a popular film location for movies and TV, thanks to its lavish 16th-century interiors, formal gardens, and stylistically different front and back exteriors, which can appear to be two different houses.

In the 2009 movie Young Victoria, Ham House doubled for Kensington Palace, and many scenes were filmed both inside and outside the house.  As a child, Victoria was required to hold someone's hand every time she went up or down the stairs, and all of those scenes were filmed on this amazing carved wooden staircase.
Carved wood staircase
Staircase detail
Other recent films made here include Never Let Me Go (2010) with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan and a 2008 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  Tellingly, most of us were much more intrigued by this information than that King Charles I himself had visited the house.

On with the tour... 
The bathroom, where the Duchess would have bathed in ass's milk
View of formal "Cherry Garden" from the house
Gallery with Grand Foyer below
Drawing room
Molding detail
Ham House is also known for its collection of beautiful curio cabinets.  Because of their age and fragility, they are only opened for one week each year, and we were fortunate enough to be there during that week!  I asked the woman who organized the tour if she had planned it that way, and she told me it was a happy coincidence.
Ivory cabinet
Lacquer cabinet
Inlaid wood cabinet
A few of the cabinets were displayed in the Long Gallery, along with the family's portrait collection.
The long gallery
Van Dyck self-portrait
King Charles I by Van Dyck
Just off the Long Gallery, the Green Closet contained an impressive collection of miniatures - and more cabinets!
The Green Closet
The original books from the Library had been sold by the family long ago, but the National Trust has re-stocked the shelves with books from another estate.
The Queen's Closet
Dining Room
Bed Chamber
Our tour guide took us outside and handed us off to another guide who gave us a brief tour of the gardens.  We started in the formal Cherry Garden, which consists solely of neatly-trimmed boxwoods and lavender.  So why is it called the Cherry Garden?  There are a few cherry trees around the perimeter.
The Cherry Garden
That's a lot of work!
At the back of the house were 8 squares of lawn surrounded by gravel paths which lead to the "wilderness" beyond -- which consists of trees, hedges, gazebos, and more naturalistic planting beds.  The gardens have been carefully restored to the way they were when Elizabeth Murray lived in the house.  How do they know what it looked like back then?  They have detailed inventories of the house and gardens -- and a painting.
View of the house from the wilderness
Painting of Elizabeth Murray and her husband in the garden,  c. 1675-9
It was early in the spring, but there were already some flowers to enjoy.
Daffodils and snakehead fritillary
Our tour guide left us at the Orangery, which has been converted into a cafe.  The kitchen garden out front not only demonstrates how large estates like this once grew their own produce, but the fruit, vegetables, and herbs from the garden are used in the cafe year-round.  We had a nice lunch in the cafe -- tasty carrot & coriander soup! -- and then had some time to explore the grounds on our own.
Orangery and kitchen garden
Fancy tulips
On the way back to the Richmond station, we stopped at Petersham Nurseries, a gorgeous garden center with a renowned cafe and tea shop.
Petersham Nurseries
It was such a beautiful day!  We wandered around a bit and then stopped in for a spot of tea.
Lovely salads
Irresistible cakes!
I was tempted by all the flowering plants, but didn't have a good way to get them home, so I admired them in the nursery while I enjoyed my tea and carrot cake with my AWC friends.

It was a perfect day for a perfect outing.  I hope there will be more to come...

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't go with the club, so I hope to make it there soon. Such a pretty part of the London metropolis!


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