As I mentioned in my post about Manor Hill House, there was another stately country home near Richmond to see. Ham House is situated on the banks of the River Thames, and was roughly across the river from Manor Hill House. There appeared to be two ways to get there. We could walk the mile or so back to town and cross the nearest bridge and then back down the river another mile and a half. Or we could take the ferry across for £1. Turns out the “ferry” was some boat-shack-dweller’s motorized raft. Whatever, I’ll take it.
Anyway, we made it undrowned. And walked the short distance up to the house. It’s amazingly green everywhere here, but seemed so particularly in Richmond. The setting was just as you would want it to be—complete with horses.
The house itself is spectacular. It’s a 17th century Baroque style house originally given by King James I to his son Prince Henry. That son died, and it went to the next son, Charles. Charles then gave it to his childhood friend and whipping boy (the poor guy who got punished on behalf of the prince when he misbehaved—because it wasn’t proper to whip a future King). And as usual it passed through a few more hands…
Finally it ended up with a countess (then duchess through marriage) named Elizabeth, Duchess of Lauderdale. She’s the one that really made the house her own creation.
I was really impressed by this house because it felt fully furnished. Lots of the palaces and big homes here aren’t well furnished because the former occupants had to sell everything off to support themselves or moved the good stuff to other homes.
Ham House was full of beautiful paintings, hangings and furniture. It’s always hard for me to appreciate much of it, because I can’t tell something valuable from something widdled in the barn—it all looks impressive to me.
To illustrate: while I was gawking around the Green Closet, a kindly old gentleman informed me, “You’re so tall, you don’t realize you’re blocking the most important painting in the house”. (There are few sentences more likely to trigger my death by embarrassment than one like that.) Turns out I was indeed blocking a tiny original, no-more-than-2inch miniture portrait of Elizabeth I hanging unceremoniously on the wall. I never would have noticed it there had he not asked me to move.
Of course, it was also pretty neat to see the difference between the up and downstairs living in the house. Just like Downton, the difference is stark. I was intrigued by the hidden doors in the house, where servants would have passed through when preparing the various rooms for the residents. I’ve included a picture of one of those doors and a few pictures from the kitchens.
The gardens were beautiful too, though I realized that I didn’t take many pictures of them.
A bit of trivia for those who like it: the outside of the house was used as Kensington Palace in The Young Victoria with Emily Blunt and there were rooms inside used in Ana Karenina with Kiera Knightly.
Anyway, here’s a little gallery of a few shots from the visit. Enjoy!