My enthusiasm for historic houses is unparalleled.
I went to Ham House to look round the beautiful Stuart country home that’s only 10 miles away from central London.
Ham House was built in 1610 for Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshal to James I. When he died, the house was passed briefly to the Earl of Holdernesse, before becoming the home of William Murray, a friend of Charles I, in 1626. He remodelled the interior of Ham, making several additions to the building. When the civil war broke out in 1642, Murray joined the Royalist cause. He spent the rest of his life in exile.
He had no male heir, so Ham was passed to his eldest daughter Elizabeth, who is described as: ‘restless in her ambition, profuse in her expense, and of a most ravenous covetousness’ (!!!) Her first marriage was to Sir Lionel Tollemache, a very wealthy and cultivated squire. Even before his death, however, she was rumoured to have ‘formed an attachment’ to the First Duke of Lauderdale, John Maitland.
They married in 1672, three years after Sir Lionel Tollemache died, and set about refurnishing Ham House, making it a palatial villa filled with luxurious interiors, most of which survive to this day.
After the Duke’s death in 1682, the Duchess had to try and curb her lavish spending and was reduced to pawning her jewellery and art. She died at Ham in 1698. Ham was then passed down to her eldest son from her first marriage.
I proffer these photos of the house and gardens.
You enter Ham House through a huge hallway with a black and white marble floor. Check – checker – checkerboard.
And then onto the Chapel, which was originally the family’s main living room.
And up the great staircase, with paintings by followers of Titian, which have just had a good clean!
With teasing views of the beautiful formal gardens (more on those in a bit!)
The Hall Gallery used to be the main dining room, until the floor was punctured sometime between 1698 and 1728.
The North Drawing Room is where guests would retire after dinner.
It is kept a little bit dark in this room to protect the glorious tapestries that adorn the walls…
The Long Gallery is an eerily dramatic space.
Filled with portraits of Lady Margaret Murray and the Tollemarche family.
And into one of my favourite rooms: The Green Closet.
An intimate room designed to display miniatures and cabinet pictures, it is of the greatest rarity, not only as a survival from the reign of Charles I, but also because it retains many of its seventeenth-century and later contents.
I’d like to introduce you to the library of my dreams:
(Note to self: strengthen bookshelves when home!)
Complete with mid 18th century globes.
I like the shape of Australia and how it was called ‘New Holland’.
The Queen’s Antechamber had a beautiful marble fireplace and an oriental ornate screen.
Nipping quickly through the Queen’s Closet…
Into the Dining Room…
Where the wallpaper is made from leather, intricately cut.
The Volury Room acquired its name by 1683 from its birdcages which were constructed in 1672-4.
I went downstairs to explore the kitchen area.
Ham House was self-sufficient in milk, eggs, butter, bread, vegetables and meat.
And the beer cellar.
Beer was considered a safer alternative to water and it was drunk by all during the 17th century.
And the Duchess’ Bathroom.
Taking a bath in the 17th century consisted of a rigmarole of several stages lasting many hours (obviously things are very different now… ahem) The merits of bathing were well known to the Ancient world, but the practice had been somewhat disregarded by Early Modern Europeans. Characteristically ahead of her time, the Duchess of Lauderdale had this room purpose built in 1672-5.
As such, it’s the earliest surviving bathroom in the country!
And look at that fireplace.
Outside, the gardens are formal…
With a wilderness-twist. A wildernist.
As you walk around the gardens, it feels almost like you’re walking through outside rooms!
Under a beech archway…
You spy the Cherry Garden through hedges!
Having worked up quite an appetite, it was time to go to the kitchen garden.
The grand house always in sight, like an omniscient immovable force of grandeur.
Ham House is a fantastic place to visit – you must go this August!
On my visit I was wearing THE MOST COMFORTABLE trainers EVER. They’re as light as rice cakes.
Nike Internationalist Trainers, now in the sale here.