Thursday, 25 November 2010

Eltham Palace:Part One

The last time I had made my way to Eltham Palace it had been on a beautiful spring morning. Henry VIII was in residence along with his chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey, his court jester, Will Somers and his long suffering first wife, Catherine of Aragon. We were told we could seek a private audience with the Queen and shown the correct way to approach her. If ever a place was the perfect setting to be schooled in courtly protocol then it was Eltham Palace. Fifty years after work on the Great Hall had been started Cardinal Wolsey had tried to introduce radical reforms to the running of Henry VIII’s court through the so called Eltham Ordinances, named after the palace where he had first devised them. Wolsey fell victim to the caprices of his royal master and was removed from office before his reforms could be properly implemented. Only his death from natural causes whilst en-route to the Tower spared him from being executed as a traitor in London.

Addressing a question to Catherine of Aragon was a tad embarrassing for me as I have always been a keen fan of Anne Boleyn’s, a fact I thought it wise to keep to myself on that occasion. Nonetheless, I did take the opportunity to quiz Catherine. I cannot recall what I asked her but it was evident from her deft reply that she knew her onions, or rather the actress playing her certainly did. Such actors were required to do far more than simply dress up in the appropriate costume. They were also expected to answer any questions that came their way whilst staying in character. Although I have seen Henry VIII on a number of occasions, mainly at Hampton Court, I have refrained from approaching him. I will never forgive him for what he did to his second wife. I once spied his daughter, Elizabeth I bearing down on me with her courtiers and I steered well clear. I also remember a feast being prepared for Elizabeth’s Scottish successor, James I, at Hampton Court. One of the cooks in the great kitchen invited me to tap his stomach to prove that its rounded shape was due to the padding of his doublet and not middle-aged spread. He also allowed me to sample some of the food they were preparing as well. Last year Henry and her last wife, Katherine Parr, came to Hampton Court by river from the Tower of London to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's coronation. To my chagrin, despite waiting in the rain for several hours all I saw of their arrival was the blue tips of the boatmen’s oars as they raised them in salute.  
 When I returned to Eltham Palace recently it was on a bleak November day with the rain cascading down. No Tudor monarchs and their entourages were present. As for myself, I felt less like a 15th century courtier and more like the heroine of a 19th century novel. My hacking cough would have put any consumptive Victorian heroine to shame with its heart rending volume. However I was determined to make my way across to Eltham as my friend Ali had expressed a desire to visit the palace with me. Whereas I was dressed like a Victorian maiden with my long black frock coat and ballerina length needlecord dress, Ali looked for all the world like a 1930s aviatrix in her leather flying jacket. In that respect she looked far more at home at Eltham Palace than I did for the palace is a magnificent blend of two distinct architectural styles: a medieval hall with a grand art deco mansion attached.

Like Croydon Palace, Eltham Palace had once been at the heart of the medieval and Tudor political world. The original manor of Eltham had been owned by various members of the clergy ever since the time of Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half brother to William the Conqueror. Some historians now believe that it was Odo who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, that legendary masterpiece of propaganda celebrating William, the Duke of Normandy’s, victory over his rival King Harold for the throne of England. Two hundred years later, having created a park around the manor house, the then Bishop of Durham, Anthony Bek made a gift of the manor house and land to the Prince of Wales, soon to be King Edward II. Bek had once been a principle adviser to King Edward I. However his high handed manner had won him enemies within the clergy and even the wrath of the king himself when it seemed Bek had overreached himself and arbitrarily imprisoned a royal official. Such a flagrant disregard for royal authority led to Bek’s lands being confiscated in 1305, the very year he astutely made over the manor of Eltham to the prince. Fortunately for Bek King Edward I died shortly afterwards and his son and heir later restored Bek’s confiscated property but kept Eltham for himself. King Edward II magnanimously allowed Bek to continue living in at Eltham until the bishop died peacefully in his bed there in 1311.

It was another Edward, King Edward IV, who started building the Great Hall in 1475.  Subsequent monarchs were similarly keen to enlarge and set their mark upon the place. Henry VIII had spent much of his boyhood at Eltham and it remained one of his favourite palaces even after he came to the throne. Amongst other changes he had made to the palace was the construction of a chapel on a par, in terms of scale at least, with Edward IV’s Great Hall. Henry’s reign probably represented the zenith of Eltham’s life as a palace. After his death it featured less prominently in the life of the court. During the English Civil War Eltham Palace became, in the words of the Harry Bedford and Terry Sullivan 1920s song: One of the ruins that Cromwell knocked about a bit.

By the time the diarist John Evelyn came to visit the palace on 22nd April 1656, he was shocked at the state of the palace and Henry VIII’s chapel. In his diary he wrote: ”I went to see his Majesty's house at Eltham, both palace and chapel in miserable ruins, the noble woods and park destroyed.” Although the Archbishops’ Palace at Croydon survived the Civil War relatively untouched, it too fell into a perilous decline after the archbishops vacated the palace for good in the 18th century. Whereas the medieval Great Hall at Croydon was turned into a washhouse, the Great Hall at Eltham Palace suffered the equally ignominious fate of being turned into a barn, albeit a barn that inspired a watercolour by one of England’s greatest artists, J M W Turner. At one point it seemed as if the Great Hall at Eltham seemed doomed to be demolished by royal command as George IV’s architect wanted to incorporate elements of the building fabric into the royal palace at Windsor. Whether to cock a snook at the deeply unpopular king or from a genuine desire to save such an important witness to English history, powerful forces were roused to ensure the Great Hall’s continued survival with essential building work being carried out to halt further decline. Such remedial work was carried out during the 19th century and on into the 20th.
In the 1930s Stephen and Virginia Courtauld took out a lease on the land and were able to obtain planning permission to build a substantial mansion adjoining the Great Hall, designed by the architects John Seely and Paul Paget. Both the architects and the Courtaulds believed that the exterior of the art deco mansion constituted a sympathetic addition to the Great Hall, its style influence by the work of Sir Christopher Wren’s additions to the Tudor palace of Hampton Court. What they had failed to realise was that William and Mary had always intended to demolish the Tudor buildings at Hampton Court palace but money and death had meant that Wren was never in a position to fulfil his ultimate dream of erecting a completely new Stuart palace on the site of the Tudor. To my great regret the Stuart vandals did manage to completely demolish that other great symbol of Henry VIII’s reign: Nonsuch Palace. For those looking for an unusual Christmas present Christies will be auctioning off in December a 1568 watercolour of Nonsuch Palace, painted by the Flemish artist Joris Hoefnagel. It has been valued at the princely sum of one and a half million pounds.
 In terms of the interior of the mansion, the Courtaulds were not constrained by any notions of historical authenticity. Like their royal predecessors at Eltham, the Courtaulds were able to command the most fashionable and sumptuous designs for their home as well as incorporating the latest technical advances such as underfloor heating for the renovated Great Hall.

The Courtaulds spent most of the Second World War at Eltham despite the damage inflicted by enemy bombing. Apparently they had their own gas proof bomb shelter in the basement. When they did finally move out in 1944 they handed over the property to the Army Educational Corps. It remained in the hands of various army bodies until it came under the remit of English Heritage in the last decades of the 20th century. They have restored the interior of the mansion to how it looked in Stephen and Virginia’s time whilst also giving a nod to the latter occupation of the house by the army.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Ham House Part Four:Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady's chamber

When the Duke of Lauderdale swapped bedrooms with his wife, he retained his original dressing room, now set at some distance from his new bedchamber. Perhaps the inconvenience betrayed his undiminished infatuation with his wife. According to the less than charitable Bishop Burnet in his “A History Of My Own Time” the Duke’s character was greatly changed by the baleful influence of his spouse and not to the good. Burnet declared that the Duchess “came to have so much power over the lord Lauderdale, that it lessened him much in esteem of all the world; for he delivered himself up to all her humours and passions. All applications were made to her: she took upon her to determine every thing: she sold all places, and was wanting in no methods that could bring her money, which she lavished out in a most profuse vanity. As the conceit took her, she made him fall out with all his friends, one after another: with the earls of Argile, Tweedale, and Kincardin, with duke Hamilton, the marquis of Athol, and sir Robert Murray, who all had their turns in her displeasure, which very quickly drew lord Lauderdale's after it”. Bishop Burnet then goes on to reveal the real reason why he is so scathing about the Duchess. “If after such names it is not a presumption to name my self, I had my share likewise. From that time to the end of his days he became quite another sort of man than he had been in all the former parts of his life.”

The Duke’s Dressing Room has a concealed door which had been left ajar on the day I visited and a figure of a dummy board or silent companion placed in the doorframe. It is dressed in the scholastic robe of the learned retainer, who acted as secretary to the Lauderdales and would have used this route to gain direct access to the Duke to discuss business matters. This room contains a fine collection of Chinese blue and white porcelain from the late 17th century Kangxi period. I wondered whether the two schoolgirls were given one of these pieces to practice on for their Duke of Edinburgh award. The crimson damask wall hall hangings are modern reproductions and therefore much brighter than their time dimmed counterparts in the Queen’s Closet.

The naval paintings inset over the doors of the Duchess’s bedchamber hints at the room’s more masculine origins. Although Brimstone Butterfly Towers could fit comfortably into this one room, even I was stunned to realise that it had once served as the nursery for the Duchess’s eleven children by her first husband, Sir Lionel Tollemache. The four poster bed with its plumed feathers and the scarlet and black hangings are also modern reproductions. The large silver and ebony framed mirror on display in the bedchamber is the very looking glass through which the Duchess would have gazed at herself. Concealed behind one of the doors is a narrow wooden staircase leading to the bathroom in the basement. Although I have descended down these stairs in the past, when I went at Halloween the way was closed off.

The Duke’s Closet is immediately beyond his former bedchamber. Again, it was a rather jolly room with its scarlet wall hangings. It contained a veneered wooden writing cabinet and displayed yet more blue and white Chinese porcelain. It seems this room, along with the Library closet, were provided with what must be some of the earliest known examples of double glazing to help the Duke keep warm. To prevent draughts the Duke could also draw together the two curtains hanging inside the door.     

Leaving the Duchess’s bedchamber I came out into the West Passage, with its striking display of leather fire buckets. Seeing them reminds me of a scene in Peter Greenaway’s 1982 film “The Draughtman’s Contract.”  The country house setting for this film also has a hall with similar fire buckets, although these, according to one of the female characters, are said to be already filled with water to which she has “added a little of her own” over the years. The leather buckets at Ham House remain reassuringly empty of stale water drawn from the well or from a passer-by suddenly caught short.

The dark brown panelled Stewards’ Hall like the Back Parlour beyond is noticeably plainer in style than the rest of the house. This is hardly surprising given that they were used by the more senior servants rather than family members or guests. The Steward’s Hall contains the wheelchair in which William Tollemache, the childless 9th Earl of Dysart who died in 1935, was wheeled around in by his valet George Horwood. The bay window of the Back Parlour looks out towards the statue of the River God at the North Front of the house. Although it too has plain dark brown panelling it does have a marble fireplace and inbuilt cupboards, though the latter concealed only mundane cleaning supplies and not even 17th century ones at that. Of all the family photographs displayed upon a side table, one of them is especially poignant. It shows a young man in an officer’s uniform from the First World War. It is of Lieutenant John Eadred Tollemache. He was killed in action on the 21st August 1916 whilst leading his troops in the Battle of the Somme. He was just 24 years old.

Further along the West Passage is the buttery. It still has its original Greek key edged panelling dating from when the house was first built for Sir Thomas Vavasour in 1610. Apparently linen, sliver and glasses were stored here and this was where the butler took one last look to ensure that the food passed muster before allowing the footmen to carry it off to the Marble Dining Room beyond.

I then ascended the narrow wooden staircase to the range of domestic offices to be found below. In the kitchen by its great fireplace a young man sat at a table and gamely polished a copper jelly mould. The shelves around were filled with copper vessels that must have been a nightmare to keep clean in the not so distant past, when the house was not besieged by hordes of volunteers anxious to do their bit to earn their Duke of Edinburgh award. .

The Servants’ Hall could only be glimpsed through a glass panel in a door. It seemed more redolent of the late 19th and early 20th century than the 17th, with a decorative length of lace hanging from the mantle shelf, a wall clock, a long table and several winged armchairs.
I have expressed  disappointment  in the past that the Duchess’s luxury bathroom would only have held a wooden bathtub. I had imagined that it would have had at the very least a sunken marble bath with and hot and cold running water. Maid servants haring around with pitchers of water do not count. Henry VIII had plumbed water in his bathrooms as did King William of Orange back in his Dutch homeland.  On a raised level are the original black and white marble floor tiles upon which the bath tub would have been placed. In the corner is an early 20th century bathtub complete with multiple jet shower fixtures. In the other corner is the door to the small staircase leading up to her bedchamber. After she had bathed the Duchess would have walked down the steps and across the parquet flooring to a special four poster bed, where she could lie down swaddled in towels to recover from such a rigorous ordeal. A small fireplace lined with blue and white Delft tiles would have helped ensure the Duchess did not catch a fatal chill afterwards. Somewhat surprisingly, the Duchess was sufficiently enlightened to commission a separate bathhouse for her servants, although I doubt if they would have been so mollycoddled afterwards as she was.Whilst I was looking around the Duchess’s bathroom trying to commit it to memory, out of the blue a blonde haired woman with a heavy foreign accent started asking me questions about the place. I was more than happy to oblige and related all that I had gleaned on that and previous occasions. When I had finished the woman seemed impressed and asked how I happened to know so much about the subject. I told her I was an amateur historian. I did toy with the idea of mentioning my website but refrained from doing so. Perhaps I should carry around discreet calling cards with me on such field trips.
A small unfurnished room in the basement was empty except for several photograph albums taken when Ham House had been used for location filming, such as scenes for the recently released film “Young Victoria”. I have yet to see the film although I have it on DVD. I shall be fascinated to see which parts of the house I can identify from it.

The Duchess’s stillroom must be accessible from within the main body of the house, although nowadays visitors enter it from the courtyard outside. Like so much at Ham House, the Still room is a rare survivor from the 17th century. It would have been used by the Duchess to prepare essential oils for her perfumes and to concoct herbal medicines with which to treat her family and household. With hindsight such traditional home-made remedies were probably just as efficacious as those offered by the male doctors of the time who, despite all their vaunted learning, in reality knew precious little about how to effectively treat disease and illness.

Near the still room is the domed roof of the icehouse, the orangery and the dairy. Althought the exterior of the dairy at Ham house is of plain red brick and as such no match for the more picturesque exterior of the dairies at Kenwood House the interior far outshines Kenwood. The marble counter tops are supported by cow shaped legs and the pretty ivy foliage tiles all date from the 18th century. Apparently the dairy maid was considered at the very bottom of the pecking order of servants at Ham House. Yet she would have had the last laugh. The very nature of their work meant that dairymaids were prone to contracting cowpox, which left unsightly blisters on their hands and arms. However it also gave them a natural immunity to the more deadly smallpox, which often caused dreadful scarring to the faces of those it did not kill. In 1774 a Dorset farmer, named Benjamin Jesty decided to give his children a dose of cowpox in a desperate bid to spare them from the ravages of smallpox after realising that his two dairy maids seemed immune to the smallpox contagion, which had felled members of their own family. His treatment worked and Jesty was inspired to offer similar vaccinations (from vacca, the Latin for cows) to others. He also received a great deal of ridicule for his troubles from certain quarters. It would take a further two decades until Edward Jenner came to prominence for carrying out and taking the credit for similar work. When I first visited Egypt I was placed in the strange position of having to have a smallpox inoculation before I would be allowed into the country, having just come from England. It was thought that the disease had been wiped out globally. Very tragically a medical photographer, named Janet Parker, died in 1978 after being accidentally exposed to a sample of the deadly pathogen held in the Birmingham University Medical School for research purposes.

The last building I visited was the café housed in the former Orangery. With its cream coloured walls, high ceilings, busts of figures from the classical world in niches on the wall and a fine fireplace with a large gilt mirror above it, the Orangery serves both as a general café and an elegant reception room for weddings, after the ceremony itself has been held in the Great Hall. The Orangery and the Dairy constitute two of my favourite rooms at Ham House, their elegant simplicity more to my tastes than the florid baroque interior.

I had little time to spare exploring the gardens but I did manage to walk along the gravel terraces on the South Front, whose façade is noticeably different to the North Front. In the Cherry Garden to the East of the house, I could see examples of lavender, box hedges and pleached hornbeam arbours in abundance, but little in the way of cherry trees. The statue of Bacchus was covered up at Halloween to protect it from the ravages of the coming winter months. Consequently my images, like those of the stillroom, were taken a number of years ago,

By the time I left Ham House it was already dark and the journey through the unlit park outside the perimeter walls was more than a little spooky, even if it had not been Halloween. Having described Ham House during the day, I shall return with a description of my tour around the mansion at night, with only a solitary torch to light my way, as part of a revised anthology of all the stately ghosts of England I have come across to date.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ham House Part Three

Directly off the Long Gallery lies a suite of rooms originally decorated in honour of Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II of England. Poor Catherine was as plain as a pikestaff compared with the beautiful mistresses who held sway over her husband. Catherine was even placed in the invidious position of having to accept some of them as her ladies in waiting. Yet Catherine was spared the far greater humiliation of being divorced by her husband as some of his advisers strongly advocated. Not only had she failed to give him a living heir she was also a devout Catholic, a fact which won little sympathy with the predominantly Protestant public of the time. At first it seems odd that the Lauderdales, whose own romance had scandalised even the licentious Stuart court, should have wished to honour Catherine in such a singular way. Perhaps they hoped that such marks of respect accorded to his queen would sit well with Charles.

The first room is an ante chamber which once served as the library. The walls are still lined with the original blue damask 17th century hangings against dark brown and gilded panelling. The next room was turned into a drawing room in the 18th century but served as Catherine of Braganza’s state bedchamber in the 17th century. Although it too like the North Drawing Room has 18th century tapestries hanging from its wall, the overall impression is far less flamboyant. Both the carved red and white marble fireplace and the gilded plasterwork on the overmantel are positively restrained by comparison. The final room in the sequence is the Queen’s closet, the most private of her rooms. Only the most exalted guest would be permitted to enter this room where Catherine would sit in a chair of state placed on a raised dais. The chair was set within   a richly decorated alcove hung with crimson damask and with a gilded plaster crown set high above the panelling painted to resemble white marble. Two of Catherine’s “sleeping chayres,” now occupy the space within the alcove. Both are gilded and upholstered in their original crimson silk and silver thread. Apparently the backs of the chairs can be adjusted to allow it to recline somewhat, thereby affording a greater degree of comfort to the Queen when she wanted to snatch the odd forty winks. The Queen’s Closet features an elegant scagliola (coloured and highly polished imitation marble) fireplace decorated with foliage and flowers and the Lauderdales’ personal cipher and coronet. The scagliola ducal motif is repeated in the parquet flooring. Sadly, the fireplace can only be partially glimpsed as a rope barrier allows the visitor to venture but a small way into the room. Holding aloft a hand mirror, left in the room for such purposes, I was able to see the ceiling roundel, painted by the Italian artist Antonio Verrio, depicting the classical myth of Ganymede and the Eagle.
Though the wall hangings and upholstery are much faded, Catherine of Braganza would have readily recognised this room and its furniture three centuries after her death.

I then walked back down the Great Staircase to resume my tour on the ground floor. I was perplexed  as to how the Marble Dining Room, just off the Great Hall, got its name as there was little marble present It seems it originally had a black and white marble floor which was replaced with  parquet in the mid 18th century. At the same time the 17th century leather wall hangings were replaced by the current gilded and stamped leather hangings. Leather was preferred to tapestry as it was thought they would not retain the odours of cooked food. That 17th century man-about-town Samuel Pepys boasted in his diary on Monday 8th  October 1660 of his plans to buy the highly prized “gilded leather” for his own dining room. Southside House, Wimbledon, also has some gilded and stamped leather wall hangings on display in the breakfast room but they have fared badly over the centuries. I discovered later that inset into the fireplace was a copy of a painting of King Charles II being presented with a pineapple by his gardener John Rose. Nowadays the pineapple appears laughably small, given that it is the subject of a painting. Nonetheless at the time it was deemed an impressive feat to be able to grow such a fruit in England’s less than tropical climes.

The most interesting feature of the Withdrawing Room, which guests would retire to after dining, were the two young schoolgirls eagerly demonstrating how to clean an antique vase as part of their Duke of Edinburgh award. By now it was growing dark outside adding to the overall subdued light of the interior.

The only memorable aspect for me of the Volury Room was that it was named after a series of birdcages, no longer extant, that the Duchess of Lauderdale had built immediately outside the bay window so that she could hear birdsong from this room, which had served as her bedchamber. She later swapped bedrooms with the duke, as his afforded better access to the bathroom on the floor below. Like the Queen’s Bedchamber, the Voluary Room was converted into a drawing room in the 18th century. The walls are now hung with 17th century tapestries but they were actually first introduced into the house by an 18th century descendent of the Duchess’s. In her own era, the panelling was painted to imitate white marble and the wall hangings were predominantly of yellow silk, which would have created a far lighter effect than the somewhat gloomy interior today.

Despite its high ceiling the White Closet is on a much more intimate scale. Yet more putti frolic around the ceiling but the cream coloured walls painted to imitate marble gives the room a lighter touch than the North Drawing Room. Perched in an alcove above the chimneypiece is a gilt bronze bust of the Duchess of Lauderdale’s mother, Katherine Bruce. It was too high up and the light too subdued for me to compare it with the likeness of the female figure in the Great Hall chimneypiece, which is also said to be of Katherine Bruce. A door leads out to what would have been the cherry garden in the Duchess’s time but is now filled with lavender bushes.

Next to the White Closet is an equally small room known as the Duchess’s Closet. Two lacquered chairs have been placed around a table, set out for tea. The furniture and the teapot were used by the Duchess. I have to say the japanned chairs did not look at all comfortable to sit on. Apparently the Duchess kept her books in this closet as well as her favourite paintings. It was in this room that I discovered for the first time the purpose of a jib door. Its floor to ceiling design meant that a jib door allowed wall hangings to be folded back so that people could pass in and out of the room with comparative ease.

Outside the jib door was a servant’s passageway. In one corner was a small wooden spiral staircase. The way to the staircase was barred by the same kind of dummy boards  or silent companion I had seen at Knole. I was told by a guide that the servants’ corridor was pitch black at night when the modern day electric lights were switched off

Although Ham House is noticeably smaller and more compact than Knole, there are far more rooms on display to the general public as it ceased being a family home when it was handed over to the National Trust by Sir Lyonel Tollemache and his son, Cecil, in 1948.  Thus I find I needs must return to this subject as there are yet more intriguing rooms left to explore, including the Duchess’s bedroom with the only state bed on display in the entire mansion, her personal stillroom an unique relic from the 17th century as well as a pretty little  18th century  dairy that would have made Marie Antoinette green with envy.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Ham House Part Two

The approach to the north front of the house is dominated by the Coade stone statue of Father Thames. Coade stone was named after its creator Eleanor Coade. In the 18th century she invented a way of manufacturing synthetic stone which could be used to embellish buildings or carved into great monuments such as the neo-classical statue in front of Ham House. Coade stone received a royal seal of approval when it was used in the construction of Buckingham Palace. Another palace, belonging to the Archbishops of Canterbury at Croydon, used Coade stone to repair mullioned windows, whose original Reigate stone surrounds had markedly decayed over the centuries. In niches above the entrance porch and in the surrounding wall are lead heads of various Roman emperors and even two Stuart kings, although I have yet to work out where the latter are.

By now I should be something of an expert on Jacobean doors, given my prior excursions to Charlton House and Knole. The two coat of arms on display and added later on in the 17th century are those of the Duchess of Lauderdale and those of her first husband, Lionel Tollemache.

As at Southside House in Wimbledon, the ceiling of the original single storey hall was pierced to construct a double height hall with an upper gallery. The plaster figures on the chimney are said to have been modelled on the Duchess’s parents, which, if true, is somewhat surprising given the scantily clad female figure. Other family portraits captured in oils are hung around the upper and lower parts of the gallery. Two portraits of 18th century women caught my attention; one was of Henrietta Cavendish and the other of Charlotte Walpole. Despite their papas not being married to their mamas when they were born, both went on to make grand marriages within the Tollemache family, Henrietta marrying the eldest son and heir to the 3rd Earl of Dysart and Charlotte marrying the 5th Earl in her turn. Charlotte’s full length portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds shows her posed with one arm behind her back. It was a ploy by Reynolds’s to hide the sitter’s withered arm. 

Directly off the hall is the family chapel, although it started out as a dining room until converted into a place of worship in the 1670s. It is comparatively small. At the back, either side of the nave are the two box pews belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale. To right angles to them are a number of other pews. A surprising amount of the original 17th century crimson damask textiles, such as the book covers and altar hangings, are still on display today; hence the necessity for subdued lighting in the chapel.

 Before proceeding up the staircase I wandered around the bottom of the stairwell and to the closet underneath it which contained a 19th century blue and white porcelain toilet bowl encased in wood with a brass and ivory handle to open the shute and flush away the contents of the bowl. It rather reminds me of the one at Kew Palace, although I imagine it is of a latter design.The three brass taps of the marble washbasin bore the legend: hot, cold, soft. I am not sure if these facilities are still plumbed in and I would caution against making use of them.
From the prosaic to the bombastic, I ascended the Great Staircase built at the end of the 1630s by the Duchess’s father, William Murray. Decorated with trophies of war it reminded me of the seconded painted staircase at Knole, although the military emblems at Ham are carved from wood and highlighted in silver leaf. As far as I am aware William Murray was not noted for having had a glorious military career either before of after he built the staircase. Bishop Gilbert Burnet in his "A History Of My Own Time" summed up Murray's character thus: "He was well turned for a court, very insinuating, but very false; and of so revengeful a temper, that rather than any of the counsels given by his enemies should succeed, he would have revealed them, and betrayed both the king and them. It was generally believed, that he had discovered the most important of all his secrets to his enemies. He had one particular quality, that when he was drunk, which was very often, he was upon a most exact reserve, though he was pretty open at all other times".

The staircase allows the general public to ascend to the first floor. The way to the second floor is barred by a rope. Before entering the upper gallery of the hall I stepped into the museum room. It had a rather natty 18th century gentleman’s night cap, dressing gown and mules as well as a silver dressing table set. There was a range of other eclectic items from Ham House's past. Next to the museum room was a pretty white chamber formed from one of the projecting front bays, allowing natural light to flood in from two sides. Apart from the original fireplace with blue and white floral tiled surrounds, there was nothing else in the room requiring protection from strong sunlight. I have since discovered that this room was formerly known as the Chapel Chamber Closet. 
Having seen what happened to Lee Remick in the Omen and given the number of small children around, I kept very close to the wall as I walked along the balcony to the North Drawing Room. When the hall had been single storied, the upper chamber served as the dining room enabling guest to retire afterwards to the adjacent North Drawing Room. My mother once gave me a small gilded plaster putto, or winged representation of a baby boy and I thought that was bordering on decorative excess. My idea of hell would be being locked in the North Drawing Room. It was crammed full of depictions of putti from those painted above the doors and in the central panel of the chimneypiece to the monstrous larger than life sized carved putti on either side of the mantelpiece. The giant putti stood beneath equally massive gilded cockle shells. 18th century silk and wool Mortlake tapestries, depicting bucolic scenes of harvesting, ploughing and milking cows etc, hung from the walls.  The white marble fireplace had two very large gilded twisted barley sugar columns on either side. The elaborately plastered ceiling and cornices add to the visual overload. This room is also notable for its 17th century ivory cabinet and late 17th century Parisian seats, the latter featuring gilded dolphins painted to look as if they were frolicking in the ocean. When it came to decorating their homes the Stuarts could never be accused of favouring minimalism.

After the excesses of the North Drawing Room the Long Gallery proved a sobering contrast with its panelling painted dark brown colour and comparatively modest amount of gilding. The walls of the Long Gallery are lined with family portraits and those of Stuart royalty. There is an especially pretty picture of Henrietta-Maria, the French Queen of King Charles I. The fact that the royal painters overly flattered the Queen is made evident by her niece’s, the future Electress of Hanover, candid recollection of their first encounter. Far from being the beauty her official paintings suggested, Henrietta-Maria was in reality "a little woman with long, lean arms, crooked shoulders, and teeth protruding from her mouth like guns from a fort". I noticed that the ceiling was unadorned. Given the date when Ham House was built, I would have expected the ceiling to be elaborately plastered in a similar fashion to those of its near contemporary Charlton House. At Knole, a guide had explained that plain ceilings in the state rooms of a Jacobean mansion indicated that either a fire or some other disaster must have occurred in the room. The guide at Ham House was adamant that the ceiling in the Long Gallery at Ham House had never been damaged. 
At one end of the Long Gallery is the Green Closet. Just when I thought it was safe to step into it I was confronted with yet more putti adorning the coffered painting ceiling. The Green Closet had a series of small paintings and miniatures on display, some of which I recognised having taken the opportunity to browse through the following link in advance. As we were only permitted to step a small way into the Green Closet
there was little time to examine the collection in any great detail. I was, however, able to engage one of the guides in conversation. She said she was grateful that the English had their Revolution in the mid 17th century, which eventually led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy, thus sparing the country, in her opinion, from the more protracted bloodshed of other European revolutions in later centuries.
At the opposite end of the Long Gallery from the Green Closet is the Library Closet. The most intriguing image in this room is the tinted engraving of plans for a new Palace of Whitehall designed by the architect John Webb. The plans were never brought to fruition as a result of the English Civil War. He might not have been able to realise his dreams for Whitehall Palace but the architect John Webb did go on to build the King Charles Building at the Old Royal Naval College, which I saw at the recent London Open House weekend.    
The Library itself was closed to the public. I cannot recall ever having been inside on the various occasions I have been to the house over the years but it could be viewed through the glass of the wooden door.
Given that Gillbert Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury, had grudgingly admitted, in his otherwise forthright character assassination of the Duchess,  that she had “ a wonderful quickness of apprehension, and an amazing vivacity in conversation. She had studied not only divinity and history, but mathematics and philosophy”, it would not be too fanciful to imagine that she would have helped herself to the odd tome from time to time.The Duchess had sold off her husband’s entire collection of books on his death as part of her efforts to clear his massive debts. Today the shelves of the Library are filled with books bequeathed to the National Trust by a bookseller, on the strict understanding that his collection should never be broken up. The empty shelves at Ham House proved ideal to display the late bookseller’s collection. Coincidentally a small number of the Duke of Lauderdale’s own books were later found to be amongst the collection. Through the glass I could also spy a couple of antique globes standing on the floor. Given her alleged royalist sympathisers, despite being very chummy with Oliver Cromwell when it suited her, I am not quite sure the Duchess of Lauderdale would have approved of the addition to the Library of an 18th century plaster figure of the Commonwealth poet John Milton, whose Republican leanings had forced him to go into hiding for a while following the Restoration of King Charles II. Apparently, at the far end of the Library is a door leading to a staircase, connecting the Library to the Duke’s private closet on the floor below. 

I have yet to describe the suite of rooms dedicated to Queen Catherine of Braganza on this floor and the remaining family and servant quarters below. I shall return to the subject anon.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Ham House Part One

Although I have frequently mentioned Ham House I have yet to describe its interior. Consequently, I resolved to pay the mansion a final visit on 31st October before it was put to bed, so to speak, for the winter months to allow vital conservation work to be carried out. There were demonstrations throughout the day of the type of form such conservation work would take. I came across two schoolgirls on the ground floor showing the correct way to dust and clean a Chinese vase before it was wrapped up and stored away again until next year. It seems the girls had volunteered to help as part of their efforts to win a Duke of Edinburgh Award so I doubt if they would have been given an especially valuable vase to work on. But even experts can be fooled when it comes to estimating the true value of antiques. In England this week a rare Chinese vase has just been sold for the phenomenal sum of  £43 million, the owners having previously insured it for the princely sum of £800 on their household insurance. They had no idea that they possessed an item whose auction price would smash world records, the more so since their own circumstances, prior to the auction, were said to be modest. Even the profligate owners of Ham House would have been hard pressed to match such extravagance.

Getting to the riverside mansion had proved problematic in the past. The Catwoman and I once made our way along the Thames towpath from Richmond railway station to Ham House, passing by water meadows immortalised by the celebrated 18th century artist Turner. Our return journey was more like trekking across marsh land. Heavy rainfall had caused the river to overflow onto the meadowland whilst we were in the house and at one point it looked as if we might be obliged to swim back home. I now tend to approach the house from the main road, a less picturesque route but one not requiring the cautionary visitor to sport fishing waders.

Ham House was built for the Jacobean courtier, Sir Thomas Vavasour. He served as Knight Marshall at the court of King James I and arranged for the suitable loyal motto: vivat Rex and the date, 1610, to be carved into the front door. Thomas died 10 years later and the mansion passed into the hands of William Murray. The latter had been one of those Scots like Sir Adam Newton, the builder of Charlton House and tutor to the King’s eldest son Prince Henry Frederick, whose fortunes had prospered during the reign of their fellow countrymen, the Stuart kings. The son of a minister in the Scottish church William had secured the dubious distinction of being the literal “whipping boy” for the King’s youngest son, Prince Charles. Poor William would be punished for any misbehaviour on the part of the future king. I it was considered lèse majesté for a prince of the blood to endure physical chastisement at the hands of his social inferiors. Later, when Charles’s disastrous rule plunged the country into civil war, William loyally chose to throw his lot in with his boyhood friend.  It was a decision that saw William created Earl of Dysart in 1643 but meant he was forced into exile for the rest of his adult life, dying five years before the Restoration of King Charles II.

Unlike with the Sackville family at Knole, William Murray had ensured that his titles and properties could pass down the female line in lieu of a legitimate male heir. Thus, his properties and title passed to Elizabeth Murray, his eldest daughter and the woman most closely identified with Ham House. In reality, with her father in political exile abroad and her mother dying a year after Elizabeth’s own marriage in 1648, Elizabeth came into her patrimony well before her father’s death in 1665. Her mother had not followed her husband into exile, hoping to save the family property from being sequestered by the Parliamentarians. After her mother’s death Elizabeth, with her new husband Lionel Tollemache, continued to play a double game of openly welcoming the Lord Chief Protector, Oliver Cromwell as a guest, whilst at the same time secretly sending messages to the royalist court-in exile. It was a successful ploy that saved the house from Parliamentarian depredations but made some question Elizabeth’s true loyalty to the throne. Others questioned her loyalty to her first husband, Lionel Tollemache, who was also father to 11 of her children; as she swiftly went on to marry John Maitland, 2nd Earl of Lauderdale in 1672 after Lionel’s death. Gossip had it that Elizabeth had not waited to don widow’s weeds before beginning a liaison with Lauderdale. Some claimed she had been his mistress long before his own estranged first wife had died. At the court of arch libertine Charles II, a lack of marital fidelity was no impediment to promotion and Maitland was created Duke of Lauderdale in addition to serving as one of the king’s principal ministers.

Posterity has not been generous to Elizabeth’s reputation. In her own lifetime she was accused of being Oliver Cromwell’s mistress and I heard one guide on a previous visit being particularly scathing about her character. Simply being a woman who had inherited titles and property in her own right would have marked her out for odium. The fact she had retained her fortune during the Civil War when many another royalist family were financially ruined would have been a source of contention, the more so given her outward friendliness towards the family of the Lord Protector during the Commonwealth. She was also said to be rapacious and coolly exploited her husband’s position at the court of King Charles II to secure their mutual fortunes through what would now be considered blatantly corrupt practises. Such questionable behaviour allowed the Lauderdales to turn Ham House into a mansion fit for royalty and as the collection of regal cast-offs at Knole demonstrated, the Stuart kings were far from parsimonious when it came to decorating and furnishing their own palaces.

In his “History Of My Own Time” the Scottish historian and Bishop, Gilbert Burnet,  gave this pithy account of his contemporary, the Duchess of Lauderdale: “She was a woman of great beauty, but of far greater parts. She had a wonderful quickness of apprehension, and an amazing vivacity in conversation. She had studied not only divinity and history, but mathematics and philosophy. She was violent in every thing she set about, a violent friend, but a much more violent enemy. She had a restless ambition, lived at a vast expense, and was ravenously covetous; and would have stuck at nothing by which she might compass her ends. [She had blemishes of another kind, which she seemed to despise, and to take little care of the decencies of her sex.]

The result of the Lauderdales’ efforts certainly impressed the diarist John Evelyn. On the 27th August, 1678 he wrote “After dinner I walked to Ham, to see the house and garden of the Duke of Lauderdale, which is indeed inferior to few of the best villas in Italy itself; the house furnished like a great Prince's; the parterres, flower-gardens, orangeries, groves, avenues, courts, statues, perspectives, fountains, aviaries, and all this at the banks of the sweetest river in the world, must needs be admirable”.

That other celebrated 17th diarist, Samuel Pepys does not record a visit to Ham House. Although he was on good enough terms to visit the Earl of Lauderdale, as he then was,  at Lauderdale House in Highgate and his description of Lauderdale’s personality is in stark contrast to that of Bishop Burnet’s damning indictment. But then given the date of the diary entry by Pepys, 28th July 1666, and the fact that Lionel Tollemach, the Duchess’s first husband did not die until 1669 it is unlikely that the couple would have been brazenly living together at that point and perhaps Elizabeth's alleged malign influence over Laudedale was not at its zenith. Therefore I must assume that the wife referred to in the diary entry is the Duke’s wronged first wife, Lady Anne Hume.

Lady Anne eventually became bitterly estranged from her husband when he openly flaunted his relationship with Elizabeth Murray, following the death of Lionel Tollemach. The Earl had only one child, a girl named Mary, by Lady Anne Hume. Did he entertain the faint hope that, despite being in her late 40s, his phenomenally fecund second wife, who had already had 11 children by her first husband, would give him a son and heir to pass the dukedom on to? If so it was a forlorn hope. There were to be no children from the Duke’s second marriage and the public scandal that was to engulf Lauderdale was in the future. Samuel Pepys, who liked nothing better than a salacious gossip, makes no mention of any prurient rumours concerning Elizabeth and her erstwhile lover when he paid a visit to the Earl of Lauderdale’s Highgate home. Pepys, who fancied himself as something of a musician and in a celebrated portrait is even shown holding a piece of music he had composed, was not impressed either by the calibre of the guests or their musical abilities. He wrote:      

“ Thence with my Lord to his coach-house, and there put in his six horses into his coach, and he and I alone to Highgate. ….Being come thither we went to my Lord Lauderdale's house to speake with him, we find (him) and his lady and some Scotch people at supper. Pretty odd company; though my Lord Bruncker tells me, my Lord Lauderdale is a man of mighty good reason and judgement. But at supper there played one of their servants upon the viallin some Scotch tunes only; several, and the best of their country, as they seemed to esteem them, by their praising and admiring them: but, Lord! the strangest ayre that ever I heard in my life, and all of one cast. But strange to hear my Lord Lauderdale say himself that he had rather hear a cat mew, than the best musique in the world; and the better the musique, the more sicke it makes him; and that of all instruments, he hates the lute most, and next to that, the baggpipe.”
As Minister of State for Scotland, Lauderdale had been given a virtually free hand to rule the Caledonian kingdom in all but name. His high handed behaviour and campaign of repression against Scottish religious non-conformists made him many enemies both in Scotland and in the English Parliament. Nevertheless, because he was proving indispensable to King Charles, the latter doggedly shielded him from attack. Nature succeeded in ousting Lauderdale from high office where his enemies had singularly failed. An incapacitating stroke forced Lauderdale to resign as chief minister in 1680. It was around this time that he began to lose the support of the fickle king and suffered the humiliation of being stripped of his remaining posts in the months leading up to his death. His unexpected fall from grace and untimely death left Elizabeth his widow with huge debts she was never able to clear during the 18 years she survived him. It meant that her descendants did not have the money to substantially remodel the house to reflect changing tastes in architecture and domestic interiors. Thus, Ham House is an almost unique rarity in being a 17th century mansion which has little changed from its Restoration heyday.

Ham House is also reputed to be one of the most haunted stately homes in England. My choice of visiting it at Halloween was no mere coincidence.As well as describing the interior,  I intend to relate some of the ghostly tales attributed to the place over the centuries anon.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Fenton House.

I have no idea quite how I failed to visit the 17th century Fenton House in Hampstead before this year. I think in part it is due to its relative proximity to my beloved Kenwood House in the neighbouring village of Highgate and when faced with a choice of places to visit, Kenwood will always take precedence. But the prime cause is that I had completely misjudged what it housed. I knew Fenton House had a fine collection of early keyboard instruments. Indeed, the Partridge regularly goes along to play them, as can anyone who has passed the requisite audition. In my imagination I had pictured the house as being empty save for a single dusty room filled with various keyboards, not an enticing prospect for someone who would only be allowed to look at the instruments. Actually, the keyboards are only a part of Fenton House’s unique appeal. It also has a small art, china and furniture collection and is furnished in the style of its last owner Katherine, Lady Binning, who bequeathed the house and its contents to the National Trust in 1952.

In recent weeks I have been to Fenton House twice. On the first occasion the Partridge wanted to go along to its annual Apple Day. Its original walled gardens have survived the centuries intact and the kitchen garden provides a small orchard of apple trees, the fruit of which was on sale. Unfortunately the weather when we arrived was atrocious and I feared the stalls on the lawn would close early. I managed to make my way to the orchard and around the grounds at the back of the house but it was too inclement to linger long. I returned a week or two later as a prelude to meeting up with Mandip to see the film Budrus at the Everyman cinema in Hampstead. This time the sun was shining brightly allowing me to appreciate the garden and grounds at leisure.

Although the brick house was built in the late 1680s, it derives its name from a merchant called Philip Fenton who bought the house in 1793 and made it his family home. When I approached the house from the South Front my way was barred by a pair of ornate ironwork gates decorated with the initials of Joshua Gee and his wife Anna who first owned the house in 1706. Various members of the Gee family continued to live there for the next 50 years. Whereas James Fenton traded in the Baltic, Joshua was a linen and later pig-iron merchant who focused on the American colonies. At one point he is said to have entered into partnership with a certain Augustine Washington, whose son George became the first President of the United States of America. Joshua Gee was part of a small group of men who banded together to free fellow Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, from debtor’s jail in the early 1700s. They offered Pennsylvania itself as surety.

The avenue of trees that lead up to the South Front cannot be accessed through the locked ironwork gates. Instead Phillip Fenton erected a colonnaded porch on the West Front to serve as the main entrance.

Having passed through the entrance hall I made my way to the downstairs dining room. The latter is actually made up of two rooms, the original dining room and the morning room, knocked into one.  On the apricot coloured walls are several paintings bequeathed to the National Trust by the actor Peter Barkworth. I once dated a French financier who bore an uncanny and somewhat unsettling resemblance to the late actor, although they were not related. Perhaps being French, the financier insisted on taking me to a restaurant on our first date and paying for the meal himself. As well as having impeccable manners, he also was highly intelligent, having gained a number of degrees from various prestigious European universities. I was very impressed when he told me that a group of colleagues were going to race skidoos within the artic circle. It made my own memories of work organised softball games in Hyde Park seem very tame by comparison.

The dining room held a 1770 Broadwood harpsichord and a 1774 Broadwood square piano. Whenever I stay at the Partridge’s childhood home I contrive to play on their 1910 Broadwood grand piano in the music room. I much prefer not to be overheard. Thus, despite having played the grand piano on the BBC no less, I could not bring myself to try out the modern electronic keyboard in the corner of the room, which enabled visitors to discover for themselves how different types of keyboards sounded. I did not regret my decision when a young boy came in immediately after me and played the keyboard with consummate skill.

The only oil painting in the room that took my fancy was that of two small boys by the English artist William Nicholson. What is striking about the painting is that both small boys are dressed in skirts. I believe the painting dates either from the later19th or early 20th century. I had not realised the custom of breeching, that is putting boys into trousers having kept them in gowns or dresses for the first few years of their lives, had continued for so long. I have seen many a picture in the past of what I took to be a pretty little girl who, it later transpired, was a future king of England.

The porcelain room houses ceramics bequeathed to the National Trust by Katherine Binning. I know little about such Meissen figurines. My knowledge has been gleaned in the main from a plot by Agatha Christie for “The Affair at the Victory Ball”, which featured  her Belgian hero “Poirot”  and various other characters dressing up in costumes from the Commedia dell'arte, inspired by a collection of Meissen figurines owned by one of the murder suspects. In addition one of my favourite novels, Utz by Bruce Chatwin, has the eponymous hero being an avid collector of Meissen figurines in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. Personally, such pieces leave me cold. Thus it is best that the priceless ceramics are kept under lock and key lest I be tempted to do an “Utz” with them. This room contains a harpsichord on loan from Windsor Castle and dating from 1612.

The Oriental Room was more to my taste. The Chinese ceramics on display dated from the 10th century through to the 17th. I especially liked the small collection of snuff bottles as they reminded me of items I have been tempted to buy in the past. Again, I loved the elegamt décor of this room which served as Lady Binning’s library when she lived in the house from the 1930s to the 1950s. So very different from the flamboyant ostentation of the King’s Room or the Ballroom at Knole for example.

The sturdy 17th century staircase in the hall sweeps past a floor to ceiling window overlooking the South facing gardens. There were various paintings on the wall but I have to confess I did not pay them much attention as they were, for the most part, from the 18th century and therefore of limited interest to me.

The small Green Room on the first floor had a portrait of King James II above the fireplace when he was still only the Duke of York. The more I discover about the lives of the Stuart kings and their courtiers, the more I dislike them. This is despite having had an unfortunate crush on King Charles II as a schoolgirl; I say unfortunate as he became a template for the kind of men I was inexorably drawn to in later years.

By contrast I had a particular interest in the contents of The Rockingham Room, owing to the 17th century needlework on display. Taking centre stage was a 17th century casket decorated with needlework panels, probably worked by a young girl, depicting scenes from the Bible. It immediately called to mind my own discovery of a 17th century embroidered cover for a bible in the British Library, when I had worked there. To think I once handled the kind of needlework I could now only view through panes of protective glass. This room contained a harpsichord from the 1760s. I was awestruck when I realised the virginals in the adjoining closet dated from 1540, a mere 4 years after Anne Boleyn’s death. It had never occurred to me before then that the Partridge had been allowed to play on instruments of such antiquity. The virginals themselves looked to be as light and as readily transferable as a modern keyboard.

Unusually for a 17th century house, most of the principal family rooms, including the Rockingham Room, originally had small windowless closets attached  in which close stools or chamber pots were kept for the family and guests to relieve themselves. Normally the ladies of the house would have retired to the privacy of their own bedchambers and the men would have freely made use of a chamber pot kept in a cupboard in the dining room, when the ladies had left their presence of course.

The Blue Porcelain Room has been styled to look as it would have done when Lady Binning used it as a bedroom. With its cream coloured wooden panelling, the large tapestry above the bed and the bakelite telephone wall, in my eyes it seemed the perfect bedroom. The room boasts an 18th century spinet and 17th century Venetian virginals. When I had visisted Fenton House with the Partridge, she had been perplexed by the subject of one 16th century oil painting in the bedroom, It showed a man at prayer with two looming figures in the immediate background. Given her regular church attendance, I expressed surprise that she had not recognised the depiction of St Christopher carrying the Christ child on his shoulder.

The yellow Drawing Room contains yet more china figurines in display cabinets. I admired the elegant secretaire (an enclosed writing desk) its daintiness contrasting favourably with the more robust Stuart furniture I had witnessed at Knole. However, it was the Elizabethan dolly bag worked in silver and gold thread that really caught my eye as I mused on what the high born Elizabethan woman would have carried around with her in the days before mobile phones and lipstick. Unlike me, with a household full of servants she would not have flown into a blind panic desperately seraching for her keys whenever she set foot out of doors.

The attic floor lacks the intricate panelling of the family rooms below. Nonetheless, the rooms are still very attractive in their own right though necessarily somewhat utilitarian. When it was used as servants’ quarters in more recent centuries, the butler and housekeeper had fireplaces in their chambers. The poor maids were denied such comforts and no doubt froze in the depth of winter. I caught sight of a small 20th century electric bell panel for summoning servants from this floor to the family rooms below. The main drawback of the attic rooms is that their windows were too small. In compensation they commanded an astonishing view over London taking in, for example, King Cross station and the Millennium Dome at Greenwich amongst other far flung landmarks.

Yet more stringed instruments were on display including a painted 16th or 17th century Italian harpsichord. To my mind, this was the most visually attractive of all the keyboards in the house. One of the attic rooms has been given over to restoration of the keyboard collection and visitors could view works in progress. On my second visit the guide said that routine maintenance would be carried out on all the instruments over the winter months when the house was closed to the public. He opined that people would not be interested in going along to the house during the dark dank winter. I begged to disagree and was thankful that I had taken the opportunity of a repeat visit towards the end of the season.

When I had first visited the gardens I was battling against the elements although the weather did clear up somewhat in the afternoon. I had no such problem when I returned to the house a fortnight later.  Unfortunately I was not free to stroll over the lawn as they had cordoned it off to recover from the effects of the annual Apple Day. That meant I was not able to get up close to the intriguing 18th century statue of a man in the garden. 

Fortunately I could still perambulate through the sunken garden and into the small orchard and kitchen garden at the back.
Fenton House Gardener's house

It seems the head gardener lives in the cottage, for even today a garden of such size requires daily maintenance. I popped the requisite amount of coins into an honesty box and bought a small oregano plant to give to Mandip later, as she had much admired the herb on a previous visit Brimstone Butterfly Towers.
Fenton House is well worth a visit if one happens to be in the vicinity of Hampstead High Street and, as with Eastbury Manor House and Charlton House, it is a pity that it is not better known.