Ham House and Gardens

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Ham House is situated beside the River Thames in Ham, south of Richmond in London. The house was built in 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshal to James I. It originally comprised an H-plan layout consisting of nine bays and three storeys.

 

The Thames-side location was ideal for Vavasour, allowing him to move between the courts at Richmond, London and Windsor. Prior to the outbreak of the English Civil War, Murray shrewdly transferred ownership of the house to his wife for the duration of her life and thereafter to his four daughters, to be held in trust.

 

The principal trustee was Lord Elgin who, as an important Scottish Presbyterian and Parliamentarian supporter, thus afforded the estate and family a degree of political protection. During the Civil War, the house and estates were sequestrated, but persistent appeals by Catherine regained them in 1646 on payment of a £500 fine.

 

Thus Catherine skillfully defended ownership of the house throughout the Civil War and Commonwealth, and, despite Murray’s close ties with the Royalist cause, the house remained in the family’s possession.

 

Shortly after the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649, Catherine died at Ham on 18 July 1649. The 4th Earl inherited the title at the age of 30. After a Grand Tour he married Grace Carteret, daughter of John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville.

 

He undertook extensive repairs of the house, replacing the roof tiles with slates, rebuilding the bays with venetian windows above, replaced mullions with sash windows, and generally repaired decayed timbers, sills and floors where required.

 

On completion of the structural work the house was extensively redecorated and new furniture added, some of which survives notably the harpsichord and library steps. Despite the modernisation, Lionel also went to great pains to restore and repair much of furniture dating from the Lauderdale’s time and this has helped preserve many original features to the present day.

 

Ham House is a lovely red-brick Stuart mansion, on the River Thames. Built in 1610 and the home of the Earl of Dysart and his daughter, the Duchess of Lauderdale. The house retains many of its original furnishings, with a large collection of Dutch art.

 

In 1672 Elizabeth married the wealthy John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, her second marriage. Together they made Ham House one of the most beautiful and luxuriously furnished Restoration houses in England.

They collected exotic furniture and brought in craftsmen to transform the house into the showpiece home we see today. The first thing that strikes you is that the main entrance faces the River Thames.

 

When Ham House was built, the river was the main method of transport to leay Richmond. Visitors calling at the house would have arrived by boat, and approached the house through a set of fine piers and entry gates. On a plinth in front of the main entrance is a neo-classical statue of a river god. At Ham they created an Orangery and Orangery garden.

 

Vast avenues of trees were planted and the forecourt, gardens and wilderness were ornamented with statues. The terrace was extended and a multitude of ornamental plant pots placed on it.