Osterley Park

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Osterley Park is a mansion set in a large park of the same name. It was one of a group of large houses close to London which served as country retreats for wealthy families, but was not true country houses on large agricultural estates.

 

The house is of red brick with white stone details and is approximately square, with turrets in the four corners. Adam’s design, which incorporates some of the earlier structure, is highly unusual, and differs greatly in style from the original construction.

 

One side is left almost open and is spanned by an Ionic pediment screen which is approached by a broad flight of steps and leads to a central courtyard, which is at piano nobile level. After the Second World War the Earl approached Middlesex County Council who had shown interest in purchasing the house before the war, but eventually decided to give the house and its park to the National Trust.

 

The furniture at Osterley was sold to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The 9th Earl moved to the island of Jersey in 1949, taking many pictures from Osterley’s collection with him, although a large number of the pictures were destroyed in a warehouse fire on the island soon after.

 

The house stands on the site of a farm-house which was bought by Sir Thomas Gresham and replaced by a ‘house beseeming a prince’. Gresham’s house was completed about 1577, and he entertained the queen there at least twice.

 

On one occasion he had the ‘court’ of the house divided in two by a wall on her suggestion, and this has been taken to confirm that Gresham’s house, like the present one, was built round four sides of a court-yard.

 

In the house, the south tower and south-west range contain work of the late 17th or early 18th century. The decoration of the gallery, which runs the whole length of the south-west range on the principal floor, is of the mid-18th century and has been attributed on grounds of style to Sir William Chambers. The Child family, who owned the house in the 18th century, is known to have employed him elsewhere.

 

The earliest rooms are the library (designs dated 1766), entrance hall (designs 1767), eating-room, and drawing-room, all of which were completed by 1773. The library is in Adam’s earlier manner, with substantial white painted Ionic bookcases, though the ceiling is characteristically in very low relief.

 

The ceiling of the eating-room is bolder, and the panels of the walls are embellished with typical ‘grotesque’ plasterwork. The hall, like its more robust counterpart at Syon, is formal and classical in style, with apses at either end.

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Osterley Park

To off-set the length and lack of height, Adam in this case left the apses open, without his usual screen of columns. As at Syon, groups of arms and armour in relief ornament the panels between the pilasters which divide the walls into bays.

 

The drawing-room, with its ceiling design of pink, blue, and gold ostrich feathers set in an oval among octagonal coffers, was described by Horace Walpole as ‘worthy of Eve before the fall’. Thomas Moore, who made carpets for Syon, made that in this room (and in other rooms at Osterley) to Adam’s designs.

 

Of the three remaining rooms, all in the south-east range, the first to be completed was the tapestry-room: one of the Boucher-Neilson Gobelins tapestries which give it its name are dated 1775.

 

By the mid 1800’s Osterley House was no longer a main residence. Between 1870 and 1883, Osterley was rented by the Dowager Duchess of Cleveland. George Francis Child Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey (born 15 February 1910 – died 9 August 1998) inherited Osterley in 1923 and as he did not reside there he opened it to the public in the summer of 1939.