For 2021, Number One London is offering an up-close look at six of Britain’s finest stately homes, each one showcasing impressive state rooms, private family rooms and perfectly preserved “downstairs” domestic spaces, all presented within a leisurely itinerary. Once we check-in to our hotel in the historic spa town of Buxton, the rest of the tour will be taken as day trips, via luxury coach.
The itinerary includes visits to magnificent properties, some of which have been named as one of England’s 10 Treasure Houses – Castle Howard (above), Harewood House and Chatsworth House – while Shugborough Hall, Tatton Park and Lyme Park have been chosen for their unique history and architectural significance.
Click link in photo for complete Tour itinerary and links to each property!
Many people may be surprised to learn that the Duke of Wellington was a keen tennis player – so much so that he had an indoor court built at Stratfield Saye, where he and Prince Albert played a few sets during Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s visit to Stratfield Saye in 1845, which was reported in the Illustrated London News.
From A History of Stratfield Saye by the Reverend Charles Griffith, Jon Murray 1892:
“. . . On the west side of the road face of the mansion, to the right front, and This building, which is of full size, occupies the site and is built upon the old walls of Lord Rivers’ riding-school. . . At the termination of the university course of the Marquis of Douro, who was afterwards second Duke of Wellington, and of Lord Charles Wellesley, the father of the present duke, the ﬁrst Duke of Wellington erected this building for the amusement of his sons. The ﬁrst duke himself for some years frequently played, in the court, and his butler, Phillips, became one of the ﬁnest players in England of his day, successively beating all the best French players with whom he contended. . . ”
Tennis had been played in England since the middle ages and Henry VIII had a court at Hampton Court Palace. By the 1820s, the only London tennis court still in operation was the James Street court near the Haymarket. The members of this newly revived club invited the Duke of Wellington to join them in 1820, which invitation he gladly accepted. But other aristocratic families also partook of the sport –
From a letter written by Lady Holland, Holland House, 1st Jany., 1816 to Mrs. Creevey [in Brussels] –
“. . . According to the song, ‘London is out of town’ the country houses are overflowing. The love of tennis is come so strongly upon Lord Holland that he has persuaded me rather reluctantly to go once more to Woburn for 3 or 4 days, in order that he may play a few setts. The plea which makes me yield is that I believe exercise keeps off the gout.”
The Sporting Magazine for February 1795 gives us the following description of the Woburn tennis courts – “THE Tennis Court and Riding House (with apartments between to dress in) forms a building 266 feet 8 inches long, and 49 feet 6 inches wide, the whole front of which is stone: The roof is a flat one, and covered with a composition of tar, chalk, etc., instead of lead. There are flues run along the walls, and under the pavement of the Tennis Court, to keep off the damps.”
Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford
It was Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford who improved Woburn Abbey, adding a Riding School and the Tennis Court, which would later quite literally be the death of him. It was while playing a game of tennis that the accident occurred which eventually proved fatal. He was struck by a ball; a lingering illness ensued, and he died on the 2nd March 1802.The editor of Horace Walpole: Lord Orford’s Letters to the Countess of Ossory, transcribes from the memoranda of Lord Ossory the following account of the death of Francis, fifth Duke of Bedford in 1802:— ‘On February 27th 1802, I went over to Woburn, hearing of the Duke of Bedford’s dangerous illness. There I found Dr. Kerr. …. The progress of the disease was not favourable, and the symptoms were very bad on Monday morning, till twelve; from that time till five or six, hopes began to revive; then they all vanished, and he was given over, and on Monday morning, March the 2d, about half-past eleven, he expired in a manner in Lord John’s arms.
“Thus died Francis, Duke of Bedford, with a sort of similarity of fate to his father, both of whom I loved with much affection and attachment.”
As lamentable as Francis’s death was, it almost had dire consequences for the beautiful Lady Georgina Gordon, who had been engaged to him. Her mother, the Duchess of Gordon, was not going to let the Dukedom of Bedford escape her, and after Lady Georgina had left off her mourning for her betrothed, she became engaged to his brother and successor, John, sixth Duke of Bedford, to whom she was married a year later. She went on to have ten children.
But back to tennis . . . From Wikipedia – A plan of the house and “pleasure ground” at Woburn from Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis (1816), a book about horticultural experiments conducted at Woburn. The top is east. A: The house. The whole of the top (east) wing and the eastern end of the north and south wings have been demolished. B: Stable/service blocks. These survive and one now houses the Woburn Antiques Centre. C: The riding school and the real tennis court, which have been demolished. D: The long rectangle at the right of the southern service block is the sculpture gallery, which survives In 1816 the main entrance was on the eastern side of the house, and was reached via a grand arch between the riding school and real tennis court. After the demolition the West Hall in the centre of the West Front became the main entrance once again.
In his Arboretun et Fruticetum Britannicum: or, The Trees and Shrubs of England, Volume 2 (1838), John Claudius Loudon describes the grounds at Woburn and tells us that there is “a passage under the Cape heathery, which forms a portion of a covered way, leading from the mansion to the different objects of interest adjoining it; such as the green-house, sculpture gallery, tennis-court, Chinese dairy, plant-stoves and palm-house now erecting, and finally to the pleasureground, including the aviary, arboretum, salictum, grass-garden, American garden, etc.”
From Tennis by John Moyer Heathcote 1890, “In our own country the game was beginning to lose its popular character, although still played by the higher classes of society. Many old courts were abandoned or destroyed, and we hear of the construction of three only in the latter half of the century: the Duke of Richmond’s at Goodwood, the Duke of Bedford’s at Woburn, and the court in Tennis-court Road, Cambridge, erected in 1734, recently pulled down and replaced by the new buildings of Pembroke College.
“There is, however, no probability of the last age of this eventful history passing into mere oblivion, for the nineteenth century has witnessed a renewed and constantly increasing enthusiasm for Tennis, shown by the number of courts built by public and private enterprise, on improved lines, and equipped with modern requirements, and by the interest taken in all important matches.”
Whilst tennis is still played in England, alas, the courts at Woburn have, indeed, passed into oblivion. During the First World War parts of the Abbey, the riding school and indoor tennis court (now demolished), were converted into a temporary ward for wounded soldiers; some 2,000 patients passed through the Abbey Hospital.
The Percy family, now dukes of Northumberland have lived at Syon House for many years. To follow the fortunes of the Percy family is to travel the twists and turns of British history.From their arrival with William the Conqueror in the 11th century, they held a stronghold at Alnwick Castle in far Northumberland and frequently ran into conflicts with the English kings.Because of their support for Mary Queen of Scots, they were commanded to live in the south, at their property at Petworth in Sussex.There were many periods of imprisonment in the Tower for various earls over the centuries.
In its first few centuries, Syon seemed to exist under a dark cloud. Lord Somerset died on the scaffold before it was finished; Lady Jane Grey resided here; it served as a prison for the children of Charles I for a time.
Syon came to the Percy family through the marriage of Henry Percy (1564- 1632) to Lady Dorothy Devereux (d. 1619), a sister of Robert, Earl of Essex, a favorite of Elizabeth I.From a previous marriage, Lady Dorothy owned the lease to the valuable Syon estate.When James I came to the throne, he gave Syon outright to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland.In 1605 the 9th earl himself landed in the Tower, where he lived for sixteen years, improving his estates and studying scientific topics from his prison.He was known as the Wizard Earl for his many interests in science and the occult.His wife Dorothy regularly sent him baskets of fruits from the Syon orchards.
By 1764, Syon was still basically a Tudor mansion, looking much as it had when first built in 1547, a courtyard house that offered many challenges to bring up to current taste. The 3rd duke, who succeeded in 1817, rebuilt the walls of the house in Bath stone, and built the conservatory. He entertained “lavishly” at Syon during the reign of William IV and was succeeded by his brother Algernon in 1847. Their descendants today still live at Syon, the family of the 11th Duke, Henry Alan Walter Richard Percy.
From the website: Robert Adam and ‘Capability’ Brown
“The 7th Duke of Somerset died in 1750, and Hugh and Elizabeth, who were to become the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, inherited the estates. They were leading figures in contemporary society, and would have inherited a house with dated interiors, surrounded by an unfashionable formal landscape. Gardens and House were both in a poor condition.
“The solution was a complete redesign of Syon. In one of his first major commissions, the landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown swept away the formal landscape to the south and west of the House, replacing it with the open views characteristic of the English Landscape movement. Over the course of twenty years he extended this to the north and west, incorporating farmland to the west into the new park, and creating Pleasure Grounds to the north, both centred on large new ornamental lakes. In the House the Scottish architect Robert Adam was commissioned to create a series of striking classical interiors, filled with antiquities shipped from Italy. Adam was not able to change the interior layout of the House, and so used a number of architectural devices to create a suitable impression.”
Following a carefully designed route through Capability Brown’s Park, then through a monumental portico, one enters the Great Hall.
The visitor experiences a dramatic contrast when stepping into the Ante-Room after the subdued serenity of the Hall.
The floor is scagliola (composition of ground marble, plaster and glue often seen on tabletops) in brilliant colors, perfectly preserved and highly polished.Some of the marble columns were found in the Tiber River in Rome and brought to Syon.Others are copies, also made of scagliola.The columns serve to square off the room size and to provide bases for the gilded statues, all reproductions of ancient figures.It is difficult to underestimate the dazzling effect of standing in this room, which I am tempted to describe as gaudy, though it also has a unity of color and beauty that actually give it a different but equally impressive dignity as the Great Hall.
After the brilliant colors of the ante room, the dining room is almost restrained in its gilded elegance. From the Ante-Room, on the corner of the house, one steps into the ivory and gold magnificence of the Dining Room, a perfect example of classic Adam style.Columns, apses, antique statues, and gilt combine with the rich wooden flooring in a pleasing pattern.Adam rarely used soft materials in his eating rooms because carpets, curtains, tapestries and other hangings could absorb food odors.Cleverly concealed in the doorways are compartments holding the dining tables, which were set up for meals and removed for dancing or other activities, while some of the statue bases conceal chamberpots.
The Red Drawing Room was described by Adam as a buffer to the real Withdrawing Room for the ladies, which was in the next chamber, the Gallery,now the Library.The walls are of red Spitalfields silk, while diamonds and octagons on the ceiling contrast with the painted medallions with gilded banding.
The Long Gallery was intended by Adam for the use of the ladies. The Tudor room is 136 feet long with a width and height of only 14 feet. Adam solved the size and shape problem by softening the colors to pastel mauves and greens, installing shallow bookcases and clustering the tapestry-upholstered furniture in what we would call conversation groups.There is a unity of design elements as well, with decorative swags on the walls, flat pilasters separating the bookshelves, and a pleasing pattern of geometric shapes, as in the ceiling.When I visited this room, I found it astonishingly beautiful, yet comfortable.As I gazed at the titles on the shelves, the Duke himself came by, showing the collection to a visitor.
At the far end of the library, there is a little closet, once the site of the corner spiral staircase, now long gone. In this little room, decorated in delicate pinks and grays, hangs a birdcage holding a mechanical bird which spreads his wings and warbles on the hour. The bottom of the cage is the clock’s face, not a particularly practical place to put it, if you ask me. It is known as one of Adam’s conceits. Nevertheless, the “closet” serves the role of early closets for kings and dukes — a private room holding favorite collections and offering the closest thing to privacy a great personage could experience. Ah, the trials and tribulations of fame and fortune!
Syon Park and House are on the itinerary of Number One London’s Town and Country House Tour in September – details and complete itinerary can be found here.
Victoria, here, reporting on the day Kristine and I spent at this jewel in Robert Adam’s architectural crown. Osterley Park is managed by the National Trust and a very good job they do! I had visited the estate several years ago, and this time I was excited to learn that we could take pictures INSIDE. So, prepare yourselves for a set of interior shots of many rooms. All pictures in this post were taken by me or Kristine, unless otherwise noted.
We could not stop snapping!
Kristine leans in for a close-up
But I am getting ahead of myself! The approach to the house is suitably dramatic, viewed across a pond laced with water lilies in full bloom. Queen Elizabeth I visited the first manor house here after its completion in 1576. Thomas Gresham, a wealthy banker, built the house, Another wealthy banker, Sir Francis Child, hired Robert Adam to remodel it in 1761, and the current look – both inside and out – is very much that of the Adam period in all its glory. Adam had one section of the square house replaced with handsome Georgian columns, framing an open courtyard. The great house and estate passed down in the line of the Child banking family. Sarah Sophia Fane inherited the house from her grandfather, Robert Child; she married George Villiers (who added Child to his surname) who became the 5th Earl of Jersey. Thus the house for almost 200 years, belonged to the Earls of Jersey. The 9th earl presented it to the National Trust in the 1940’s.
We arrived in time for a curator’s tour, but we had time to take a quick look around before it began.
The Entrance hall has identical alcoves at each end with a fireplace and two classical statues in each.
The Hall was used as a saloon and reception room and occasionally for dining; Adam designed it to replace the original hall demolished for the columned entrance.
The floor of black marble on white reflects the design in the ceiling, a frequent Adam feature.
The large painting between the doors in the dining room is by Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795) entitled Figures Sporting in a ruined Roman Bath, part of a set of paintings he did, including The Four Continents, above the doors. Twelve mahogany chairs with lyre backs and two arm chairs were designed by Robert Adam and probably made by John Linnell (1729-1796) of London; Linnell executed the designs for the rest of the room’s furnishings as well. The chairs are placed around the perimeter of the room in the 18th C. manner. Tables of several sizes were kept in the servant’s passages; they could be set up when needed.
Pier table topped with antique marble mosaics, one of a pair
both topped by ornate 7-foot tall mirrors
Marble Fireplace, with Doric columns
Painting by Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-85) An offering to Ceres
During our tour of the house, a small group gathered in the Gallery to hear the curators speak about the house, its design and its treasures, its history and the continuing restorations of various rooms both above and below stairs to their appearance when completed by Adam. We found some places to sit, but not, of course, on any of the antique furniture.
The gallery is 130 feet long and faces the garden. It once housed a billiard table and a fortepiano. Henry James described the room as ‘a cheerful upholstered avenue into another century.’
Above is one of six mirrored girandoles (ornamental branched candlesticks), also made by John Linnell for Robert Adam.
Two pairs of Chinese mandarin jars date from
the reign of the Chinese emperor Qianlong (1736-95)
One of several settees, also part of Linnell’s suite of furniture made for the gallery; the matching chairs can be seen below.
The Marble Fireplace, one of two by Joseph Wilton.
A copy of the NPG painting of Robert Adam, c. 1770-75; attributed to George Willison
The frieze includes marigolds, the symbols of Childs Bank.
The model Chinese Junk is made of Ivory and bone, and comes from Guangzhou, c. 1750
The porcelain pagoda is of a similiar date.
At the conclusion of the curator’s talk, we explored the rest of the house, and what an exploration it was. Our pictures can only give a hint of what it was like, an abundance of magnificent paintings, furniture, rugs…all dazzling to us poor mortals.
Adam’s touch at the doorway of the Drawing room
Ceiling design in the Drawing Room
According to the Guidebook, this ceiling is based on the drawing of the Temple of the Sun in ancient Palmyra, adapted to the rectangular shape of the room.
Boucher’s Tapestries were delivered to the house in 1776 from the Gobelins factory in Paris, though run by a Scot, Adam’s countryman.The four large medallions in the tapestries (two seen above) represent the elements: earth, fire, air, and water.
The tapestry medallion above the fireplace is Cupid and Psyche.
The furniture was built by Linnell and upholstered to match the deep rose background of the tapestries. Similiar tapestries in a drawing room designed by Adam can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where the Tapestry Room from Croome Court in Worcestershire now resides. Read more about this room here. This is the ante-room to the State bedroom, which almost overwhelms the visitor. Imagine what it would be like to try to sleep in this bed.
The State Bed
Ceiling Medallion by Angelica Kauffman, Aglaia, one of the Three Graces being enslaved by Love
The Fire Board, in the Etruscan style
Black and Gold Japanned Commode, probably Chippendale
Pier Glass mirror reflecting the State Bed
Then, to add to the phenomenal variety of decorative motifs, comes the Etruscan Dressing Room, with designs drawn from ancient Etruscan vases discovered in Italy. These designs were eagerly adopted into architectural decor and into popular patterns manufactured by Josiah Wedgwood and others in the mid 18th Century.
The Etruscan Dressing Room
Ceiling of the Etruscan Dressing Room
Fire Screen designed by Adam and embroidered by Mrs. Child
View towards the windows, Etruscan Dressing Room
The crest of the pier-glass is painted to match the medallions on the walls. The japanned commode is another attributed to Chippendale.
The Great Stair
The north side of the house is less dramatic that the south side, where the State rooms are. The library looks exactly like the kind of place we need for our most capable work. What are the chances?
The painting above the mantel is by Antonio Zucchi (1726-95) Virgil reading his works to Augustus and Octavia
Think of the work you could do at this desk! What a joy.
The last room on the north side, formerly known as the Breakfast Room, was under renovation. We found it fascinating to see a work in progress.
In the room were several beautiful pieces of what appeared to me to be valuable oriental-style furniture. No explanation was given for the state of the room or the random placement of these items. Guess I’ll just have to go back and see what happened!!
Well be revisiting the splendours of Osterley Park on Number One London’s 2020 Town and Country House Tour. Complete itinerary and details will be found here.
Click here to read about Victoria’s previous visit and the history of the house.
In 2014, Victoria and I visited Kenwood House together, just one of many visits each of us have made to Kenwood before and since. What’s so special about Kenwood House? Situated in Hampstead Heath, Kenwood is one of the last examples of a private estate remaining in London.
Just inside the gate is this gardener’s cottage, but Kenwood House can boast rather more unique survivors of a bygone age in its grounds, including a bath house and dairy.
A flight of stairs lead to the baths themselves.
Just outside the baths, you’ll find these stairs and a doorway that leads to . . . . . the terrace at the rear of the house.
As you can see, the views were stunning and we decided to walk down to the dairy before touring the house.
On the way, we encountered several others strolling the grounds, including the cutie below, whose name, we learned, was Duke. Really. Not even kidding. Duke.
Around to the front entrance
The classical portico, added by Robert Adam for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield
Kenwood became what would be described in 1838 as ‘beyond all question, the finest country residence in the suburbs of London’. Tending a dairy was then a fashionable hobby for aristocratic women, following the example of the French queen Marie Antoinette. But such dairies were still functional, and the one at Kenwood would have supplied the house with butter, milk and cream, while ice was stored in the ice-house below.
Now, after restoration, the three dairy buildings can be appreciated once again: the small, colourfully decorated octagonal tea room, where Louisa entertained her friends, the rooms where the dairymaid lived, and the dairy room. The original marble benches in the dairy room are still here, although the more than 30 black marble milk pans and basins listed in the accounts are missing.
By this time, we were both a bit peckish, so we decided to walk back to the cafe for lunch before touring the house.
Roses in the Brewhouse Restaurant garden
“Hey, Vic,” I said through a mouthful of clotted cream once we’d been served.
“I have something to say to you and I want you to look me in the eye while I say it.”
“Is it something bad?”
“Non. It’s something good. You ready?”
“Here we are. Together. In London. At Kenwood House.”
Victoria grinned at me. “I know. It’s terrific. Alone together in England. Like minded travelers wallowing in British history.”
“We can overdose on 19th century Britain and Wellington to our hearts content.”
I’m not certain, but I think it was at this point that Victoria and I clapped our hands together and laughed with childlike glee.
Before long, we struck up a conversation with a really nice lady named Frances. The three of us walked outside and continued the conversation, talking about where Frances had been in the U.S. and where we’d been in England. Then I handed her our Number One London business card, which prompted Frances to tell us that she loved historical research, herself being a direct descendant of architect James Wyatt. Which prompted even more discussion, as you may well imagine.
Finally, Victoria and I entered the house and were greeted by two volunteer docents, who welcomed us warmly and asked us if this was our first visit to Kenwood House. Victoria told the young man that she’d been to the house before and had also seen the traveling exhibit of its artwork when it showed in Milwaukee. Which led to more discussion and mention of our blog. I handed him our card.
“I know this site,” he said. “It’s great.”
Victoria and I glanced at each other. Was he having us on?
“I have a blog about London, too. The Lost Valley of London. I travel round London and shoot videos of out of the way places and my adventures.”
This jogged my memory. “Wait a minute,” I said, “I know your site. You wear a pith helmet, right?” Really, what were the odds that Anthony and I should meet at Kenwood House? All of this led to more discussion and mutual admiration, which lasted another few minutes.
We did, finally, tour the house and for that part of our visit I hand you over to Victoria, who will be bringing you Part Two of our day at Kenwood House soon.
You can see Kenwood House up close and personal on