Historic place review: Ham House (National Trust)
Date of visit: 2 May 2013
Ham Street, Richmond-upon-Thames, TW10 7RS
Ham House – map
Telephone: 020 8940 1950
OS Grid Ref: 176:TQ172732
Review by: Alexa Williamson
Rating: ***** (out of 5)
Review commentary follows after history
Ham House - Nutshell history from Wikipedia: “Ham House is situated beside the River Thames in Ham, south of Richmond in London, United Kingdom. It is claimed by the National Trust to be “unique in Europe as the most complete survival of 17th century fashion and power.”
Ham in the early 17th century was bestowed by James I to his son, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales.
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.
With death of the Prince of Wales in 1618, the lands at Ham and Petersham passed to James’ second son, Charles, several years prior to his coronation in 1625. After Vavasour’s death in 1620, the house was granted to John Ramsay, 1st Earl of Holderness until his death in 1626.
William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart
In 1626 Ham House was leased to William Murray, whipping boy and close childhood friend of Charles I. Murray’s initial lease was for 39 years and, in 1631, a further 14 years added but this did not give long term security of tenure for Murray’s family. When George Cole had to sell his property in Petersham as part of the enclosure of Richmond Park in 1637, he made over the remaining leases of the Manors of Ham and Petersham to Murray. Murray sought to obtain the freehold but both this and a further bid in 1641 were unsuccessful. The neighbouring Manor of Canbury (Kingston) was also granted to William in 1640, but, in 1641, he passed it to Thomas Bruce, Lord Elgin, a relative of his wife.William and his wife, Catherine, extensively redecorated and refurbished the interior of the house, many features of which survive to this day including the great staircase.
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 skilfully 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 parliamentarians sold off much of the Royal Estate, including the Manors of Ham and Petersham. These, inclusive of Ham House, were bought for £1,131.18s on 13 May 1650 by William Adams, the steward acting on behalf of Murray’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth and her husband Lionel Tollemache, 3rd Baronet of Helmingham Hall, Suffolk. Ham House became Elizabeth and Lionel’s primary residence, as Murray was predominately exiled in France.
Elizabeth and Lionel Tollemache, 3rd Baronet of Helmingham Hall
Elizabeth continued her parents’ political support of the Royalist cause and she and her husband became members of the Sealed Knot. Between 1649 and 1661, Elizabeth bore eleven children, five of whom survived to adulthood; Lionel, Thomas, William, Elizabeth and Catherine. Elizabeth and Lionel made few substantial changes to the house during this busy time. On the Restoration in 1660, Charles II rewarded Elizabeth with a pension of £800 for life and, whilst many of the parliamentarian sales of Royal lands were put aside, Elizabeth retained the titles to the Manors of Ham and Petersham. In addition, in about 1665, following William’s death, Lionel was granted freehold of 75 acres (30 ha; 0.117 sq mi) of land in Ham and Petersham including that surrounding the house and a 61 year lease of 289 acres (117 ha; 0.452 sq mi) of demesne lands. The grant was made in trust to Robert Murray for the daughters of the, then, late Earl of Dysart, “in consideration of the service done by the late Earl of Dysart and his Daughter, and of the losses sustained by them by the enclosure of the New Park.” Lionel died in 1668, leaving his Ham and Petersham estate to Elizabeth.
Review commentary: Put in simple terms, Ham House is stunning. The estate consists of large grounds, which also houses a large garden and the house, which is many stories and rooms. Decorated in the appropriate 17th century style, the house is elegant and has much beautiful furniture and upholstery in it as well as lovely ceramics and paintings.
From the house and accompanying manicured gardens (including a kitchen garden and ‘wilderness’ – an area of the garden with wildflowers and trees), you will get a sense of how the Murrays and the Tollemaches lived during the reigns of Charles I and Charles II and beyond. There are many rooms including a library, bedchambers, dining room, the long gallery, kitchen, Elizabeth Murray’s bathroom (in the basement), the Queen’s bedchamber and many more rooms. Plus, a great wooden staircase that connects the upstairs and the downstairs. On a nice day it is worth walking in the garden then relaxing in them and any time, it is worth seeing the house as it is large and has many stories and history to it.
Ham House has various events throughout the year (mainly in the spring and summer) and also a standard house tour and also garden tour. There is also a shop and restaurant and small café on site. Plus, much lovely outdoor seating and views to the river and to Ham Common. If you are looking for history and elegance, you will find it in abundance here.