The beautiful 17th century mansion of Ham House situated next to the River Thames near Richmond is a house with Scottish connections. Closed due to the restrictions for the current health situation, it is slowly and carefully re-awakening into the new ‘normal’.
The bringing together of the house and the adjacent manors is a PhD thesis in its own right. The lands originally belonged to the King (of course) who leased them out and the first phase of Ham House was built by Sir Thomas Vavasour in 1610 . Then we have a very complicated history of land acquisition, intertwined with the Civil War and the Restoration of the Monarchy….
William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart, one of the main advisors and friends of Charles I and a political link between England and Scotland during the Civil War, then leased the property and in 1650 it was sold to his daughter and Lionel Tollenmache. With the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, there comes a convoluted series of land transactions that brings together the ownership of the house and adjacent lands to their daughter Elizabeth who married the Scottish politician John Maitland, 1st Duke of Lauderdale and extended the house in 1673. If you look at the sides of the house, you can see the different phases and different architectural styles. .
The house remained in the family until they transferred it (by then in pretty poor condition) to the National Trust in 1948. Today, it is closed and shuttered due to the pandemic, but the grounds have reopened with a splendidly replanted Cherry Garden with Bacchus at its centre, exotic planting on the terrace and an extensive vegetable garden waiting for the café to reopen.
There is also a medicine garden. If you are not already growing rosemary, you should do so as it is a plague remedy!!
On the other side of the river are the grand mansions of Marble Hill House and Orleans House in Twickenham which can be reached by a private pedestrian/cycle ferry, while some brave souls were canoeing in the river. I must go back and try the ferry sometime for fun. My mother who grew up in Chiswick used to tell me that she went swimming in the river here when she was young – I suspect it was a bit cleaner then (90 years ago) than it is now.
Top marks to the National Trust for starting the careful and slow process of reopening. Things are perhaps not quite what we may have been used to, but life has been put on hold for three months so we need to show tolerance as things gradually open up.