London's grand historic houses
James Fox's pick of historic houses that put the great into Greater London. These regal residences are free or discounted entry with a National Art Pass.
An Art Deco palace with a pet lemur's bedroom, Queen Victoria's birthplace and the Iron Duke's opulent Hyde Park home are all on Dr James Fox's list of historic houses to visit in London as explored in the video above.
We add another five houses that that we think deserve a mention too. The best bit? They are all free or half price to have a look round with a National Art Pass.
London's grand historic houses
Once known as 'Number One, London', the Hyde Park residence has been home to the Dukes of Wellington since the first Duke, Arthur Wellesley, bought it in 1817 after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.
When visiting you can expect to see the interior decorated much as it would have been in the 1830s and one can also marvel at the collection of artworks on display including old master paintings by Caravaggio and Titian, Dutch and Flemish paintings and an impressive display of porcelain and silver, many items gifted to the 'Iron Duke' after his military success.
Built on the banks of the River Thames in the early 17th century, King Charles I gave Ham House and its estate to his favourite whipping boy, William Murray, who along with his daughter Elizabeth created the property that stands in Richmond today. A rarity for such an opulent Stuart home from this period to stand so intact and unaltered, representative of the luxury and decor of the time.
The house is also said to be one of the most haunted in Britain, with unexplained phenomena and sightings of original resident Elizabeth and her dog a common occurrence.
The birthplace of Queen Victoria is celebrated with an exhibition dedicated to the monarch's childhood, including the doll's house she played with and rooms decorated as they would have been when Victoria was a child.
Also the former home of Princess Margaret and subsequently Princess Diana, and currently the official London residence for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Kensington Palace is a treat for anyone interested in the modern social history of the Royal Family.
Created by Richard Boyle, a great patron of the arts, in the early 18th century, Chiswick House is a fine example of architecture influenced by Italian Andrea Palladio, and his English follower Inigo Jones. The villa has recently been restored to its former glory having been used as a mental health institution at the beginning of the 20th century and subsequently neglected.
Horticulturalists will enjoy the 2 acre kitchen garden and the conservatory which houses what is thought to be the oldest existing collection of camellias in the western world.
If you like your historic houses to come with a gold-plated bathroom, a bedroom for the pet lemur and a domed entrance hall, then the Art Deco opulence of Eltham Palace could be the one for you. Dreamt up by glamorous philanthropists Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930s, the update to the medieval palace is a stunning sight, set amidst 19 acres of grounds, including a moat, and the wonderful Sunken Rose Garden, it is well worth a visit.
A truly unique and eccentric proposition, Strawberry Hill is the fantasy creation of Horace Walpole, the son of Britain's first Prime Minister. Walpole was a leading author, art historian and Whig politician in the 18th century. The house has recently been repaired and restored and boasts truly distinctive Gothic architecture, theatrical interiors and Renaissance glass panels. The library is a particular highlight, the arched book cases and starry ceiling create a truly fairytale ambience.
Instantly recognisable as the exterior of the family home in the Netflix series 'Bridgerton', albeit without the custom made wisteria, this Georgian villa has been home to military officers, royals, aristocrats and the official residence of the royally appointed Rangers of Greenwich Park. Now owned by English Heritage, this Georgian villa’s star attraction is The Wernher Collection, a magnificent collection amassed by Sir Julius Wernher. The mansion has almost 700 works of art on display including Renaissance bronzes, Dutch Old Masters, maiolica pottery and miniature ivory carvings.
This Roman-style Palladian villa has stunning grounds and garden buildings, elegant interiors complete with velvet wallpaper and William Kent furniture. Don’t miss the Green Man carvings in the fireplaces in the Green Velvet room – personally chosen by the house’s original owner Lord Burlington to complement the colour of the room with the theme of water and nature.
Built for the 18th-century socialite Henrietta Howard as a retreat from crowded London, this beautiful Palladian villa is set in gorgeous riverside parkland near Richmond. Its interiors have been recreated with original Georgian designs, and are home to a fine collection of early Georgian paintings.
Kenwood House, designed by Robert Adam, is set in the gently rolling landscape of Hampstead Heath. It houses an impressive collection of Old Master and British paintings on display in The Iveagh Bequest, an internationally renowned collection of paintings gifted to the nation in 1927 by Edward Cecil Guinness. The collection includes works by Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Johannes Vermeer’s classic work The Guitar Player. In contrast, 20th-century sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore can be seen in the grounds at Kenwood.
The more you see, the more we do.
The National Art Pass lets you enjoy free entry to hundreds of museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, while raising money to support them.