Ten grand London houses
As the country's great mansions get set to open for the summer season, we find ten of our favourite historic houses in London.
Standing on the banks of the River Thames, Ham House was given to William Murray by his childhood friend Charles I in 1629. It remains a fabulous reminder and example of 17th-century luxury and style. Stroll in the beautiful formal gardens, take in the lavish textiles, opulent paintings and sculpture and even spot a ghost.
A truly unique and eccentric proposition, Strawberry Hill is the fantasy creation of Horace Walpole, a leading author, art historian and Whig politician in the 18th century. The house has recently been renovated and boasts truly distinctive Gothic architecture, theatrical interiors and Renaissance glass panels. One of our favourite rooms is the library; the arched book cases and starry ceiling create a truly fairytale ambience. House open Saturday to Wednesday.
Although the building dates back to 1305 when it was given to Edward II by the Bishop of Durham, it now stands as a masterclass in Art Deco design and architecture. Built by textile magnates Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, the interiors overflow with glamour and opulence; a stunning gold-plated bathroom, Virginia’s walk-in wardrobe and the bedroom of the couple’s pet lemur really set the scene. After extensive restoration, Eltham reopened in Spring 2015 with five new rooms to enjoy. Open from 3 April.
This grand Hyde Park mansion has been the home of the Dukes of Wellington since the 1st Duke bought it after his victory over Napoleon. The Iron Duke filled his home with glittering objects, lavish furnishings, military memorabilia and a few portraits of the victor. The house refreshed its interpretation in 2015 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Open from 18 April.
Birthplace and home of Queen Victoria, this elegant 17th-century palace tells the story of one of Britain’s most memorable monarchs through journals, personal objects and even the dolls' clothes the young princess made herself. Further highlights include a fashion display of pieces owned by HM The Queen and Diana, Princess of Wales, the exquisite King’s Staircase painted by William Kent and the sunken garden. Open daily.
One of the last surviving country estates in London, Osterley is another grand Robert Adam creation. The recently re-established garden borders and expansive park grounds are the highlights; but the house presents some wonderful treasures as well. A theatrical domed State Bed, ornate Robert Adam commode and a fabulous Chinese ‘model junk’ originally made for the Emperor are some of the pieces to enjoy. House open Wednesday to Sunday.
This Georgian villa’s star attraction is The Wernher Collection, a magnificent holding of art collected by the diamond magnate 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. Entry by guided tour only, open from 28 March.
Only available to visit by guided tour, Marble Hill is an elegant 18th-century gem on the banks of the River Thames. Built for King George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard it is the ideal place to experience fashionable Georgian life and style, and see some of the objects and wallpapers inspired by the era’s fascination with all things Oriental. Open from 28 March.
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. House open Sunday to Wednesday from 30 March
- Free to all
Kenwood House, designed by Robert Adam, is set in the gently rolling landscape of Hampstead Heath. It has an impressive collection of Old Master and British paintings including works by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. Don’t miss Johannes Vermeer’s classic work The Guitar Player – a real treat. Open daily.