02.04.2015
14:09

Marble Hill House (English Heritage)

Address:

Richmond Road, Twickenham, TW1 2NL

Phone:

020-8892 5115

Website:

www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/marble-hill-house

Opening times:

Apr–Oct Mon–Sat 10:00–14:00, Sun and bank holidays 10:00–17:00; Nov–March by pre-booked appointment

How to get there:

Station: St. Margaret’s (from Waterloo)

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Café open March–Oct (in March open Wed–Sun only)

Built in 1724–29 for Henrietta Howard, later Countess of Suffolk, and mistress of George II, Marble Hill is often cited as a perfect example of a Palladian villa. Overlooking the Thames at Twickenham, it is a simple, pure exercise of symmetry, the three central bays of the south elevation topped by a pediment, flanked by a further bay on either side, giant Ionic pilasters decorating the north front. Inside, the principal room, the Great Room on the first floor, is a perfect cube at the heart of the building. It is not quite known who designed the house, which has been attributed to both Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, the ‘architect earl’, and the Palladian architect Colen Campbell (who remodelled Lord Burlington’s town residence, now the Royal Academy). Two early designs for the house are certainly by Campbell, the first with side pavilions never executed, the second, published in the third volume of his Vitruvius Britannicus in 1725, with an external staircase leading up to the piano nobile, in the end also omitted. Mrs Howard seems to have considered, rejected and accepted elements of the design herself. The final design of Marble Hill was constructed by Roger Morris, then Colen Campbell’s draughtsman, under the supervision of Lord Pembroke, Mrs Howard’s architectural advisor. Balconies on the south front, breaking the Palladian purity, allowed contemplation of the fine prospect over the river, towards Ham House and Richmond Hill.

 

The House and its Mistress

Henrietta Howard (1688–1767), wife of Charles Howard, fifth son of the Earl of Suffolk, had become, at the accession of George I, a Woman of the Bedchamber of the Princess of Wales. By 1720 the Prince of Wales, the future George II, was said to be spending ‘every evening of his life, three or four hours in Mrs Howard’s lodging’. An early Hanoverian ‘blue-stocking’, she was said to keep a ‘philosophical’ expression and, in her own words, enforced ‘every argument with that gesticulation of the hand for which I am so famous’. A patron and correspondent of men of letters, she gathering about her at her new summer villa at Twickenham a literary circle that included Alexander Pope, the Earl of Chesterfield, John Gay and Jonathan Swift. Pope’s ‘On a Certain Lady at Court’ refers to Mrs Howard, and his ‘Bounce to Fop’ is an epistle addressed to her lap-dog Fop from Pope’s own Great Dane, Bounce. In 1731 she had become the Countess of Suffolk, on her husband’s accession to the title. He died in 1733, around the same time she fell from favour with the king, and in 1734 she retired from court service, marrying the following year George Berkeley. In her declining years Horace Walpole, her near neighbour at Strawberry Hill, was a regular visitor; between 1759 and 1766 he filled notebooks with her conversation and anecdotes.

On Mrs Howard’s death in 1767, the estate passed to her nephew, the 2nd Earl of Buckingham, in whose family’s possession it remained, let out to a succession of tenants, until sold in 1824. In 1887 the contents were auctioned but the house remained unsold. In 1902, under threat of demolition, it passed into public ownership and opened to visitors in 1903. Over the decades successful efforts have been made to return to it the original, or similar, pictures and furnishings and to present the rooms as they would have been lived in during its early Georgian heyday.

 

Tour of the House

The Hall, with its four columns, is decorated with four marble profile reliefs of gods and goddesses, Jupiter, Juno, Ceres and Bacchus (French c. 1720), installed in the room in 1750–51, the only works of art to remain at the house in 1903. Mrs Howard also had a model of Shakespeare here. To the left is the grandest room on the ground floor, the Breakfast Parlour, with an elaborate alcove at the north end and a curious frieze, an adaptation of motifs derived from Inigo Jones. The Dining Parlour was created for Mrs Howard in 1750–51 by Matthew Brettingham. Originally decorated with Chinese wallpaper, it introduced a touch of Rococo spirit to the Palladian interior. The grand mahogany staircase leads to the stately Great Room on the first floor, the central reception room and the most important room in the house. The principal pictures hung here, including the capriccio views of classical Roman ruins by G.P. Panini, 1738, set over the doors and chimneypiece, were returned to the house in stages, as they appeared on the art market. Copies after van Dyck and Rubens by Charles Jervas hung here in Mrs Howard’s day (the works after van Dyck seen here now are not original to the house). The chief splendour of the room is its carved and gilded decoration by James Richards, Grinling Gibbons’ successor as Master Sculptor to the King: panels of flowers and foliage above the pictures and pier glasses, eagles above the doors and antique masks in the cornice. Owls appear on the inside of the shutters and two large putti lean on the overmantel pediment. The marble-topped console table, with heavy Kentian gilded carving incorporating a peacock, the attribute of Juno, one of an original set of four, was returned to the house after its discovery in Australia. Lady Suffolk’s Bedchamber retains its screen of Ionic columns at the north end marking the bed space. Hung here are pictures of the correct period—but not original to the house—including Richard Wilson’s Thames at Marble Hill (c. 1762) and Charles Phillips’s portrait of George II, standing in the anteroom to William Kent’s New Library at St James’s (demolished), built for Queen Caroline’s vast collection of books, seen in shelves in the room beyond, behind a statue of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Rysbrack’s bust of Caroline is shown above the door.

From the mahogany staircase the Stone Staircase leads to the floor above, the chief room being the Picture Gallery, originally hung with full-length portraits of George II, Queen Caroline and Mrs Howard. The majority of Mrs Howard’s pictures were displayed at her Savile Row town house, but at Marble Hill she had a quantity of porcelain, a large proportion of it displayed in a detached cottage in the grounds, in a chamber with carved and gilt-edged display shelves.

In the gardens, which had been laid out by Charles Bridgeman, with the involvement of Alexander Pope, was a Grotto, accidentally rediscovered in 1941 following the felling of a tree, and re-excavated in 1984. Now restored to an approximation of its original c. 1739 appearance, it has walls lined with shells and a floor with circles of pebbles. The original cavern-mouth entrance was decorated with coral, flints and blue glass. Since disappeared is the other garden addition, the Priory of St Hubert, a ‘gothic’ barn dedicated to the patron saint of hunting, a sport which Mrs Howard is said to have pursued with a violent passion.

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MUSEUMS & GALLERIES OF LONDON

Details below are taken from our Blue Guide Museums and Galleries of London.  This is a 2005 title, here generally updated for website address and opening times, with useful comments from some of the museums themselves.  More recent information is given in Emily Barber's magisterial new Blue Guide London, "Exceptional update to a classic and useful guide to this amazing city" (Amazon reader review).

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