Ham House (National Trust)


Ham, Richmond, TW10 7RS


020-8940 1950



Opening times:

(House) mid March–end Oct Mon–Wed, Sat–Sun 13:00–17:00; (Garden) all year Mon–Wed, Sat–Sun 11:00–18:00

How to get there:

Station: none close, bus 67, 371 from Richmond or Kingston

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Partial disabled access. Phone first for help. Restaurant and shop

Ham House is a remarkable 17th-century survival, having remained almost untouched since the 1670s. It preserves much of its original interior decoration and furniture (early inventories indicate how it was arranged) as well as its garden layout. The original 1610 Jacobean house, built by Sir Thomas Vavasour, Knight Marshal to James I, was remodelled first by William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart in 1637–39, and more substantially by Elizabeth, his daughter, and her second husband, John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, from 1672. Both periods of rebuilding and redecoration were according to the latest fashions, with no expense spared. The remarkable survivals from both these schemes make Ham a key house for the study and appreciation of grand 17th-century interior decoration.

Ham in its Heyday

Dysart, a childhood friend of Charles I and one of his inner circle at Whitehall, was a distinguished connoisseur. At Ham he employed leading artists and craftsmen to create interiors which reflected current court fashion. The Grand Staircase, elements of the first floor Grand Dining Room, and the first floor Green Closet and Long Gallery retain their 1630s plasterwork and painted decoration, carried out by the court artists Francis Cleyn and Matthew Goodricke. Ham was inherited by Dysart’s daughter Elizabeth, who in 1672 married the Earl, soon Duke, of Lauderdale, a member of Charles II’s Cabal ministry, Secretary of State for Scotland and renowned for his grand living. Bishop Burnet acknowledged the Duchess’s beauty (an excellent early portrait at the house, by Sir Peter Lely, shows her in her youth), as well as the intelligence and learning of her and her husband, but he criticised her ‘ravenous covetousness’ and his craving for luxury. Their work at Ham, which saw the creation of a sequence of new apartments along the south front, built by William Samuel, was certainly lavish. A new, centrally placed ground floor dining room was created, to either side of which they each had separate suites of rooms. The new State Bedchamber, the principal room in the house, was positioned above the dining room, on which the design of the garden, viewed from the window, with its elaborate parterre and Wilderness beyond, was axially centred. Throughout the rooms were expensive hangings, paintings and furniture provided by court craftsmen, leading artists or imported from abroad. Ham is particularly important for the astonishing survival in some rooms of the original damask wall hangings, faded but still in place after 300 years, and also for the survival in situ of the specially commissioned painted overdoors and overmantels. Set into panelling are landscapes and seascapes by Abraham Begeyn, Dirck van Bergen, Thomas and Jan Wyck and Willem van de Velde the Younger; classical landscapes by Hendrick Danckerts and ‘Vergazoon’; and bird pieces by the important English artist Francis Barlow, the first native-born painter of birds and animals. Inset pictures of this type were at the forefront of fashion, and many of those at Ham are signed and dated.

With the beautiful marquetry or japanned 17th-century furniture, the rich plasterwork, with detail picked out in gold, the once vibrant wall hangings, painted ceilings by Cleyn, and by the Baroque decorative painter Antonio Verrio (who also decorated Hampton Court), and the pictures, silverwork and porcelain, Ham must have presented a sumptuous spectacle. To the diarist John Evelyn the house was ‘furnished like a Great Prince’s’. The Lauderdales’ extravagances, however, did not ensure Ham a secure financial future. After the Duchess of Lauderdale’s death in 1698 the estate passed to Lionel Tollemache, 3rd Earl of Dysart, her son by her first marriage. In 1770 Horace Walpole, whose niece had married the 4th Earl, visited Ham and found it in a ‘state of pomp and tatters’. In 1879 Augustus Hare thought it a ‘Sleeping Beauty’ house, its former splendour now forlorn and dusty. The house was given to the National Trust in 1949 by Sir Lionel Tollemache Bt and Mr Cecil Tollemache.

Tour of the House
Externally the house is comparatively plain, of brick with stone dressings, with a hipped roof. The forecourt has side walls with niches containing classical busts, and the wrought iron gates date from 1671. The entrance façade has a recessed five-bay centre with, between the ground and first floors, oval niches for busts. The modest central doorway has attached Tuscan columns and a metope frieze; the initials of Sir Thomas Vavasour, with the date 1610 and ‘Vivat Rex’, are carved on the door.

Ground floor

The Great Hall occupies the site of the old Jacobean hall. The two extraordinary sculptural figures flanking the overmantel are said to be William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart, and his wife as Mars and Minerva, by Francesco Fanelli, sculptor at the court of Charles I. The octagonal balustraded balcony above was created c. 1690. The Marble Dining Room is the central room of the south front apartments created by the Lauderdales. The carved oak panelling with ‘bunches of leaves about ye dores’ is the work of John Bullimore, for which he was paid in 1672/3. The 18th-century parquetry floor replaces the marble original, as does the 18th-century gilt leather on the walls. The original leather was richly decorated with cherubs, fruit and flowers. The Duke’s Dressing Room, to the right, was the antechamber to the adjoining Bedchamber. It has fine floral marquetry cabinets, of various woods and ivory, and originally had six caned armchairs. The Duchess’s Bedchamber, actually intended as the Duke’s but appropriated by his wife by 1675, has a great carved and gilded frame surrounding the bed alcove and a ceiling painting attributed to Verrio, who stimulated the fashion for Baroque mural decoration in Britain. The silver chimney furniture (a feature of several rooms) is a mark of the Lauderdales’ ostentation. The bed is a copy based on an inventory of 1679. The Duke’s Closet is a small, richly decorated room for private retirement. The ceiling, with figures representing Music, is also by Verrio.

To the left of the Dining Room is the Duchess’s suite. The Withdrawing Room has 1670s lacquer furniture. The Yellow Bedchamber, named after its damask hangings, was originally the Duchess’s but became the Duke’s. After his death it became known as the Volury Room, from the French volerie, because of the birdcages constructed outside the bay windows. The cabinet has a very elaborate architectural interior, with red tortoiseshell and gilded decoration, probably made in Antwerp in the 1630s. The Duchess’s private closets are adjacent. The White Closet is decorated in the most advanced taste, with a corner chimneypiece and a coved ceiling, with Wisdom presiding over the Liberal Arts, again by Verrio, in the centre. The Private Closet has japanned furniture and another Verrio ceiling, Fortitude with Time, Death and Eternity. The Chapel has furniture and carved decoration by Henry Harlow, 1673–74, and the original altar table and cloth are rare survivals.

Netherlanders in Britain

A distinct feature of the artistic community in England in the 16th and 17th centuries was the presence of foreign artists and craftsmen, of which the majority were Netherlandish. England had enjoyed profitable commercial and artistic links with Flanders since the Middle Ages and the wealthy and prosperous city of Antwerp was a base for English bankers and merchants, particularly those in the cloth trade. Netherlandish artists and craftsmen, who provided a level of skill which to some extent native artists lacked, were encouraged to settle in England and to work for the court and for private patrons. Guillim Scrots, formerly court painter to the Habsburg court at Brussels, worked for Henry VIII and Edward VI, while Hans Eworth, from Antwerp, was painter to Mary I. Religious and political events in the Low Countries provided added reasons for Netherlanders to emigrate. Large numbers of Protestant refugees arrived from those parts of the Low Countries under Habsburg rule. The etcher and painter Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder fled to London from Bruges in 1568 and his son, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, was to become the leading artist under Elizabeth I. John de Critz, whose sister married Gheeraerts the Elder, arrived from Antwerp and headed an artistic dynasty active in England for several generations. Legislation designed to protect native workers restricted the activities of ‘alien’ artists and craftsmen, who could only set up workshops if they assumed English citizenship. Many therefore lived in parishes beyond the jurisdiction of the City guilds. St Anne, Blackfriars was a particular haven for artists and miniaturists, as well as a circle of Antwerp refugees. Later, the parish was home to Anthony van Dyck.

The focus of London’s Netherlandish community was the Dutch Church, Austin Friars (which still exists today). Not all Netherlandish artists and craftsmen were religious refugees, however. London offered career opportunities for artists such as Daniel Mytens and van Dyck, as well as for specialists in genres other than portraiture. The renewed cultural programme of the royal court following the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 attracted skilled artists and craftsmen, and Dutch and Flemish artists were at the forefront of the development of British marine and landscape painting (eg the van de Veldes, and Jan Siberechts respectively).

Upper floor

The early 17th-century Great Staircase dates from the Dysart era, c. 1637–38. The fine balustrade, of panels carved with trophies of arms, by Thomas Carter, was ‘veined’ to imitate walnut and picked out in gold by Matthew Goodricke. Upstairs, the Yellow Satin Room has a very fine marquetry looking-glass and table decorated with elaborate scrollwork. The Round Room—the gallery around the Hall—is what remains of the 1630s Dining Room. Formerly a sumptuous room decorated a ‘fair blue’, the Inigo Jones-style compartmented ceiling remains. Guests would retire to the North Drawing Room, which retains its magnificent 1630s decoration, including a fine plasterwork ceiling and frieze (1637, by Kinsman), and carved Mannerist panelling. The marble chimneypiece, flanked by great twisted columns, with cherubs climbing up floral garlands on either side of the overmantel, was probably moved from the 1630s Dining Room. It was possibly designed by Francis Cleyn. The columns with their cherubs among vines are taken from one of Raphael’s ‘Acts of the Apostles’ cartoons, The Healing of the Lame Man (V&A), then owned by Charles I and which would have been familiar to Cleyn through his work at the Mortlake Tapestry Works. The Green Closet is an important rarity, an early 17th-century cabinet which has survived with the majority of its original contents. Created for the Earl of Dysart in 1637–39 for the display of his small-scale pictures and portrait miniatures, the design was probably overseen by Cleyn. The room offers a tantalising glimpse of the rich court style of Inigo Jones, under whom Cleyn worked on the royal palaces. It was fully restored in the 1990s. The ceiling and cove is by Cleyn (tempera on paper, with paintings of putti based on Polidoro Caldara) but in the 1670s the Lauderdales undertook changes, introducing the fringed green damask and the green sarsenet curtains, hung on a gilt rod, which protect the miniatures. They also introduced the elaborate furniture, including the table with high-quality silver mounts and Japanese lacquer. Among the miniatures and other objects are Elizabeth I by Hilliard; family miniatures of the Tollemache family, by Hoskins and Dixon; and a large cabinet miniature of Catherine Bruce, Countess of Dysart, by Hoskins; small oil paintings, placed here by 1679; and a lock of hair cut from the head of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, favourite of Elizabeth I, on the day of his execution. The Long Gallery was remodelled in 1639, with panelling with Ionic pilasters, their fluting picked out in gold. Its chief glory is the magnificent set of over 23 quarter-length portraits in superb contemporary carved gilt frames of auricular style (so called because the swirls resemble the human ear), supplied by the court frame carver John Norris in 1672–75, with an important group by Lely, including the Duchess of Lauderdale with a black Servant, and John Michael Wright’s Colonel John Russell (1659).

The Library once contained many rare books. The Antechamber to the Queen’s Bedchamber, on the south front, was added by the Lauderdales, with its grained panelling and carved swags of fruit and flowers. The 1680s wall hangings, now faded, were once blue and are framed by panels of blue velvet with appliqué embroidery. They are a remarkable survival. The Queen’s Bedchamber was prepared for a visit by Catherine of Braganza, queen of Charles II. The bed stood on a raised platform, behind a balustrade. The carved swags over the chimneypiece are by Bullimore. The Queen’s Closet is the most richly decorated room in the house. The plasterwork ceiling has marbled flat surfaces, with details of the relief picked out in gold, and a central painting by Verrio, The Rape of Ganymede. The wainscoting is richly carved and the chimneypiece is surrounded by panels of scagliola, a material made from selenite but made to look like marble. Probably imported from northern Italy, this is perhaps the earliest examples of this type of decoration in England. The crimson and gold silk wall hangings, bordered by green, are original and another amazing survival.

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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).

FULL LISTING of CURRENT EXHIBITIONS in London from Apollo Magazine »

Emily Barber recommends five major London museums »

Please do share your comments and updates with us via the form below the entry for each museum.


National Maritime Museum
Wimbledon Windmill Museum
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum
2 Willow Road (National Trust)
William Morris Gallery
Whitechapel Gallery
Westminster Abbey Museum
Wesley's Chapel
Wellington Arch (English Heritage)
Wallace Collection
Victoria & Albert Museum
Tower Bridge Exhibition
Tower of London (Historic Royal Palaces)
Tate Modern
Tate Britain
Sutton House (National Trust)
Spencer House
Southside House
South London Art Gallery
The Courtauld Institute of Art (Somerset House)
Sir John Soane's Museum
Shakespeare’s Globe
Serpentine Gallery
Science Museum
St Bride’s Crypt Museum
St Bartholomew’s Hospital Museum
Saatchi Gallery
Royal Society of Arts
The Royal Mews
Royal London Hospital Museum
The Faraday Museum
Royal Hospital Chelsea
RCM Museum of Music
Royal Academy of Music Museum
Royal Academy of Arts
Red House (National Trust)
Ranger’s House (English Heritage)
Ragged School Museum
The Queen’s Gallery
Prince Henry’s Room
The Photographers’ Gallery
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Osterley Park (National Trust)
Orleans House Gallery
Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret
Natural History Museum
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery
National Army Museum
Musical Museum
World Rugby Museum
Museum of the Order of St John
Museum No. 1 (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Museum of London
Garden Museum
Museum in Docklands (Museum of London)
The Royal Observatory
The Queen's House
Old Royal Naval College
Marianne North Gallery (Royal Botanic Gardens)
Marble Hill House (English Heritage)
Mall Galleries
Lord’s Tour and MCC Museum
London Transport Museum
London Fire Brigade Museum
London Canal Museum
18 Stafford Terrace – The Sambourne Family Home
Library and Museum of Freemasonry
Leighton House
Kingston Museum
Kew Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
London Museum of Water & Steam
Kenwood House (English Heritage)
Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Keats House
Jewish Museum
Jewel Tower (English Heritage)
Jerwood Space
Imperial War Museum
ICA Institute of Contemporary Arts
Hunterian Museum
Horniman Museum
HMS Belfast (Imperial War Museum)
Hayward Gallery
Handel House Museum
Hampton Court Palace (Historic Royal Palaces)
Ham House (National Trust)
Guildhall Art Gallery
Guards Museum
Grant Museum of Zoology & Comparative Anatomy
Geffrye Museum of the Home
Fulham Palace
Freud Museum
Foundling Museum
Forty Hall & Estate
Florence Nightingale Museum
Firepower: The Royal Artillery Museum
Fenton House (National Trust)
Fashion and Textile Museum
Fan Museum
Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
Eltham Palace (English Heritage)
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Dr Johnson’s House
Dennis Severs' House
Danson House
Cutty Sark
Contemporary Applied Arts
Chiswick House (English Heritage)
Chelsea Physic Garden
Chartered Insurance Institute Museum
Charles Dickens Museum
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Camden Arts Centre
Cabinet War Rooms & Churchill Museum (Imperial War Museum)
Burgh House - The Hampstead Museum
Buckingham Palace
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Brunei Gallery SOAS
British Optical Association Museum
The British Museum
The British Library
Bramah Museum of Tea and Coffee
Black Cultural Archives
Museum of Childhood (Victoria & Albert Museum)
Bethlem Museum of the Mind
Benjamin Franklin House
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