Osterley Park (National Trust)


Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex, TW7 4RB


020-8232 5050



Opening times:

Wed-Sun 7:00-18:00 (park), 12:00-16:00 (house), daily 7:00-18:00 (garden)

How to get there:

Tube: Osterley

Entry fee:

Admission charge

Additional information:

Partial disabled access. Shop and tea room

Set in a landscaped park with several lakes—an unexpected large country estate in the suburbs of west London—this former Elizabethan house was extensively remodelled by Robert Adam with a magnificent series of state rooms. Much of Adam’s original decoration and furniture has been preserved, providing a rare opportunity to appreciate the development of his style over almost two decades. The house and its contents also make useful comparison with Adam’s work at nearby Syon House.


History of the Manor

A manor house, square-built in brick on three storeys, was first built at Osterley in the 1560s by Sir Thomas Gresham (?1519–79), the wealthiest English merchant of the time. He endowed Gresham College and, after the early death of his son, also contributed towards the founding of the Royal Exchange. The manor house served as a retreat from the City and also as a profitable enterprise: one of the earliest paper mills in England was established here. On Gresham’s death in 1579, the estate passed through several hands without significant alteration, being owned by the parliamentary general Sir William Waller, and towards the end of the 17th century, by the speculator, entrepreneur and founder of fire insurance, Nicholas Barbon. In 1711 the property was purchased by the goldsmith Francis Child, the founder of Child’s Bank at No. 1 Fleet Street. His son, Sir Robert Child, a director of the East India Company from 1719–20, was the first member of the family to live at Osterley but died unmarried in 1721. His younger brother Francis inherited the house and made several alterations to the stables and offices, modelling them on those at Hampton Court. His younger brother Samuel inherited in 1740, but it was his sons Francis and Samuel, the first of the Childs to have been brought up at Osterley, who were largely responsible for the shape of the house today. In 1761 Francis the Younger employed the most fashionable architect of the day, Robert Adam, to transform his hotch-potch Elizabethan home into a sensational Neoclassical building, eventually described by Horace Walpole as ‘the palace of palaces’. On Francis’ sudden death two years later, his 24-year-old brother Robert continued the great work with Robert Adam until 1772. A decade later his only daughter eloped with the Earl of Westmorland. Robert Child died—apparently from a broken heart—in the same year, leaving Osterley and his numerous other estates to his future grandchild, Lady Sarah Sophia Fane. She married the 5th Earl of Jersey in 1804. The house was never fully occupied again as a family home. In 1949 the 9th Earl of Jersey gave the property and some of its original contents to the National Trust.


The Hall and Great Stair

The house is approached through Adam’s Grand Portico and across the screened courtyard, the visitor first entering the severely formal Hall. Completed by Adam in 1767, rectangular with alcoves at either end intended to improve the original room’s proportions, the design of the grey and white marble floor echoes the plasterwork ceiling. The walls are decorated with stuccowork panels representing armorial trophies. The elongated pilasters and shallow Greek-key frieze were inspired, like the ceiling of Adam’s masterful Library at Kenwood, by Diocletian’s palace at Split. The niches in the apses display copies of Roman statues of Apollo, Minerva, Ceres and Hercules, and the Portland stone Adam chimneypieces are surmounted by painted grisaille bas-reliefs by Cipriani. They depict The Triumph of Bacchus and The Triumph of Ceres.

The North Vestibule, containing cases displaying part of the Childs’ large collection of Chelsea and Sèvres porcelain, leads into the North Passage connecting the Great Stair with the Library, Breakfast Room and Eating Room, all except the Library designed by Adam in two stages. The austerity of the Great Stair, with its Corinthian and Ionic screens and wrought-iron balusters identical to those at Kenwood, is relieved by the ceiling also designed by Adam for Rubens’ The Apotheosis of the Duke of Buckingham. A copy now replaces the original which was removed in 1949 and later lost in a fire. Rubens’ sketch for the painting can be seen in the National Gallery. Three lamps, probably made by Matthew Boulton to Adam’s designs, hang between the Corinthian columns of the piano nobile.



Adam Style

The designs of Robert Adam (1728–92), one of the pre-eminent architects of the 18th century, generated a revolution in British architectural taste and interior decoration. The particular brand of light, elegant and highly ornamental Neoclassicism which now bears his name was much imitated during his lifetime. Born in Kirkaldy, Fife, the second of four sons of the architect William Adam, his work was heavily influenced by what he had seen on his 1754–58 Grand Tour, when he travelled to Italy and beyond, met important architects such as Piranesi, and studied the remains of the Palace of Diocletian at Split, on the Dalmatian coast, which he later published in a lavish book, Ruins of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalato. His personal interpretation of Greek and Roman antique remains was blended with Rococo and Italian Renaissance motifs to create the highly elaborate ceilings, friezes and pilasters which are such a feature of the ‘Adam style’. The 1768 publication of Sir William Hamilton’s Greek vase collection (purchased by the British Museum in 1772), with their red and black decoration, inspired Adam’s distinctive ‘Etruscan manner’, seen to startling effect at Osterley Park. These free borrowings were dismissed as mere ‘filigrane toy work’ by the other architectural heavyweight of the period, the academically more rigorous Sir William Chambers.

Many of Adam’s architectural projects were undertaken in partnership with his brothers, James, John and William, while a group of specialist independent craftsmen was used to realise the meticulously planned interiors. Every interior element was designed by the Adam office, whose designs were advertised through the engravings after them by Francesco Bartolozzi and their publication in Robert and James Adam’s Works in Architecture (1778). Joseph Rose and his nephew, also Joseph Rose, provided plasterwork; Thomas Chippendale, Gillows, Ince and Mahew and other cabinet makers produced furniture; and the chief supplier of elaborate metal-cast ornament was Matthew Boulton. Patterned inlaid floors or carpets mirrored the design of the ceilings, richly painted in combinations of greens, blues, lilac and pink. Inset classical scenes were painted by Antonio Zucchi (who had travelled with Adam to Split), Giovanni Battista Cipriani and the Swiss-born Angelica Kauffmann. The latter, admired throughout Europe for her skill, worked with Zucchi on a number of Adam projects before their marriage and departure for Rome in 1781.



The Principal Floor

The striking white-painted Library, monochromatic like the Hall at Syon, was designed in 1766 to accommodate the Fairfax library (sold in 1885 to save the house from demolition) and is more of a piece than many of the other rooms on this floor. The ceiling in very low relief is characteristic of Adam’s middle years, with paintings by Antonio Zucchi set into the walls illustrating scenes from the lives of classical writers. Above the door is Britannia Encouraging and Rewarding the Arts and Sciences. The exceptionally high-quality marquetry furniture, inlaid with motifs emblematic of the liberal arts, was probably designed and manufactured by John Linnel (c. 1768). Next door, at the end of the North Passage, the Breakfast Room, decorated with reserved pictures from the V&A, provides fine views over the park.

The Eating Room was one of the first rooms designed by Adam for the house, in 1766, and decorated up to the cornice in cheerful pinks and greens. As he later wrote of such rooms in his Works in Architecture (1772), ‘Instead of being hung with damask, tapestry etc. they are always finished with stucco, and adorned with statues and paintings, that they may not retain the smell of the victuals’. The ceiling came first, decorated with appropriate Bacchic motifs (vines, wine ewers, and decorated staves) very similar to early work by Joseph Rose. Paintings and roundels by Zucchi with mainly classical themes are set into the walls. Above the remarkably large chimneypiece is Giovanni Battista Cipriani’s An Offering to Ceres: women and children paying homage to the goddess of the harvest.

Next door is the Long Gallery, running the full width of the garden front and now hung with some important late 17th- and 18th-century Venetian paintings, representative of the kind that might originally have been seen here. Some are drawn from the National Trust’s own collection; others are on loan from private collections, including two from the Royal Collection. On the North End Wall, nearest the Eating Room, hangs Sebastiano Ricci’s Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery. At the opposite end of the room is his Miracle at the Pool of Bethesda, also on loan from the Royal Collection, and both part of a series of seven paintings with New Testament subjects commissioned around 1725 for the palazzo of Consul Smith, patron of Canaletto. On the East (Chimneypiece) Wall hang the limpid Shipping on the Maas at Dordrecht by Albert Cuyp (1650s) and a still-life by Rubens’ pupil and sometime collaborator Frans Snyders. Over the North Chimneypiece is Marieschi’s View of the Rialto Bridge and the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, with the festive entry of the Patriarch Antonio Correr in 1737. The painting is one of the young contemporary of Canaletto’s masterpieces, and is unusual in being a capriccio or architectural fancy that also celebrates an actual historical event. Further along the same wall hangs Gaspard Dughet’s Wooded Rocky Landscape with Classical Figures. Apprenticed to his more famous brother-in-law, Nicolas Poussin, Dughet adopted the same surname, and his work became especially popular with English Grand Tourists. This painting’s stormy sky is typical of his innovative approach to landscape. On the opposite wall, Aeneas and Achates wafted in a cloud before Dido, Queen of Carthage, with Cupid at her feet by Jacopo Amigoni, is from the Wombwell Collection at Newburgh Priory, the largest of the artist’s works not painted directly onto a wall but probably commissioned specially for Newburgh. It depicts an early episode in the tragic story of Dido and Aeneas from Book I of the Aeneid. The Long Gallery itself has been returned as far as possible to Adam’s original pea-green colour scheme with pier glasses for easier viewing of the paintings. The seating furniture is attributed to John Linnel.

Next door is the Drawing Room, counterbalancing the Eating Room and designed around the same time, much richer in concept, with a ceiling modelled on the Temple of the Sun at Palmyra, inspired by the nave of West Wycombe church. Most probably it was Francis Dashwood, the owner of West Wycombe Park, who recommended Robert Adam to Francis Child. The carpet was designed by Adam in response to the ceiling and was manufactured by Thomas Moore of Moorfields. Horace Walpole, not always an admirer of Adam’s work, considered the room ‘worthy of Eve before the Fall’. The tall pier glasses are also by Adam, along with the inlaid, purely ornamental commodes. The grate in the chimneypiece, itself not entirely of a piece with the room, is made of paktong, an alloy of copper, zinc and nickel, and the only one of such pieces by Adam to remain in situ.


The State Apartment

The Drawing Room gives onto the highlight of the tour of the house: the sumptuous State Apartment, already practically out of fashion when commissioned by Robert Child in 1772, though now providing three superb examples of Robert Adam’s style at its most confident and mature. The Tapestry Room has a delicate ceiling, which as usual came first, the central medallion depicting The Dedication of a Child to Minerva. The carpet, again manufactured by Thomas Moore, was designed by Adam to mirror the ceiling and also the Gobelins tapestries on the walls. These were designed by the painter François Boucher (1703–70) and represent the Four Elements in the shape of the loves of the gods: Venus and Vulcan (Fire), Aurora and Cephalus (Air), and Vertumnus and Pomona (Earth). The mirror on the window wall stands in for Water. Over the chimneypiece are Cupid and Psyche. The eight armchairs are backed with oval frames holding Boucher’s Jeux d’Enfants, designed specially for Madame de Pompadour in the early 1750s: the cartoons were not released for use by other clients until 1770. Moving next door, from France to England, from Fire to Earth, the State Bedchamber is dominated by the domed State Bed of 1776, one of Adam’s most ambitious pieces of furniture. Green forms the basis of the colour scheme, as can be seen from the sketch now in Sir John Soane’s Museum. The dome and canopy echo those designed by Adam for George III’s box at the Italian Theatre in Haymarket. The last room is Italian in style, with a colour scheme based on pale sky blue to represent the Air. The other most striking feature of the Etruscan Dressing Room is the wall decoration, inspired by ancient Greek vases and the engravings of Piranesi, and the only surviving example of this type of design by Adam. The room has survived remarkably unaltered, apart from some restorative cleaning. It now looks much as it might have done when first seen, though one corner remains to demonstrate the effect of decades of grime.

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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
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