Super-extendo-weekend coming up. Again. There’s no better time to get off that backside and explore some of London’s treasures. And so, for some whimsical editorial reason, we’ve decided to put together a list of the best stately homes and historic houses around the capital. In our opinion. Yours may differ, and we’d love to hear it below.
Chiswick only just scrapes in. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a beautiful neo-Palladian building in a stunning garden setting. But it was never intended as a home or house, and thus is a dubious inclusion on a list of great homes and houses. The building was created in 1729 as a bold architectural experiment by the Earl of Burlington, who sought somewhere impressive to show off his artwork. You can still find plenty of fine art at Chiswick, but the gardens are the real star, with a series of features possibly longer than your arm.
Entrance: £5.50 (adults), £5 (concessions…pah), £3.30 (children). Nearest station: Chiswick (mainline), Turnham Green (District Line).
Few buildings have a better aspect than Ham, which nestles on that particularly pleasant stretch of Thames between Richmond and Twickenham (Marble Hill House, on the opposite bank, is also worth a look-see). The handsome building dates from the early 1700s, but is currently shawled in scaffolding. Still, there’s plenty to see inside, with a fairly typical, if not dazzling, cavalcade of period furniture, paintings and grand gestures. The freshly reopened gardens are well kept and a pleasure to stroll around.
Entrance: £10.90 (adults), £6.05 (children). Nearest station: Richmond (District Line, mainline, and then a 2 mile walk along the Thames).
There’s really no excuse for not visiting the Duke of Wellington’s former gaff. Number One London, as it was once pompously addressed, is one of London’s lesser known art galleries, with hundreds of canvases and a particularly fine collection of porcelain (an acquired taste, but here impressive to even the complete pottery numbskull). The abiding memory is the giant (and naked) Napoleon statue, whose vanquished frame commands the stairwell like a pet colossus. Similarly, David Cameron maintains a nude marble of Gordon Brown beside the Chequers swimming pool. Possibly.
Entrance: £6.30 (adults), £5.70 (concessions), £3.80 (children). Nearest station: Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line…you’re virtually on top of it).
One of the more famous inclusions, thanks to its prime location on the higher slopes of Hampstead Heath. It’s damn well worth a visit, though, thanks to a fine collection of Old Master paintings (sadly lacking in decent information labels) in a Robert Adam setting. There’s also a well appointed if wasp-plagued al fresco café and some majestic views of London just to the east. The annual picnic concerts are a London institution. This year’s offerings include some of the greatest names in music as well as James Blunt. Sculpture by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth add to the showy delights.
Entrance: Free. Nearest station: Golders Green, Highgate, Hampstead (all Northern Line, and a bit of a trek, if a pleasant trek, from any of them).
One of the few stately properties in the region still used as a residence. The Duke of Northumberland (how posh does he look?) calls it home, as his ancestors have done for 400 years. It’s pretty much your textbook stately home, with a succession of Robert Adam interiors and sweeping Thames-side gardens. Consequently, it pops up in more films than Owen Wilson. Look out for the rooftop lion, which once stood on another Northumberland property at Charing Cross.
Entrance: £10 (adults), £8 (concessions), £4 (children). Nearest stations: Syon Lane/Brentford (mainline).
Central Greenwich is one big theme park. Many visitors will miss Queen’s House, in favour of the observatory, Maritime Museum, brewery complex and newly refashionable Painted Hall. That’s no shame, because this fabulous building — the first Classical-style pile in London — is best enjoyed in solitude. Originally built for some early Stuart blue-bloods, the House now contains a staggering collection of paintings in a bewildering maze of rooms.
Entrance: Free. Nearest stations: Cutty Sark (DLR), Greenwich/Maze Hill (mainline).
No one posh has lived here for the best part of a century, but this one-time seat of the Child family (bankers) still sparkles with class. From the outside, the 18th Century house is relatively bland; dull even. The inside, however, is a different story. At Osterley, Robert Adam (yes, him again) created some of the most ostentatious rooms in the capital. If you’re a fan of interior design, your eyes will bleed to the point where salt comes out. There’s also a Tudor stable block once owned by Royal Exchange founder Sir Thomas Gresham (but precious little information about it). Check out the gardens, too. If we ever do a ‘Top 10 places to observe bluebells and nesting swans in the spring’, Osterley will head the list.
Entrance: All kinds of Gift Aid/family/house/garden permutations, but basically £9.20 (adults), £4.60 (children). Nearest stations: Osterley (Piccadilly Line).
More Tudory goodness, squeezed into a compact site east of central Hackney. This one retains the Tudor atmosphere better than anywhere else in London (probably…it’s not like we have first-hand experience of the era). The oldest non-churchy building in the borough dates back to 1535, but also bears modern historical interest in the form of 1970′s squatter graffiti.
Entrance: £3 (adults), £1 (children). Nearest station: Hackney Central (Overground, mainline).
Absolutely love this place. Hidden in the residential hinterlands of Barking, Eastbury Manor House is another survivor from Tudor times. Nothing much of note ever happened here, even though they try and sex it up with dubious connections to the gunpowder plot. But there’s an incredible old-school charm about Eastbury, with hundreds of objects, illustrations and infofacts packed together like too many blackbirds baked into a Tudor pie. The friendly and seemingly underworked staff will be happy to give you a tour.
Entrance: £3 (adults), £1.50 (concessions), £1 (children). Nearest station: Barking (mainline), Upney (District Line) and a bit of walking from either.
1. Eltham Palace, Eltham
A 20 minute train ride out of London Bridge takes you to Eltham Palace and its unique mixture of Medieval, Tudor and Art Deco. Your tour begins in a big, posh entrance hall thing that doesn’t really have a modern equivalent. At least not in the circles we move in. It’s pure 1930s, with curvy white sofas, wooden panelling and a great ponce of a rug. Side rooms swing with 30′s style, and the refined parties of (former owners) the Cortauld family are easy to imagine. But then you step through an arch and you’re in a 15th Century great hall with hammerbeam ceiling. The juvenile Henry VIII spent many a day here. Quite remarkable. Pleasant gardens, two cafés and a moat with the biggest fish this side of Jaws complete the picture, and make this the capital’s very best historic house. (In our opinion, of course.)
Entrance: £9.30 (adults), £8.40 (concessions), £5.60 (children). Nearest stations: Eltham, Mottingham (mainline).
Note, we’ve left off small house museums (such as the Dickens Museum) as that subject would make a top 10 in its own right (watch this space). We’ve also ignored current royal palaces, because you’re probably sick of anything connected with the Windsors by this point.
All images by M@.